Thanks for stopping by the Selling at a Higher Level blog from durhamlane.  There is some good news and some bad news…

The Good News:  We’re writing way more articles than ever before.  What’s more, everything we do is focused around how to help our readers increase their sales performance.

The (sort of) Bad News:  We’ve started posting these articles on the durhamlane website rather than on this blog.  This seems to make sense to us – to have everything in one place.  We know it means an extra click for you right now, but hopefully this won’t be too much of a burden.

Why not take a look at some of our recent articles.  A few examples are included below (click the wording to be zoomed off straight into the content).  You can also link off to our News page (this is where we’re posting everything at the moment) by following this link.  You will see all of our new content here from now on:


We’d love it if you also joined our Selling at a Higher Level LinkedIn group – welcome to our sales performance community.

As ever, thanks for reading, contributing and being interested.



Richard | @richardmlane

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A deal isn’t a deal ’til it’s done

We’ve been reminded recently that a deal isn’t real until the paperwork is signed.  FirstGroup’s bid to take over the West Coast Mainline rail service here in the UK is being contested by the incumbent, Virgin Trains.  The big guns are out.  Richard Branson is putting his political and business weight behind their renewal and is claiming the Government have not done their due diligence properly in assessing the tender responses.  FirstGroup’s CEO has backed their bid hard whilst the Government is inwardly fuming and outwardly trying to demonstrate they have chosen a better bid that will deliver more back to the consumer and the country.

I wonder what happened at FirstGroup during the first few days after the announcement broke that they had won the contract.  I imagine there was much celebrating at the prospect of the new 13 year contract finally concluding successfully.  It will have been a big team that worked the bid, likely over a number of years.

Who knows if FirstGroup will eventually win, but even if they do I expect the champagne is currently back on ice.

So, remember to keep going until the paperwork is signed and safely received back at base.  Even if you have had verbal confirmation make sure you keep focused and get the contract signed.

However, for some clients we meet a verbal agreement is thought to be enough.  One of our first recommendations is to get quickly out of this mindset and to make sure all clients are committed to appropriate terms and conditions under a suitable contract.  This is particularly important if you sell software.  Don’t rely on a purchase order or the sending of an invoice, make sure you have terms and conditions and contract details in place.

What paperwork do you have in place today?  Are you adequately covered and do your customer’s understand their obligations?  We recommend you check this out as a matter of urgency if you are in any doubt.

And remember, a deal isn’t a deal until it’s signed, sealed and safely received back at base.


About durhamlane
durhamlane is an independent thought leader on sales performance. We deliver a measurable difference by improving sales processes, training and coaching sales and non-sales people and embedding best practices through technology. We provide a range of business development and key account acquisition solutions as well as a unique sales graduate service, Hybrow, designed to increase the sales footprint and long-term success of our clients – something we call ‘Selling at a Higher Level’.


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The power of TEAM

If you live in the UK then it has been hard to avoid the excitement Team GB has delivered during the London 2012 Olympics. Watching events unfold on Saturday as we won three gold medals in an intoxicating 45 minute period, I would challenge anyone not to feel inspired.

There is something so powerful in watching human beings perform to the very limit of their capabilities. Often winning by tiny fractions of time, it is possible to see the rewards that come from years, if not a life time of dedication to extreme training, huge personal and family sacrifice and the power of natural talent.




The similarities between sport and sales are well documented. Probably summed up by one word – ‘Performance‘. Sports people, like sales people have to be willing to follow a hard path in order to achieve great results.

What we have seen from Team GB during London 2012 transcends the usual personal achievements. For me the fascination has been the power the success of the team has had on each individual within the wider team. Andy Murray shared following his straight sets final victory against Roger Federer that he had been inspired by Mo Farah’s victory the night before and the tidal wave of gold medals that had rained down on the other side of London from Wimbledon.

At durhamlane we took time away from the business recently for a TEAM strategy session. I appreciate this is a common thing to do, but for our young business it felt like a step-change, a sign of intent on where we are heading and how, if we all pull together, we will get there.


When you are part of a winning team it can feel like things just come together. In my experience this happens because of lots of hard work. Effort, energy and time has been spent learning from each other, learning from mistakes and helping each other to achieve their goals in order to deliver team success.

If you are part of a team then take a few moments to consider where you are.

What can you do to drive more performance and how are you going to celebrate once you get there?  We definitely have a few cracking ideas.  We’ll send you a postcard when we get there!


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Rome wasn’t built in a day … so why would you expect your sales people to be?

Do you remember your first day in the world of work? I don’t mean the paper-round, the plethora of part-time jobs, temp jobs, or bar work. I mean the day you jumped onto the career ladder?

