Exeleon Magazine

Selling in the Big Leagues: An Interview With Laird Comber, Canadian Sales Executive

Laird Comber

Laird Comber has led sales initiatives for some of Canada’s most recognizable corporate names, including Grainger, Tenaquip, Vallen, Source Atlantic, Wesco/Hazmasters, MSC, Cintas, Motion, Bunzl, Fastenal, SPI, Whitecap and Linde.

He routinely meets aggressive sales targets with a sales strategy that focuses intently on people — the customer, the client and his colleagues.

Laird Comber’s professional insights are highly valued. But they are also intriguing to a wider audience, as they center on a keen understanding of human psychology, team building and organizational leadership.

We reviewed many of these topics in our recent interview with the Canadian sales executive, a conversation partially reprinted below.

Q: Is there a “secret sauce” when it comes to becoming a top salesperson?

Laird Comber: Speaking metaphorically, there is a recipe, but there is very little about it that could be considered secret. Thousands of how-to sales books and seminars have laid out the blueprint for sales success. Granted, most sales people start with generous measures of innate talent. At the very least they are extroverted and people-focused. But there are some really notable exceptions to this rule.

Beyond talent, clear communication is key. You need written and spoken communications skills to build relationships and assume leadership roles. And of course you can’t sell any product or service without clearly conveying benefits to customers and being alert to the cues that reveal what may be holding them back from agreeing to the sale.

In addition to clear communication, you need drive, ambition and a strong work ethic to succeed in sales. It’s not a job where you sit at a desk, waiting for someone to drop a file in your in-box. Taken together, I describe the ideal recipe for top-of-your-game sales as: persistency, consistency and resiliency, along with self-motivation.

Q: How do you define leadership in the context of a sales team?

Laird Comber: When you are entrusted to lead a team, you must lay the groundwork by setting clear goals and expectations for each team member, as well as yourself.

Building trust is also essential, because trust is what allows you to avoid micromanagement. When you trust the people you have chosen for your team, you can give them latitude to take responsibility and pursue goals with flexibility. When they make their own decisions, they take ownership, and at the end of the day will be accountable.

With this type of leadership model it is also important to lead by example. Because you’re not leading by issuing orders and directives, you need another way to motivate your team members. The best way to motivate people is to inspire them; and people will only be inspired by those they believe have integrity.

Q: How do you manage to be successful in negotiations?

Laird Comber: In sales, almost everything is a negotiation. It’s a give-and-take, and once again we see that trust is a vital part of the equation. Negotiations in which each side is suspicious aren’t very productive, and whatever deal is reached is very likely to unravel at some point.

When you establish a trusting relationship, the customer is willing to take leaps of faith with you. They are more likely to be persuaded into overcoming their fears, setting aside their doubts. Part of keeping this trust is resisting the temptation to get greedy. A good negotiator understands that the best deal is a win-win outcome, one in which each side is not only satisfied, but each may actually believe they got the better end of the deal. That type of satisfied customer goes by another name: Repeat customer.

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