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A lesson in sales from... Henry Ford


Guest articles > A lesson in sales from... Henry Ford


by: Neil Shorney


This article in the “A lesson in sales from...” series comes from a true sales master - Henry Ford, the man famously quoted as offering his Model “T” car as follows:

“Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black”

No, this isn’t the sales lesson from Mr Ford, as I doubt it applies to many sales roles today, with the possible exception of laptops! It doesn’t, for example, apply to a training course or a conference. However, the man was a genius and a record breaker in automotive sales. Mr Ford is also quoted as saying:

“A market is never saturated with a good product, but it is very quickly saturated with a bad one”

Now this is something from which we can learn.

Now some of us have a problem here: what if our product is genuinely bad? Simply answer - find a job with a good product, because you’ll never make a good, ethical salesperson selling a genuinely poor product. And a worse case - what if you have a generally good range of products, with one or two runts in there too? This can be a disaster, because the customers who start off buying the poor product will assume that everything else is of similar quality and you’ve instantly lost a potential long-term customer to the competition. If this is you, do something about that poor product, if you are in a position to do so, and quickly, or you’ll start on the long slippery slope.

However, to those of us with a good product, then this quote rings true - the market is unlikely to become flooded with it, because there’ll always be people who want it. Take, for example, the iPod - the market may be flooded by poor imitations of the iPod, but not by iPods themselves - people will always want these because they are the market leader, and if you work for a market leader then you’re in a very fortunate position and your job is a lot easier!

The problem many salespeople have, though, is that they either don’t work for the market leader, or there is no recognised leader in their field at all, yet they have a good product. It’s here that the salesperson needs to make the difference to build a customer base of loyal, returning customers. The job is a little harder if the market is flooded by poor quality products similar to yours, because as with most things in sales, it’s not about the product itself, but about the perception of the product - it’s about how the salesperson presents the product to the customer, and the service they give. So, if you’re in this position, what can you do?

  1. differentiate, differentiate, differentiate! Sit down with your colleagues in sales, marketing, product development - anyone who could give good input, and build a list of really strong USPs (Unique Selling Points). What does your product do that others don’t? What makes your product the best? And be careful with USPs, to ensure they really are unique. Many people make the mistake of creating a list of benefits, forgetting that competitors have similar benefits. Spend a good amount of time on this, as it gives you a lot more ammunition when selling your product.
  2. respond to your prospects’ requests as quickly as you humanly can - a good salesperson often means a good product in the mind of the customer. Recently, I tried to book a hotel for my holiday. I emailed the one I preferred from their website. They took TWO WEEKS to respond!! So what do I think in this situation? Do I think my room’s going to be cleaned promptly each day? Do I think I’ll get my dinner just after I’ve ordered it? Do I think they’re going to efficiently take my reservation? Do I think the breakfast will be good? No, of course not - I think my room will get cleaned at about 3pm, I’ll wait 45 minutes for my dinner, they’ll lose my booking and that breakfast will have been hanging around in the kitchen for ages - if the customer-facing staff take two weeks to respond to someone who’s trying to give them money, what will the rest of the hotel be like, once I’ve already paid?!!
  3. develop a highly professional telephone manner. I have a student in my sales team at the moment on a work placement. She’s very enthusiastic, she’s done good research on the product, and her sales skills are actually very good in terms of questioning, understanding, matching, etc. However, her diction is appalling! She misses “t”s all over the place, calls prospects “mate” and sounds like she chatting with her friends in the pub. Not the image I want to project to clients. As a result, I won’t let her work on the best leads, because prospects will perceive the company as sloppy, unprofessional and low-quality. I cannot emphasise enough how vital telephone manner is to sales success.
  4. get some third-party reviews of your product. Get some ISO accreditation or another, more relevant professional certification. Get some client testimonials and use them in your marketing material or even in your email signature. Get someone to review what your company does and put the results on the website - do anything you can to enhance the perceived quality of what you have to offer.
  5. take the time to really sell properly to every prospect. Ask them enough questions, understand them properly, make them realise how well you understand them, and match as closely as possible to their needs, giving REASONS for each aspect of the matching. They will feel that you’re a sales professional rather than just a sales person, and in their eyes your product will seem of better quality in line with the quality of the sale.

Neil Shorney manages a sales team at ESI International, the world's largest project management training company, and has over 15 years of international sales, management, and strategic experience in diverse industries including hospitality, energy, IT & telecommunications, project management, and business analysis. He also manages the sales website:

Contributor: Neil Shorney

Published here on: 9-May-10

Classification: Sales


MSWord: A lesson in sales from Henry Ford.doc

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