Stop selling- start creating value.

A few tips I’ve learnt since landing my first $20K sale through to my first multimillion dollar deal.


I am not a salesperson. But this has made me good at landing sales. And selling has become my favourite part of my job. Ultimately selling is creative, challenging and requires extreme levels of authenticity. 

A sales person’s role is to identify and solve problems. Often, the problems the client has identified- are not the real problems at all. Navigating this is the most important skill to develop.  If you were to just listen to your clients needs and not analyse them with your expert knowledge- you would not make many sales. 

The sales process should be value based and essentially free consulting for the customer. If you do not treat it this way- your competitor will and the client will go with their solution as their sales process provided more value. It’s not even about the product at this point- they are investing in you- the expert. So you need to prove that you are indeed an expert by providing consultative value. Don’t just go on about product features. The product is just a prop if you are selling a solution. But this does not mean you can sell a lemon- the product will need to pay off eventually. 

Be Authentic 

This is good advice to be a likeable person in general. No one buys a solution from someone they do not like or respect. There are exceptions to this- usually with monopolies- like when you have to deal with Telstra.  To be likeable you need to be honest and authentic- and you cannot fake this. 

The first step to being authentic is to be knowledgeable. If you do not understand something- do not try and fake it. How can you authentically promote your product to solve a client’s problem- if you do not know if it technically can? 

The second step to being authentic is to be sincerely passionate about the problems you solve. Life is too short to be doing something you are not passionate about. If you do not love solving these particularly sets of problems- why is this your job? You have to truly believe you are providing value to the customer- not just with the product you are selling- but with yourself being involved in the project.  

Lean in to any differences between yourself and whatever a sales person looks like in your head. This is what will make you authentic at the end of the day. Approach these differences as opportunities to stand out, be refreshing, or build a relationship, not things to hide from a client’s view. 

Be a specialist generalist 

In solution sales you need to know a little bit about everything. From business processes, what your customers do, and of course the product domain knowledge or technology.  In some ways you need to know more about elements of the technology than some of your technical team, just at a higher level. 

For example, your front-end developer does not need to understand site-based network infrastructure, or cloud deployment methods. But to know how these technologies come together is important when selling and scoping.  In other words you need to become a specialist generalist. 

Just like a General Practitioner at a hospital; there is a lot of knowledge needed to reach a diagnosis before delegating to a specialist. The GP’s general knowledge is their speciality. 

The main actionable advice here is to absorb knowledge constantly. Read about market trends, sales techniques, technology developments, open source projects, university research papers, hardware blogs, economic trends, tax law changes, company news, client’s financial reports, industry news, attend tech meetups, attend industry conferences, monitor competitor's announcement and setup google keyword monitoring. Most importantly, travel and talk to people that know more than you do. 

Learn the buying processes and corporate structure 

This is sort of a boring area, but if you want to improve your sales you need to learn how your clients buy. Anyone can have great positive sales meetings but turning good meetings into a sale is what sets great sales people apart.

So many things have to line up to make a sale. It’s not as simple as convincing a room full of people that your product is the best. You need to be there with the right people at the right time, provide the right information, be the right price, have the right business model and get sign off from IT, user groups and business leads. Then it goes to the procurement department for even more processes. It’s amazing anyone manages to sell anything to a corporate. 

Start with your business model. Does the client’s funding for this project come from an operating or capital budget? Maybe they really want your solution, but only have an operating budget to work with. So if you split your costs across three years, you might have a better chance. Or maybe they received a government grant that has to be spent as one off capital purchase- your SaaS model won’t work here.

Gartner has great research on how buying and sales processes are intertwined. One of their stats is selling takes twice as long as the seller expects, but buying takes five times as long as the buyer expects. Both would rather close the sale sooner.

In fact, you should be an expert in buying as well as selling your product. Your clients might buy something for a major project twice a year; whereas you sell your product every day of the week. Consider yourself a buying consultant- not as sales person. 

As hard as it has become to sell in today’s world, it has become that much more difficult to buy. The single biggest challenge of selling today is not selling, it is actually our customers’ struggle to buy.

Brent Adamson

Distinguished VP, Advisory, Gartner

Treat the buying process like a project and manage it like a project manager. Set expectations as part of your sales process. Prepare templated documents on what you need to speed up the sales process and identify the key people that are likely going to need to sign off. Also identify the key blockers and have an action plan for them- before you hit them. 