I do.

It went something like this: A welcome at the front door, a tour of the building, a brief introduction to my new colleagues (so many people!), a guided walk-through of the company brochure and finally receipt of a somewhat bewildering list of people to call – so that I could introduce myself and my company.  Oh, and a quick introduction to my new friend, the telephone.

Essentially that was it.  (Okay so this was before the arrival of the internet – there, I’ve aged myself).

I was lucky though: I was hungry to learn and found I had a newly discovered ability to quickly get on with people over the telephone (later what I learnt to be the art of rapport).  I also found myself not taking rejection too seriously.  I’ve since helped hundreds of sales people to feel the same way – “some will, some won’t, so what, next!“).
So, I had what it took to survive, succeed, and finally thrive.

However, others didn’t.  Some faded quickly, whilst others took longer to concede defeat.  The lack of a decent skills and mindset based induction hindered all of us. Sink or swim was the expectation and often the norm.  What a strange concept – why go through the whole recruitment process (just think of the cost in time and resources) only to let your new found potential talent sink or swim. It doesn’t make any sense.
This is why we’ve launched hybrow.  Our ambition with hybrow is to create the next generation of sales professionals whilst at the same time helping ambitious business to grow in a cost effective and low risk manner (this all ties in rather well with our overriding goal of ‘raising the bar of the sales profession‘).

I am particularly proud of the comprehensive sales performance induction programme that we have baked into the onboarding process.  Blended in nature, our Selling at a Higher Level hybrow induction takes the graduate on a practical and highly focused sales journey.  We start with mindset, confidence and motivation before identifying how a strong process can support sales efforts (offering structure and rationale).  We work together to embed the foundations and build on these using our qualification framework (The Magic 35 diagnostic toolkit) which will hopefully mean more time is spent in the field where it matters most – on those deals we have a fair chance of winning.  We build strong foundations, pillars of knowledge, rooted in experience.

Oh how I wish I’d had something like this when I started out in sales. (I do find myself telling each group this and immediately regret it – sounds too much like “it wasn’t like this in my day you know“).

The programme is phased to ensure time is spent in the real world, not just in the safety of the classroom for days on end.  However, we also support all of our graduates with 1-2-1 coaching.  This means we can be available to help shift roadblocks and relieve the inevitable moments of doubt and insecurity that occur when you are in a new place, doing something for the first time.  An online community portal promotes peer to peer interaction and offers an alternative route for contact and support.  Finally all of our hybrow graduates gain free of charge access to up to 6 of our Masterclass series of training workshops during the first 12 months of their appointment. Why the delay? Well, why cover the ins and outs of win-win negotiation (for example) when you are yet to get close to signing a deal and have your head full of new stuff already. Rather we think it makes more sense to come to this when feet are firmly under the table and the basics are becoming the new way of life.

Just like Rome wasn’t built in a day, it takes time to develop new skills. It also takes time to become passionate about your business. However, make no mistake, passion, knowledge and skills are a must in our line of work.

When you have deep knowledge of your company, its products, services and the industry’s you serve then inner confidence develops. It is then that you begin to understand how to effectively operate as a sales professional.

When starting out in sales we are all anxious for success. Have the confidence to invest in yourself. Build your skills, your knowledge and your awareness. Work hard.

We believe our training and coaching offers sensible skills which are rich in real life examples and are designed to deliver high impact.
As Elmer Leterman once said; “luck is when preparation meets opportunity”.  Are you feeling lucky?


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Challenging Sales conversations?

How often do you challenge your Prospects and Customers?  Best practice dictates the preparation of carefully thought through questions that help us diagnose the needs of our customers in order for us to create tailor made solutions.  However, how often do you challenge your customers in their thinking?  Do you help them to re-think their processes and procedures, do you question their views and understanding of their own best practices?

I’ve been reading The Challenger Sale by Matthew Dixon and Brett Adamson of The Corporate Executive Board (CEB).  This book has already had great reviews and is challenging (pardon the pun) our industry – sales training and development – and any solution sales company to re-think how sales conversations are approached.

The Challenger Sale, proves that the millions of pounds companies spend on marketing and brand development, whilst being important, comes in second to the quality of the sales process.  The fact is buyers expect brands to be what they are.  This means there is only slight differentiation (despite the vast amount of money spent).  Interestingly, what makes the difference is the ability of the selling company’s people to teach and share new ideas in the process.  To make a difference.

