Buyers, Sellers and Dream Makers

In this episode, Steven Keys talks to me from his home in the south of England.

He is a motorbike enthusiast, racer, TV personality, business owner, entrepreneur. He’s a man of many talents but the reason he’s here on this podcast is because he loves to talk about selling as much as I do.

I got to know him several years ago when we did a road trip from London to Valencia while filming a TV series which was some of the most fun I’ve ever had on a job.

He joins me now to talk about the art sales – or the way Steve puts it: Dream making!

Listen to the full audio or read a selected excerpt below.

Marketing Helsinki | Episode 21

➤ What do you describe yourself as these days? When people ask, ‘What do you do? How do you answer?’

Yeah, that’s a really good question. I guess I’m kind of a wannabe entrepreneur who’s never quite made anything work exceptionally well but I like juggling balls so I always have two or three things on the go and somehow managed to scrape through and bizarrely have been reasonably successful at doing so.

➤ I’d say you’re being very modest there. You’ve had several successful entrepreneurial ventures – do you want to give me a quick recap of your career?

Shall we call it a mini-resume? Well, my grandfather somehow managed to go out and win the Isle of Man TT on his first try and started a motorcycle business and the passion for motorcycles has stuck in the family. So I’ve been kind of around bikes a lot of my life and in the sales environment because my favorite thing to do was go down to the bike shop on a Saturday from when I was about 13 and pretend I was a salesman.

➤ At 13 you were pretending to be a salesman, I think that’s quite unusual. Not many people are proud of selling, like, they don’t see selling as a positive term you know? It’s a negative term, like, ‘Oh, why are you trying to sell me this?’ How do you see it? 

There’s two ways of looking at it. People can certainly see it, as you say, as being a pressurized situation rather than the way I look at it: It’s a customer experience. And if you manage the sales process correctly, you end up with a really nice comfortable customer experience. Now one thing I know for sure – the majority of people actually quite like buying things. So if you like buying something, at some point you’re going to have to come in contact with someone that’s selling something because you can’t buy something unless there’s someone selling it.

So immediately, everybody is involved in the sales process. Weirdly, they like to hide behind a shield that says, ‘I’m not being sold to. I’m just making a decision to buy.’ Okay, so you can start unfolding that and what it actually comes down to is the insecurity. They perceive they’ll be led by someone that’s trying to sell them something. It all comes back to one thing, you know. In life we all have to accept that nothing happens until somebody sells something. You know, we can’t eat until a supermarket has sold us a can of baked beans, we can’t sleep until someone has sold us a bed to sleep on or a house or a flat.

Life is full of buying and selling and without it, there is no society because the only way you get around that is to go and take something. And who wants a society where people just go around taking? It’s so far in our distant past that we don’t even want to contemplate going back there, so my passion now in life is going out there and trying to help people create a sales environment and a sales experience and a customer experience that exceeds expectations.

➤ Yep, and I like how you said it’s about finding a solution that makes all parties happy. If you think about the insecurity, where people think, ‘I’m being sold to,’ or you know, ‘He wants to take something from me,’ or ‘He’s trying to rip me off,’ do you think as a salesperson, part of your job is to understand human insecurity and help people when they don’t even realize they need help?

Sometimes, yeah. We’ve all heard this and it’s really cheesy but it’s a fact of life: we’ve all got two ears and one mouth. Use them in that order. If you sit there and listen and learn, the more you listen and the more you learn, the more you’re able to help somebody achieve what they’ve set out to achieve.

Okay now that could be quite simple it might be that they want the right mobile phone but equally it could be, ‘I want my dream car, my new BMW 3 Series Touring and I want it in magnetic blue and I want it to have this trim and that on it and all these whistles and bells.’ But if you’re in that showroom environment and actually all you’ve got is a green one and your boss has said to you, ‘Steve, if you don’t sell that green one by the end of the week, you’re in trouble,’ now that is the scenario where the salesman gets a bad name. And who’s to blame in that scenario? Neither the customer nor the salesman but the management. If the management has got them in a position where they’ve got a car that somebody doesn’t want to buy, you can try and force it on someone but at some point someone will walk through that door who loves that green car. Be patient.