Have a buying case study and talk through the process it took to sell to a similar customer and the resulting structure of your engagement. Set a timeline and ask for any procurement guidelines. It is also important to let them know that their own processes might delay the project- if they expect to have a solution in place in a few weeks- they might not even have sign off until then. 

Know what you don’t know- but always be learning. 

I’ve sat in on many meetings with external sales people. My number one pet hate is when they brush off technical knowledge as something they can not possibly attain. It was either with Telstra or Optus where the sales guy referred to programming as “the dark arts” and palmed off every technical question with “we’ll leave that to the guys in the basement”. Wanker. If you sell a technical product, you need to understand tech, otherwise what value are you creating? 

Of course at some point you need to bring in an engineer. But, if you are too lazy to learn a bit of tech, go get another job.  

Wrapping things up:

Overall, be confident in yourself, your abilities, the product you are selling, and your ability to call bullshit on yourself. Be effective, proactive and as knowledgeable as you can be - not to keep up with anyone, but to stay ahead of them. 

You are not a salesperson. You are a specialist generalist. You are a buying consultant. You are a constant learner. And you are an authentic and likeable human being that provides value to your clients in any way possible.

Working on the road

Australia is small but with a lot of innovation- so it is natural to look at larger markets from day one. That was true when I co-founded ACA and I’ve been travelling overseas frequently for the last 7 years. These are my top lessons learnt along the way (so far).

The risk of burnout is very high.

When I first started travelling for work I found it hard to allow myself to enjoy the trip. I took a work-only attitude and felt guilty if I did anything ‘fun’ while in a different city.  

At first I was worried about the perception of co-workers and even friends- “Oh Jon’s drinking in Singapore again”. And yes, on sales trips ‘work’ can mean hosting and taking clients out for dinner and drinks. As an introvert- I can assure you this is very much work for me.  

Add 15 hour days, not working out, eating poorly, red eye flights and constantly adjusting to time zones- and you can easily burn out. So I’ve since learnt to take time to enjoy the city I’m in and not worry about what people think.

Results come eventually- but take a lot of work.

With large projects comes long sales cycles- so a year or two after my first trip (and lots of follow up)  we started landing overseas gigs. This helped with my perception issue as everyone around me could see the results and now most of our work comes from overseas.

I’ve learnt it takes time and patience. First you need time for research and your first trip might simply be to become acquainted with the city. Then you need to learn the industry landscape and potential clients- before you can have a target list of meetings. For me this is trying to tap into the musical chairs of commercial real estate; what corporates are about to move? who moves in when they leave? What companies service this? Of course you could skip all this if you find someone with local contacts. But then you have to slowly build a relationship with that person. All this to say the first few trips to a new city will not result in anything tangible. But you have to keep chipping away.

The slowest part is learning the cultural differences. If you are in sales- you might have to re-learn how to sell. So you might want to start with countries that are culturally similar. But as an Australian business- Asia was our obvious international stepping stone. I think I travelled to Singapore at least 5 times before we landed our first sale. Hong Kong- 7 or 8 times. Tokyo- still working on it and learning how to sell. It takes knowing what you don’t know, constant adjusting and lots of follow up.

The quintessential Singapore selfie

The quintessential Singapore selfie

Packing your days with meetings is counterproductive.

It is tempting to have a meeting every hour to feel like the trip was worth it. When I first started travelling my days would look like this:

  • 7am: the only time to catch up on email and admin.

  • 9am to 5pm: back to back meetings- no lunch- late to every meeting- 5+ coffees to maintain energy.

  • 5pm to 1am: drinks, dinner, drinks. Mostly with people you have already spent all day meeting with.

  • Repeat for 4 days.

  • Red eye flight home. Straight to the office when I land.

Getting meetings is never hard. Getting quality meetings is more important. I realised I was filling my days up with meetings I would not bother with at home. It’s better to focus your energy and not spread yourself thin. So my meetings are a lot more focused now- with plenty of time to prep, do other work and rest.  My travel days look more like this:

  • 7am to 9am- time for me. Work-out, meditate, go for a walk.  

  • Anytime after 9am. One or two meetings only. Spend the time in between preparing or doing other work. Having a WeWork membership helps with this.

  • No more dinner or drink meetings. Get some sleep. If I’m out drinking- it’s with people I actually want to be hanging out with.  