Through extensive analysis, CEB identified six attributes of sales people who have mastered not the economy but the complex sale:

  • The ability to offer the customer unique perspectives
  • Has strong two-way communication skills
  • Knows the individual customer’s value drivers
  • Can identify economic drivers of the customer’s business
  • Is comfortable discussing money
  • Can pressure the customer
I find the last two attributes in the list above particularly interesting.  At durhamlane we train and coach sales people to discuss and determine budget (or money) early on in the sales process.  We have to be comfortable discussing money yet so many sales people are not.  We also have to understand when to push the customer.  As a solution provider we should be able to offer insight and best practice.  We should also know when we can challenge and persuade a customer into making a change that we believe will deliver lasting benefits and results.  Change isn’t easy for people or businesses.  It is our responsibility to understand when change is necessary in order to lead to better results.
CEB identified five different types of B2B sales person across the thousands they surveyed and studied:
  • Hard Workers
  • Relationship Builders
  • Lone Wolves
  • Reactive Problem Solvers
  • Challengers
CEB’s analysis identified a clear winner and a clear loser.  The Challengers significantly outperformed everyone else, while Relationship Builders dramatically under performed their peers.  Challenges “teach, tailor and take control” of the complex sale.  They are able to do this because of the strength they demonstrate across the attributes listed above.

The buying process has become more complex than ever.  The Challenger Sale argues traditional solution sales approaches don’t help but rather add more complexity.  So, asking questions, uncovering need and building “pain” is no longer enough.  In the same way that building great relationships but failing  to close the deal is expensive and ultimately not a measure of success.

We need to educate our customers to help them make decisions.  We need to help them to buy from us.  To be firm and to lead them into taking action, the right action, so that we can deliver solutions that make a lasting difference.

I agree with CEB’s claim that Challenger sales people are made, not born.  If you are interested in being the best sales person you can be then this book is essential reading.



About durhamlane
durhamlane is an independent thought leader on sales performance. We deliver a measurable difference by improving sales processes, training and coaching sales and non-sales people and embedding best practices through technology. We provide a range of business development and key account acquisition solutions as well as a unique sales graduate service, Hybrow, designed to increase the sales footprint and long-term success of our clients – something we call ‘Selling at a Higher Level’.

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Changes in legislation – an opportunity or a threat to your sales efforts?

Let’s set the scene:  Everything’s going well.  Customers are buying from you, the sales wheel is turning, you’ve developed a decent pipeline.

A change in legislation comes in swiftly.

Does this halt your sales opportunities in their tracks?

Whilst working for one of my clients, a change in legislation was announced that had an immediate and dramatic impact on everyone in the industry.  There has been widespread reporting and discussion around the changes to the Feed-In Tariffs (FiT) for Solar PV – even court action between the industry and the Government.  The industry was turned upside down virtually overnight.  Installers worked 24/7 to meet the installation deadline and suppliers sold record numbers of panels.  Then, to cue, it all went very quiet.

So when change occurs in your industry do you stop making sales calls?  No, no, no.  Yes,yes, yes people will be busy wrestling with what the changes mean to the future of their businesses, but it is vital you work hard to maintain contact.  You absolutely have to make those calls and find out what your customers are doing; if you don’t ask, you don’t know.

Recognise that it is a difficult time for them, listen and gather market information.  If you stop talking to your customers you are giving your competitors an opportunity to introduce themselves.  Take time out to make business development calls – make the time.  At the same time work hard to speak to potential customers who may be being ignored by your competition.   Share with them your market intelligence, work hard to understand their needs, keep in touch.

Share your findings with your colleagues in the business too.

Your customers want to survive, what can you offer to help them to?

Whilst the sort of change we’ve seen in the UK renewables sector isn’t an everyday occurrence, it is a worthwhile reminder that the marketplace is a dynamic environment that your business needs to understand, align with and ultimately engage and support.

I hope it doesn’t, but what would you do if your market changed overnight?


By Helen Lee, business development manager at durhamlane

About durhamlane
durhamlane is an independent thought leader on sales performance. We deliver a measurable difference by improving sales processes, training and coaching sales and non-sales people and embedding best practices through technology. We provide a range of business development and key account acquisition solutions as well as a unique sales graduate service, Hybrow, designed to increase the sales footprint and long-term success of our clients – something we call ‘Selling at a Higher Level’.


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Who is the Superhero of Sales?

Wondering who the Superhero of Sales is in your company? If you are a small business without a dedicated Sales Department then it is YOU. Having loads of passion and a brilliant product alone is unlikely to achieve great sales results so Put a Plan in Place. Decide what you are looking for. Maybe it is Return on Investment, more prospects, better conversations, more referrals or larger contracts to name a few.

Within your company you are the Superhero of Sales. Prospecting, networking, researching and negotiating. If you snooze you lose so now is the right time to flex your sales arm.

What’s stopping you? Maybe some of the following are roadblocks you have encountered?:

  • Telemarketing is scary! OK, just remember “Some Will, Some Won’t, So What, Next!” – you simply move onto the next call, it’s not personal.
  • When to give up? Does “No” mean “No”? The B2B Sales process can be lengthy. Surprisingly, research shows that 80% of sales occur between the 5th and 12th contact. Most people will have given up by this time having made between 1 and 4 attempts where just 20% of sales occur.
  • How low should I go? Be proud of your prices. Have faith in your pricing structure. Reducing the selling price is unlikely to be sustainable in the long-term.
  • Networking/Notworking – Elevate your style from casual networker to professional networker, be prepared (get hold of the attendees list if possible), be interested in what others have to say, and … relax.

With the time pressured SME in mind, durhamlane have created a range of Sales Development Packages – helping you to Sell at a Higher Level. We will help you to get the ball rolling and will support you to ensure you gain confidence in the sales process. The team at durhamlane are all from different backgrounds and we have a variety of skills and specialisms but we all share one thing – a passion for sales.

What’s holding you back from being a Sales Superhero?


By Carolyn McGregor, business development manager at durhamlane

About durhamlane
durhamlane is an independent thought leader on sales performance. We deliver a measurable difference by improving sales processes, training and coaching sales and non-sales people and embedding best practices through technology. We provide a range of business development and key account acquisition solutions as well as a unique sales graduate service, Hybrow, designed to increase the sales footprint and long-term success of our clients – something we call ‘Selling at a Higher Level’.


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Sales – stepping up & into the limelight

I had the pleasure of speaking with a group of 14 and 15 year olds earlier this week as part of Enterprise Work Week. My session was focused around sales and confidence. The team have just one week to agree on an idea, develop a strategy and an action plan, then put it into place. No mean feat for anyone, let alone a group who usually spend their time in class.  The result is Durham Oxygen Events.  You can check out their progress here.

I enjoy delivering and supporting these sort of sessions. On Tuesday afternoon I met a really bright, creative and fun group. One of the great things about working with young people is that you know where you stand – if you’re not working hard enough to engage them you can tell! If you interest them you receive immediate feedback. It is possible to “see the lights go on“. Exciting.

During the afternoon we discussed Sales as a profession, we dispelled some sales myths and importantly, worked on practical techniques that can help them to be successful on this project.

Lots of engagement, questions, thinking and putting theory into practice.

As I came away I was reminded how open to new ideas we are when we staff off, yet how we so often seem to close up as we get older – perhaps beaten down by experiences, fears and past failures.  Being a Sales Professional is about being open to continuous learning. It’s about having courage to put a first foot forward and to try something new or do something again. It’s about confronting possible failure and working hard to forge success.

I finished my session by sharing my favourite quote:

“Luck is when preparation meets opportunity” – Elmer Leterman

When we are prepared we are more confident, we talk with more intensity, we show we care. This can do remarkable things for our success. Remember, people like to buy but hate to be sold. Customers are looking for relationships that make them feel good; they want to have their problems solved by people who are professional, humble and courteous.

How are you doing? What have you learnt over the last month? Are you open to new ideas? I hope so.  If not then go get to work!

Oh, and the session was at the Rivergreen Centre in Durham.  What an interesting place.  I even drank water that had been recycled from off the roof…

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5 tips from a Sales Graduate. Remember how it felt being new to Sales?

It always strikes me how quickly we adapt to our current situation.  We have an amazing ability to accept the present and forget where we started.  This can be a good thing but can also hinder us from appreciating what we have, where we are, who we are with…

At durhamlane we are just a few weeks away from launching a new service (‘Hybrow’) designed to connect ambitious and committed business graduates with companies who want to grow without the adverse financial risks that often accompany hiring experienced sales resource.  As you’d expect, we are much more than simply the conduit, or the ‘matchmaker’ between both parties.  We have designed and embedded a sales performance induction training and coaching programme that supports the graduate in their transition and delivers fast track success to the business: Win-Win.  Watch this space for a more detailed post very soon.  In the meantime here’s a testimonial from one of our ‘sales pilots’:

The Sales Roller-Coaster

Michael Dawson is our most recent member of the durhamlane sales team who joined us through our new Hybrow programme.  He’s working in a busy Sales environment and (I like to think) he’s been trained well and is receiving on-going coaching from the many experienced people within our business.  During our 1-2-1 last week I asked him to reflect on his first two months at durhamlane; to think about what he’d learnt so far.  His response has inspired me to want to share his feedback.

