February 23, 2017: The Association of Professional Sales and Miller Heiman Group have forged a partnership to promote professionalism in sales. To mark this link up, the APS talks to Richard Hilton, managing director EMEA at Miller Heiman Group, about what good selling means.
Finding the best route down a steep mountain in a white-out when your charges are looking to you for guidance is no bad skill to have.
The ability to pick a line, plan and perform, and to do it consistently as if it’s the most natural thing in the world, takes commitment – the same sort of commitment you need in the boardroom when tackling some precipitous selling cycles.
Richard Hilton, managing director EMEA at Miller Heiman Group, the company which works with some of the world’s top organisations to develop more productive ways of selling, knows a thing or two about such challenges.
Preparation and planning is key, although Richard learnt that long before, in a ski resort in the French Alps. It took some bottle 30 years ago to turn up and tell the French you wanted to be a ski instructor on their mountains and in their language. To be fair, Hilton had put in the hard work at Glenshee, a two-and-a-half hour trip in the car from his home near Glasgow. He would set off at 5am every Saturday morning to work for his coaching qualifications, but he had to prove himself all over again in the Alps. At first all they’d let him do was the ski school accounts, before they finally allowed him on the slopes.
Preparation and hard work is still important to Hilton. He may be the managing director, with years of experience across different markets, but the groundwork is just as important.
“I still put a lot of prep in,” he says. “You can’t just sit there and say, ‘Trust me, I’m the MD and we’re brilliant; we’ll make your life amazing’.
“You have to be able to understand what’s happening in their world, because if you don’t… you’re nothing more than a sales guy trying to sell a product, and we’re more than that. So yes, you spend time understanding their marketplace.”
The key to a good sales pitch is about asking the right questions, and listening carefully, he believes.
“Sometimes people will say, ‘Oh, we’re just not performing very well.’ [You’ve got to ask:] ‘What do you mean by that?’ Let’s understand what is causing that.
“A simple question for me is, ‘Just walk me through a deal you’ve done recently. Start to finish. Why did you win? Why did you lose?’
“I haven’t jumped into product. It’s not about product. It’s about understanding the challenges.”
He believes professional sales people these days have to understand many facets of a business. “You can’t be stupid to be a good salesperson. You are bright. You are articulate. You understand people. Your EQ [emotional intelligence] is off the chart. Your ability to navigate through something very, very complex has to be stellar.”
When it comes to professional and sustainable selling, Hilton feels completely at home with the Miller Heiman Group template. The secret, he confides, is to act quicker, win smarter, and build better relationships with clients.
“It resonated with me… It’s a very straightforward, common sense approach built on years of understanding an examination of an end-to-end sales process,” he confides.
So why selling, and why Miller Heiman Group, what attracted Hilton to the job? Architecture was his first plan; then at 24, he started selling cars to leasing companies and “found I was quite good at it”.
“Quite good” is something of an understatement. He sold cars to companies who provided courtesy vehicles for insurance firms. Between them, the young Hilton and his colleagues shifted 6,500 cars in one year.
He moved on to senior selling roles at ADP, Mercer, Barclays and Capita. When the opening arose at Miller Heiman Group, Hilton saw “an opportunity to give something back to the industry”.
The key, he says, is the famous Miller Heiman Group set of methodologies, which he believes make sellers fundamentally better than their peers.
For him, the Miller Heiman Group process throws light on the dark corners of a sales opportunity, and makes sure all the bases are covered, right down to the buying influence of the person you are talking to.
And what about the future? What are the challenges?
“Buyers are getting smarter,” he says. “We need to be smarter. It’s no longer about who’s the cheapest, who’s the best-dressed, who can take them to the best event. All that’s 1980s. This is us being professional at what we do.
“Historically, it was totally about understanding your product and what you were selling… Now, I think a salesperson has to be a better business ‘understander’. They have to understand all the machinations of that business.
“We’re not viewed as a profession, so we need someone who’s going to champion the voice of sales professionals and elevate our profession, because it is a profession, to a point where people recognise it.”
Good sellers are consummate professionals, he says. He believes the Association of Professional Sales knows that, wants to support the industry and improve the way salespeople work. “For me, the APS, absolutely has got that at the heart of what it’s designed to do.”
So what stresses the apparently unflappable MD? “What, you mean, apart from my daughter’s 11-plus?” Not much, admits Hilton. “It’s healthy stress. I love what I do because I can affect positive change and see it happen. I stress slightly about the future and I’m always thinking about where we’re going.”
Anything else? “It didn’t snow at Christmas.” But that’s all fine, says Hilton, because: “Snow permitting, we’re going away at Easter”.