July 18, 2017: When your market is saturated and your competitors, like you, are looking for an edge to win business, having the Association of Professional Sales at your side can make all the difference, says Ben Gaston, sales director at Toshiba TEC.
Gaston has spent 20 years in the business services sector, most of those at Toshiba selling printers and software solutions across a fragmented and competitive industry. This gives him a good sense of how the land lies and what can help win a sale.
He admits it’s tougher now to get customers to appreciate overall value, rather than just focusing on the price. In the past, your brand, or your approach might have been worth “five or ten per cent”, but he reveals, “It’s worth a lot less now, unfortunately, so things like the APS emblem have helped elevate that again.”
He believes both the Association of Professional Sales and his values “come from the same place” where ethics, career development and treating sales as a profession are key. “What the APS brings” he says, “is a professional standard.”
“The APS logo is on the front page of every presentation we do. It gives us a platform to show we are part of a professional sales organisation. For the customer, it means they are dealing with a dependable partner. It’s an ethical standard backed up by an independent accreditation and it’s refreshing that the APS is moving towards chartered status. It’s been really well received by customers and it’s helped us position Toshiba in high regard. It’s a credible endorsement of what we’re saying.
“When you’re standing there as a sales person saying ‘trust me’, it allows the customer that extra bit of confidence in us.“
But it’s not just about the logo, as a sales leader Ben Gaston knows that to win, you have to take your own development seriously: “I think those that succeed will be those that can find a way to have open, honest discussions with clients, but are still credible; and those that help customers show that value, are those that innovate and really treat sales like a profession.
“If you were a lawyer, you’d read all the latest developments in the law, as they come about. If there were changes in law, you’d learn them and I think it’s the same with sales. You can’t use the sales methods you used when you started on your sales journey. Constantly, you have to stay on top of latest trends; you have to stay on top of different techniques; you have to immerse yourself in professional sales literature, and listen to new ideas on selling. You have to stay ahead of it, and study it like a profession and what’s really refreshing about what we’ve done with the APS is that, it’s the first time an organisation has stuck its head up and gone: ‘We agree; we see sales as a profession and let’s try and get it the status it deserves.’ That’s going to be crucial to sales development in the future.”
And Gaston says the drive for professionalism, supported by the APS, is an important opportunity for him to give back to his staff. “There’s a chance for me to help, which is my number one goal, everyone I work with to develop themselves and understand their own self worth.”
“It sounds clichéd but I’ve always passionately thought our differentiator was our people, and the approach they bring to market and how refreshingly open they are with our clients, and how they’d rather tell the truth and walk away from an opportunity than push a square peg into a round hole. That’s always been us.”
“The industry we’ve historically been part of has had a reputation for being the diametric opposite of that so we’ve always tried to differentiate through our recruitment.
“We’re very, very proud of our culture here. We’re very proud of how empowered all of our staff are here, which is a culture we’ve created locally within Toshiba.”
So what are the attributes that have helped Ben Gaston succeed as a sales director?
“I try and tell it as it is, keep my promises and put everyone in the team ahead of myself. I think the role of a manager is to protect the team, allow them to focus on the job and promote them up as much as you can.
“There are still horrible sales dictatorships around that create failure because people are scared to make a mistake and we all make mistakes. Who’s going to beat you up for a mistake more, the person you work for or yourself, so there’s no point in creating that kind of culture.”
And his toughest sale? Well, he says they’re all tough and they’re all different but building strong, long-term connections is the thing that has pleased him most.
“The relationship I’m proudest of has been a customer of mine for 10 years. I’ve got a really good relationship with them and that’s borne from behaving like we’re talking now. They see me as a trusted adviser rather than a salesperson, or supplier.
He says sales people talk all the time about wanting to be in a partnership, but, “It’s really easy to say and really hard to do. And to do that takes time, takes building up the trust, takes rolling your sleeves up and showing you want to work for them, for their good. It takes, not always selling, and just trying to help them, human being to human being.
The Association of Professional Sales provides development, standards and leadership to the profession.