Sam Smith greeted me with a warm smile and a firm handshake, asked how I was and instantly started to strike up a rapport. It was the first time I had met Sam, and his natural ability to connect with people struck me immediately. Great eye contact and extremely personable - invaluable skills that are too often under rated these days.
Definitely a mature head on young shoulders living up to the cliché that first impressions count and people buy people first.
Sam, a meta grad, had very kindly agreed to talk to me about his career journey since applying for the role of Sales Relationship Manager with Attivo back in late 2006. Attivo Group is a successful financial services firm specialising in investments, pensions, property and tax planning, working with private and corporate clients nationwide. The firm has its head office in Cheltenham and four other regional offices around the UK.
Recent government changes to pension legislation means that Sam deals with a wide variety of businesses and prospective clients including HR Directors seeking help with the new auto-enrolment pension rules for employees, as well as individuals wishing to maximise the potential return of their pension funds.
Over the last six years Sam has made rapid progress and fast-tracked his career path with the Attivo Group and is now Group Relationship Manager. His role has responsibilities for establishing, developing and maintaining long-term relationships with both prospective and existing clients, professional introducers and strategic partners. Using his expertise and honed skills to develop and build client relationships, Sam works closely with the strong and growing team of industry professionals and highly qualified and experienced IFAs, reinforcingAttivo Group's commitment to client servicing.
I asked Sam what made him look towards sales as a career?
"I have always been interested in business and enjoy dealing with people. I have always felt at ease in front of people and wanted to find a career that would allow me to use and capitalise on these skills. Of course, there are the obvious benefits and rewards that come with a sales career, but I am more motivated by success rather than money."
After leaving Warwick University, where he studied Management Science, Sam joined Boomerang Media, a creative media agency based in Hampshire. At Boomerang he enjoyed an operational role, with his natural talent for dealing with and getting on with people coming to the fore.
"Even when you are fulfilling an operational function you still have clients and suppliers, with relationships that need to be managed and developed."
In 2006 Sam moved to Cheltenham and rather than dealing with a traditional recruitment agency was advised by a friend to approach meta-morphose.
"I was keen to develop my skills and recognised that by developing new sales techniques I could be more successful."
Following his initial telephone interview, Sam was then invited to one of our meta-morphose assessment days. I asked Sam about this first face-to-face engagement with us.
"Oh, yes I do still remember the assessment day and the nerve racking three minutes' presentation I had to give on myself, and why I thought I would be suitable for a role in business to business sales. At the time I wasn't totally convinced I was, but I've never looked back since then and here I am today!"
The team dynamics and interview was not lost on him either!
Sam explained that he thought the meta-morphose approach was, and still is, unique in that it offers more than just a sales role.
"I feel that the coaching is probably one of the most valuable parts of the entire process - and it has made a real difference to me".
Add this to the sales training, deliberately experiential and endorsed by the ISMM to ensure that learning is understood, practised and implemented for maximum effect and the unique "difference" becomes obvious.
As with most of the meta-morphose's candidates, sales training started soon after Sam's first day at work with the Attivo Group. The tried and tested meta-morphose Inspirational Selling programme is in three parts with the first module laying the foundations of basic sales principles and techniques.
Sam explained modestly, "I was awarded best student on the first module and I think it was down to the fact that I just listened to everything the trainers said....and then implemented exactly what they had suggested!"
It would seem like common sense, but then as we all know common sense is not necessarily common practice.
Sam went on to explain how the skills, techniques and frameworks are as relevant in his every day work now, as they were when he first practised them with meta-morphose.
"Models such as "REPEC and PRIMED allow me to be more structured with my approach and help questioning to be more effective, ultimately generating better answers."
In Sam's current role, he spends much of his time in introductory meetings with prospective clients discussing very personal financial matters. These meetings are key, as it is at this initial meeting that Sam will determine which advisor is the most appropriate for that particular client. This decision is based on a
number of factors, but can centre on personality fit and financial circumstances. It is therefore important to build rapport, gain trust but then also have a questioning structure to extract the key information required.
In module two, the training focuses on buyer behaviour and teaches candidates how to spot behaviour motivation and how to act and react to it. This is another area that Sam found especially useful and one that he still uses today, especially when he meets someone for the first time.
Sam's career at the Attivo Group has progressed at the same time as the company has grown. He now finds himself with more responsibility and thoroughly enjoys his role with an enthused focus to increase the clientbase, generate revenue and cut down sales lead times. Consequently he is delivering well against his key performance indicators.
We discussed achievements and challenges, Sam did mention that his age was initially a barrier when he first entered the financial industry, as clients were used to dealing with someone more mature. He was able to overcome this by using his personality to connect with people and ultimately by delivering results. It was not too long before he had topped the list for the number of new introductions to the firm.
The Attivo Group also holds its own awards each year and I was very impressed to hear that Sam has won the "Outstanding Contribution" award twice, voted for by his colleagues and has also been runner up twice in the last four years that it has been run.
As we started to wind up our meeting, I asked Sam to name someone who has been an inspiration to him. He singled out his CEO - Stephen Harper.
"Stephen has been an inspirational manager and leader, and someone I have learnt so much from. Not just in terms of what he has achieved to ambitiously grow the company, but in his ability to connect with people and build relationships on a one to one level. In what is an increasingly challenging market place, Stephen has lead by example recognising that a trustworthy, knowledgeable personal approach is the best way to get the job done"
I asked Sam what advice he would give to any graduates considering career in business-to-business sales.
"Listening to people. Not just hearing them. Listen to advice from peers, colleagues, clients, people who have done it and been there. You do not necessarily have to follow the advice, but to listen and take on board as much as you can and then decide."
We are all very proud of what Sam has achieved - especially when sales was not his first choice of career. He has certainly demonstrated to clients, employers and to us that he is a true sales superstar, and anyone that graduates who is considering a career in sales, should take inspiration from such a shining light.
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