  • Take at least one day off. Spend it doing something fun. Take advantage of being overseas.

Travel hacks

I’ll end this with a few bullet points of the travel tips I follow.

  • Pick an airline and stick with it. I don’t care too much about the lounge- but the flexibility with tickets and having access to a shower comes in handy. For a while I was travelling with multiple airlines and so had no status with any.

  • Get a gym membership that has global locations. You might just want the locker and shower if you have to check out of your hotel early.

  • The airport train is always the best way to get to any city from the airport- if it has one. Hong Kong is by far the best for this. On the way home you can even check your bags in at the train station 24 hours before your flight.  

  • Get a hot-desk shared workspace membership. WeWork is not the only option but it’s fine.

  • I can recommend CitizenM as the most consistent hotel I’ve been to.  Go to any of their locations and have the same experience. However, this is also why sometimes I don’t book them - I get sick of looking at the same hotel room and would rather something more unique. Or a bit more lux from time-to-time. But they are my go to for New York, London, Amsterdam and Paris.

  • Ask an Australian where the best coffee is or find an Australian run cafe (there will be a few). New Zealanders seem to know what they are doing too.

  • My number one tip: don’t eat the plane food- even in business class. If you haven’t looked into the benefit of fasting google that first. Use the flight as a fasting day and you will feel so much better when you land. The plane food is just not worth it. Tell the attendant up front- otherwise they’ll keep annoying you throughout the flight. Any intake will break your fast so nothing but water. 23 hours to London is a good fasting day. 8 hours to Hong Kong- walk in the park.  

CitizenM New York (SoHo)

CitizenM New York (SoHo)

What is a smart building anyway?

If you can connect every element of a building to a single platform- new opportunities open up for workflow automation. Things that were historically isolated can now interact with each other. Ultimately, this improves the user experience as there can be seamless cross over between systems.

This can start with some very basic workplace requirements such as visitor management, meeting room booking and building access control coming together. If you register the visitor via an exchange invite- why do they need to fill in all their details when they arrive? And why can’t they simply access the required space on their own? Following this same user journey all the way through and you might tie into car space management, catering requests by the visitor (as they are probably a customer), way-finding, etc, etc.

The more we integrate with- the broader this workflow automation can extend. To help get my own head around this I designed a mind map. The video below is part one of me going through this- starting with the tenancy- in this example, a workplace. Part two will focus on the building, precinct and city.

Lessons from being a roadie early in my career

While I was still studying I became a roadie. I think it was after responding to an ad in the music industry section of the street press magazine the Drum Media (Is street press still a thing?). It seemed perfect for a uni student with a bit of music and audio production knowledge: mostly night work and flexibility around Uni commitments.

The first thing I discovered was it was bloody hard work. HIIT is a big fitness fad and I think being a roadie was a similar concept. Work as hard as you can for as long as you can. Some shifts were just 3 hours because you couldn’t possibly do another minute.  The majority of the work was unloading or packing (bump-ins/bump-outs) trucks of heavy equipment as quickly as possible.

The shows varied greatly. I had some shifts where I was shovelling dirt for 6 hours- to turn a stadium into a dirt-bike stunt show. There were lots of big concerts- whoever was touring that year. Even more Christian rock shows, I discovered that Hillsong was almost single handedly keeping the local live production industry going.  There were TV shows- particularly when they did specials outside of their normal studio location. Sporting events- halftime shows and side stages. Awards- MTV Music awards was a highlight as I got to go to the after party- at 19 I thought that was pretty cool. Then the boring stuff: corporate gigs and conferences. I vividly remember almost walking out on a job where I had to setup LG fridges at a white-goods trade show.

But I stuck with it for 12 months, doing bump outs during the week- from midnight to 6am. And bump ins when I could get them on weekends or days I had no classes. Half the time not caring or knowing what the show was. Towards the end I was doing what I signed up for. The “one, two, two, two” on stage and backline setup. That means plugging in guitar amps, patching fold-back monitors and putting mics on drums.  Playing drums to an empty stadium with a huge PA system was an amazing feeling. I also got to stick around for the performance and provide whatever assistance was needed. Another highlight was helping dancers onto stage at a Beyoncé concert as they couldn’t walk up the perforated metal stairs in high heels.

I hung up my backstage lanyard when I physically couldn’t do it anymore. I needed sleep and to focus on finishing my degree. Occasionally, I think back to that intensive year of roadie work- and reflect on how it has helped me to get where I am. These are my top lessons learnt from my roadie days.