Accept that the customer is king and accept that when he comes in wearing his crown and he wants that green car, you can put all that glory upon him. But, you can’t put that green car and make it work as a ‘sales close’ to a man who wants his magnetic blue BMW 3 Series Tourer because he wants that. And he’ll be happy with that so make his dreams come true and get that car for him.

So, in a showroom situation, you’re sitting there in your shop, somebody walks in, you could argue that that is an easy sell because you’re sitting there. Somebody’s coming to you so you can already assume they’re looking to buy. Now, let’s take it out of the showroom and take it out of your building. How do you sell a thing where you, as a salesperson, are the one doing the reaching out?

Yeah we’ll call that a pitching scenario. When you’re going out to pitch to somebody, be very open about that approach to start with. Don’t try and disguise it as being anything other than a pitch then everybody’s happy. In that environment, it may start off as a conversation with a friend or with an acquaintance and then an introduction to somebody else but be completely open about it from the get-go. Because the minute you try and disguise it as something else, there is no trust and the minute there’s no trust you’re trying to sell them that green car again, aren’t you?

You’ve got to accept when you’re pitching that your failure rate is going to be massive. Your conversion ratio in pitching scenarios unless you’ve done an awful lot of homework – which then means there’s probably been a lot of no’s – you’re gonna get knocked back constantly. 

You know what? I’m gonna give you a guess as to what my second favorite word is? 

➤ ‘Resilience’?

‘No’. Do you know what my favorite one is? 

➤ Tell me.


➤ ‘Yes’ is your favorite word? To say? Or to hear?

To hear. And my second favorite word is ‘No,’ because there’s no ambiguity then. As I say to everybody, ‘I’m going to tell you about this because we’ve agreed that I’m going to tell you about this but at the end of it, tell me ‘no,’ because you’re almost certainly going to and I’m not knocking you with that.

➤ Man, that’s easier said than done. People find it so difficult to say no sometimes. People say yes when they actually mean no. Those are the worst types of yes’s. 

They are and that’s why I said, ‘I know that I’m going to get 100 no’s for everyone yes, so why worry about it?’ If I’ve had 10 yes’s in a day something’s not quite right, okay? I get 10 no’s in a day and that’s a bonus because I could knock 10 of those 100 no’s off my board. I’ve only got 90 to get through until I get to my yes. 

Also, if you’re going to go out and pitch to someone, for god’s sakes make sure that you know what you’re talking about and that you believe in it because the second you don’t believe in what you’re trying to – ‘convince’ is the wrong word – what you’re trying to sell to somebody, a concept an idea whatever, if you don’t believe in that yourself as being the right thing for everyone to be involved in, it comes across immediately. People pick up on it in a flash. 

➤ And I like that you said ‘convince’ is the wrong word because we shouldn’t be trying to change people’s minds.

You’re absolutely right, we shouldn’t. However, we do, in the world of sales, use terms like that, you know? Sometimes we will say, ‘Look, what we need is a convincer,’ Okay and it’s a really bad term and one that I don’t like. You know, ‘What’s going to be our convincer on that green car?’ No, that’s not what we want if a customer comes in and says, ‘I want a BMW 3 Series but I’m not sure which one,’ then you introduce that into the conversation. You don’t say to people, ‘If you buy that green BMW, I’ll give you a free cleaning package on it,’ or, ‘Free gap insurance.’ The customer still doesn’t go away happy if it’s not what they want.

Don’t try and sell it to them, be their friend. Work with them, make their dreams come true. Make them feel good about themselves. Make them say to their friend, ‘Look, you want a car? You want to buy a BMW? You want to buy a Porsche, whatever it happens to be? A Ford Focus? Go and see Tan Lay because he’s such a nice guy and he really looked after me.’ Once you start getting that, you know, that’s the best feeling in the world. 

➤ The reputation.

‘Reputation’ is one word for it but there’s a more important word to me and that’s ‘trust.’ Be the person that they trust. That’s what you need in life because without trust, there’s nothing, is there?

Hear the full conversation on the podcast: