Maria Kassova is an executive coach, consultant, and facilitator. She has designed and delivered programmes on cross-cultural competence, leadership, and resilience to corporations like BBC Worldwide, Mastercard, WE, Cognizant, Allergen, BNP Paribas, Barclays Plc, Marina Bay Sands Resort.
She is fluent in English, Bulgarian, French and Russian and has worked with over 59 countries in Europe, Asia-Pacific, US, and Africa.
In the past, Maria has held senior leadership roles in London and Singapore in media companies such as BBC Worldwide, Discovery Networks Europe/Asia, and NBC Universal. For over 20 years she was leading global teams and negotiating multi-million dollar deals for TV channels with clients in EMEA and Asia-Pacific. For more information on how she can help your team please write to her on firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.mkmotivation.com. Here is what she shared about her experience as a sales…
Why did you choose sales as a profession?
I did not choose the profession but somehow fell into it through the opportunities that came my way. Having graduated in International Economic relations, I knew I will engage in some commercial role. I was good at maths – one of the entrance exams. This one reason I chose this subject matter to study. Turns out sales was the right place to start. I love establishing connections with people, teams, companies and learning what their goals are, and how my product or service can help them achieve them.
How would you describe your sales technique?
- Passionate, engaging, exciting, thoughtful
- Always building rapport and connecting with the partners – how they are in the moment, how they feel, what is on their mind, and build from there
- Ask many open questions
- Compliment counter-part and company/partner for something I genuinely appreciate
- Use facts from my research when presenting my offers, so they know they are important and I invested time doing my homework.
What professional habits as a salesperson do you have?
- Putting myself in the client’s shoes, imagining their priorities, challenges, objectives, target audiences. Using that hat to formulate the pitch and identify the USPs (Unique Selling Propositions) of the product I am selling.
- Empathic listening skills, an open mindset and desire to understand the position and accept it, realizing I may not be able to influence them.
- Never take ‘rejection’ personally. It is only a response to a proposed product, service, nothing to do with me. Make a clear distinction between my identity and my work.
- Perseverance, until I sense it is time to leg too. Sometimes this would be the turning point for closing the sell. Stop pushing and allow the pulling reaction from the partner to take over.
- Being curious, showing a genuine interest in my partners (I don’t like the word ‘clients’) and building authentic personal relationships. Sales are done with human beings who have stories. Not robots with titles and positions in the hierarchy.
- Prepare thoroughly for the sales meeting – do research, read articles, get as much info and context as possible prior to pitching
- Visualising the successful closure of the deal, the benefit it has for the company, the celebration, the sense of fulfillment and joy of both parties when the win-win deal is closed.
How do you see the future of B2B sales and what will be the trends in the next 10 years?
I believe personal relationships, referrals and a proven reputation for competence (individual, company and brand equity) will always remain critical in generating sales. There will be an even greater need to approach each deal individually, tailor pitch, product, requirements, ways of delivery. Build loyal ‘raving fans’ among the business consumers. Offer more value, and exceed expectations, including offering more value than the client ‘paid for’ in cash. This will build and solidify a long-term relationship.
Can you give an example of a complex contract negotiation you’ve completed and how you did it?
It is a deal worth over 20mln US $ in Asia. It was a pay-TV platform, and their offer when I took over the negotiations asked for a 40% reduction of the fees in the final year of the contract. I started feeling shaky and lacking confidence that I could pull the deal through. My boss was very supportive and helped me appreciate the value of the channel portfolio we were offering. We closed the deal with a 40% growth in the total value, compared to an existing contract. I felt proud and in disbelief how I managed to turn myself around, and the negotiations. Showed me how crucial it is to have a coach/leader/manager we respect, trust in and who believes in us!
The critical success factors were: offer strong research evidence of the USPs and value of our offer, take all criticisms and complaints into account, address them and take immediate measures to rectify – e.g. conduct numerous marketing and PR events with businesses and consumers. Build a strong, honest and assertive relationship with counter-parts (we’re still friends) – through numerous visits to their offices, dinners, lunches, social occasions and consumer events.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve met as a salesperson working in a multicultural environment? What did you learn from them?
My biggest challenges in all new markets I worked: Africa, Asia-Pacific, Western Europe and the Middle East, were at first learning about the cultural dimensions of the partners I was working with – not being able to properly read their body language, discover sometimes they meant ‘no’ but said ‘yes’, learn to read the subtle nuances. Learn how to soften my body language, communication approach and leadership style to meet the local cultural expectations, instead of expecting that my team and partners adapt to me. Tone down my passion, think more and curb my expressiveness if it will alienate my partners. Leading my team in Asia through macro-management and broad guidance, when they needed much more involvement, instructions, and support during execution.
I am grateful for all my failures, as I learnt a lot, gained humility, learnt the power of an apology, and forged great friendships in the process.
Give me an example of when you’ve prospected a lead creatively, and what are the steps you took to do so.
To be honest, I am yet to achieve that – discover, develop and convert a prospect creatively. I’ve been lucky to work for famous brands, so clients were coming to us. It was easy. Now I work for myself – and I am mostly relying on my network and partnerships.
What core values should all great companies possess?
I believe that values and qualities like integrity, honesty, creativity, empathy, confidence, fairness, flexibility, ethics and consideration for the environment, the wider impact on the eco-systems are critical for sustainable success in sales and business in general.
What is your advice towards the young people with interests in sales?
Prepare, listen, ask questions, be kind, build expertise, know your products/services, give more positive feedback, offer help without remuneration, learn and grow, find role models, appreciate your inner qualities, wins, knowledge. Don’t take things personally, and know your ‘WHY?’. Why you are doing what you do, what is the wider benefit. What is the purpose – over and above money. That gives resilience and power to keep going when things turn out sour.
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