Stop talking and get shit done.

To start with an empty stadium- sometimes just a day before the concert- and to have it production ready for an audience of 80,000 people is an overwhelming team effort. From the first truck arriving in the loading dock to the last cable patched at the lighting desk- it is managed with military precision. There is a clear hierarchy but with little micro-management. Everyone knows their role and their set of tasks. But the lighting director is more than happy to get his or her hands dirty on any task that needs doing.  I think part of the reason it can run so smoothly is the goal is clear: we need a stage, with lighting, video and audio before the band gets here for sound check- and well before the patrons turn up. There is nothing more motivating than standing in an empty stadium knowing how much needs to get done between now and showtime- so no time to do anything but work. And if you see a task that needs doing- do it.

How I use this today:

I am very much a doer. I can’t stand talk, noise and unnecessary meetings. The lighting truck has arrived and we have a stadium to set up. Let's get to work.  I always have that sense of urgency. And I feel I prioritise this way too. Big stuff first (lighting rig) small stuff later (patching the control cable to each light). There is always so much work that needs doing- find the thing that has the biggest impact until all the big impact items are done- then you have time for small things.  And don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty no matter what your role is. Your role defines what you are responsible for- not what tasks you should or shouldn’t do. Align your business goals and do whatever it takes to get there.

A phrase I use constantly is “showstoppers”. Do we have any showstoppers?  What are the likely showstoppers for day one launch? These are the big issues- that deserve my time. If there are small issues but the show can still go on- then let’s proceed.  The show must go on.  

Not one of my gigs but a familiar sight. Time lapse of setting up a Muse stadium show.

Physical work feels good.

It was the first and only physical job I’ve had. I did not use a computer once. I even kept two wrenches on my belt. There is such a sense of achievement from doing physical work. You get all the good stuff your brain releases from exercise (see my last article)- but also starting with an empty floor and ending up with a stage in a single shift is satisfying. Building something from scratch and seeing results so quickly feels great.

How I use this today.

I’m still hooked on physical activity- but my job now is mostly thinking, writing and talking. So simple things like having a pull up bar next to my desk allows me to stay active at work.

I still like to build things from scratch and this is exactly what our project team does. New UX for projects, new features for our products. But I have to wait 6 weeks- not 6 hours for that sense of achievement. Even if it’s not directly at work- you should always be building something new. Have a project, complete it, feel great, repeat. I’m pretty sure that's the secret to happiness. No need for religion or anything like that- just complete plenty of projects.

There is more to life than work.

I started to notice that being a roadie was all-encompassing and it was hard to fit anything else into your life (including my uni work at the time). If you are working all night and sleeping most of the day your only connection to other people- is other roadies and production crew members. There is no outside world. On long running shows- you are literary sleeping on stacked up road cases or if you are lucky and know someone- the back of a van.

Some programmers like to brag about doing all nighters. Let me tell you no one works harder than a production crew on tour- they only work all nighters. But in both cases this is not healthy. Many product crew members turned to drugs to help them continue with this- uppers so they can do the work- downers to get to sleep at weird hours. I know some programmers that do the same thing.  

How I use this today.

Working that hard- for that long will result in poor work and is simply unhealthy. Programmers seem to have a hard time with this.  They don’t realise that everyone would rather that they take twice as long and factor in sleep. I can guarantee the code produced at 4am is going to have issues- and they’ll spend more time chasing bugs than if they just had a break and came back to it the next day. And then there is the ripple effect of the other tasks they were meant to do the day after an all nighter. So never boast about doing an all nighter to me- I will just think you have poor time management skills and no respect for your own work.

A job that requires thinking (most of them)- requires a lot of head space. Rest, sleep, exercise and doing more than just work. This gives your subconscious a chance to sort and clear your brain’s cache. This is why you have your best ideas in the shower (it use to be on the toilet but mobile phones have killed that thinking time).   You should never get to the point that you are working so hard that you turn to drugs to keep you going. It will all catch up to you sooner or later.

My time as a roadie was brief and I was mostly bolting truss together and unloading trucks. But with the power of hindsight I feel the job helped shape who I am today. Particularly my work ethic and sense or urgency to be ready by show time. It has come full circle as a few of the venues I use to work at are now clients- so I’m still backstage from time to time, always interested in what they are bumping in and out.