Reading through his words for the first time reminded me what a roller-coaster sales can be – the highs and the lows, learning to be positive, to dig deep and to think big, to trust yourself, to be creative and learning that hard work will pay off sooner or later.

Here are Michael’s 5 lessons, unedited (I do have his permission to share this by the way):

The most difficult part of starting this is deciding where to begin, the obvious thing to do would be to reflect on my first day; instead I’d like to focus a little further back to my training and combine that with my first day…

Lesson 1: you are never as well prepared as you think you are.

No matter how high your level of confidence in your preparation may be, always try to prepare more.  After the (Hybrow induction) training I felt really confident from a combination of the theory I had taken on and the feeling that I was entering an exciting new business with a great wealth of knowledge and expertise, and that ultimately this would translate over to developing me into a great sales professional.  Day one however was a huge shock; being thrown into the deep end was both exciting yet terrifying …

Lesson 2: keep calm and don’t panic.

That has been one of the most difficult things for me to still deal with.  I know in myself that it’s just a phone call with a person, that I have great product knowledge and that I can understand and counter most objections but sometimes the desire to perform well is so high that it can translate into a negative result.  I get misdirected and something that should have converted has slipped through my fingers.  This comes in several forms, either through getting too excited and getting out of control at a minor expression of interest or having enough interest and then not seizing the opportunity…

Lesson 3: don’t run at a door that isn’t open but for goodness sake know when to walk through it when it is.

A great deal of pressure comes from the requirement to perform, and I accept that is the nature of the industry, but it’s something I have yet to fully adapt to.  Perhaps I am performing and developing well, perhaps the thought process to convince myself that I’m not doing well enough and that I must do better is something a sales person needs…

Lesson 4: combine ambition with focus.

There is a general statement I feel as though I should argue against, and that is; “It’s only business, don’t take it personally”.
The conundrum here is that, people will buy from someone they trust and buy from someone they like. So consequently in sales it is ALL about who you are as a person.  I guess confidence is generated from (amongst other things) product knowledge and confidence will lead me to being more relaxed and therefore likely to build better rapport…

Lesson 5: Start writing a sales diary.

Getting things down like this and actually being honest with yourself is therapeutic, and hopefully will make improvements and give me things to focus on…”

So there you have it.  Five lessons from someone who is new to sales.  Do you remember what it was like to start in Sales, how it felt?  What advice would you give someone if they were sitting next to you now embarking on their own journey towards becoming a Sales Professional?

Let us know.  Go on, take a minute to post a comment!

About durhamlane
durhamlane is an independent thought leader on sales performance.  We deliver a measurable difference by improving sales processes, training and coaching sales and non-sales people and embedding best practices through technology.  We provide a range of business development and key account acquisition solutions as well as a unique sales graduate service, Hybrow, designed to increase the sales footprint and long-term success of our clients – something we call ‘Selling at a Higher Level’.


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Leadership and Sales Success

I’ve recently finished reading Onward by Howard Schultz. The title includes the phrase; “how Starbucks fought for its life without losing its soul“. What’s been fascinating to me as I have been carried along on Howard’s journey following his re-appointment as CEO is that I never knew Starbucks had a soul worth saving in the first place. I’ve always liked Starbucks but never had undying loyalty. As I have progressed through the book my desire to re-engage with Starbucks has increased.

From this I have concluded that either:

Howard &/or his co-author, Joanne Gordon, have done a great sales job on me, or Starbucks had so seriously lost its brand position and values that it has taken a book for me to understand their history, culture and vision.

Either way, Howard Schultz makes for a very charismatic leader. His passion for coffee and for the Starbucks family (employees are called ‘Partners’) is persuasive. What is also apparent though has been the need for tough, really tough decisions. You can feel the pain he personally felt in making these but also understand why the decisions had to be made.

This got me thinking about my own leadership style and the type of leadership needed to be a successful sales manager.

Like most things in life it seems, a blend of approaches is required if you want to be a successful sales leader. It is necessary to be a visionary, a coach, a friend, a mentor, a solution creator, someone who can think outside of the box and motivate when things don’t go right. On the other hand it is important to set and manage expectations and to hold people accountable. It is necessary to create routine for people so that they can perform against a set of goals (or KPIs) that have meaning attached to them. At durhamlane we talk about the need for goals to be Ambitious yet Realistic‘. Your team need to know when they have been successful and to understand the implications of not achieving goals that are agreed and set.

One set of skills or disciplines will only take you so far. However, get a blend of both working together and you will create a culture of sales performance that people want to be a part of.

Finally, I believe consistency is the key. No-one likes, or does particularly well against a moving target.

What has your best sales leader excelled in? What made them special and how did they positively affect your performance?


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