We kicked off Freshspace in its current form in January 2015, prior to me throwing in my public sector towel in the April. While I had a definite stake in what we were doing running up to that point, Darren was very much in the driving seat when it came to ensuring that the business was at a sustainable point when I joined full time.
In the background I supported him where I could in pushing our name out there but I did so somewhat anonymously. Working in procurement in the public sector I was reluctant to find myself slap bang in the middle of an ever so controversial ‘conflict of interest’. Approaching businesses that I may have previously had dealings with to ask them to consider doing business with me under our new umbrella just did not feel appropriate. It was a difficult pull as I wanted to leave my previous employment on a positive note, but Freshspace was a massive step based around what we wanted for our future and it had to work.
So for almost 4 months I sat as a semi-silent partner, supporting the business as it developed, investing myself in every way I could but never, ever jumping out to a potential client and shouting, ’Talk to us! We want to work with you and we think we can help!’ That was Darren’s job although from sitting in on many a call I should give him the credit that it was a lot more eloquent and a lot less needy.
Calling people to try and get the opportunity to discuss our services with them was never his most comfortable task but I have to admit he has a certain ‘un-salesy’ charm that comes across and has led to some fantastic clients who we naturally work very well with. So the heat was on when I was finally in this full time and approaching potential clients was now no longer an issue for me, as I’d be doing it whilst wearing my Freshspace fedora, and that hat alone.
What I hadn’t anticipated was how uncomfortable I’d feel about the very concept of calling up someone I didn’t know. It meant not only having belief in Freshspace (which has been there in abundance from the start) but also belief in myself. It also meant stepping over to the other side which is the part I think I struggled most with. Having been the buyer in pretty much all previous situations I know exactly what it is to be hounded a hundred times a day by someone in ‘sales’ trying to sell me something I don’t need, want or understand. I know how frustrating it is when you stop something you’re in the middle of to answer a call with someone who can’t pronounce your name, won’t let you off the phone and is ultimately the reason you’ve lost track of what you were trying to accomplish in the first place. I also know how it is to get agitated on these occasions.
Not to mention my experience of those in ‘sales’ is varied. I have come across some fantastic people but I have also dealt with your Goodprice’s; the ones that use a little too much fake tan and fit the stereotype accurately.
Oh and did I mention I was once turned down for a job because I wasn’t sales-oriented enough?
Cementing my lack of confidence was when a couple of weeks in I finally decided to go ahead and make a call. Despite being polite, friendly and open to hearing a ‘no’, I experienced a whole other level of rude that completely and utterly put me off. I was assured I had been extremely unlucky but my confidence and pride had taken a definite knock.
The thought of bumbling through another call like that filled me with dread and was something I ended up point blank refusing to do. The weight of bringing in new business was still predominantly on Darren’s shoulders and the resulting weight of guilt that this was the case was on mine.
We talked about ways of overcoming it. Frequent discussions were had where Darren reminded me what I already knew – ‘it’s a necessary evil for a new business’, ‘don’t see it as sales but business development. We’re not sales people and that shows’, ‘Oh shut up and just get on with it’. I think he thought if he said the latter in a cockney accent with a cheeky grin it wouldn’t go down like a lead balloon. It did.
But eventually something changed. Following an exceptionally positive meeting with a new client we returned home giddy. We had spent months spotting potential new clients and really thinking about people we would like to work with. This had always underpinned any call we made. As we talked about this on the way home I finally found my backbone.
Darren and Bryn (our black Labrador) were banished and I picked up the phone with a trembling hand (this may have been due to some very strong coffee as opposed to nerves), fully expecting to get shot down. I had picked an organisation whose work I have a personal interest in and admire. As I dialled the number nothing felt ‘salesy’ about, I was just really sold on the thought of working with them.
So when after a brief discussion where I bumbled and tripped over my words (frankly an embarrassment to every sleek, smooth-talking sales person) the unsuspecting quarry agreed to meet with us. I couldn’t stop myself from saying, ‘are you sure?’
There was a short silence then the reassurance that no, this was not a hoax, they did want to meet with us based on my badly held together phone call. A date was set and potentially a new client was in the making. Meanwhile I was seeking an ever so professional high five from the first person I could find.
Since then my calls have gathered pace. I fear no one. If you’re unnecessarily rude to me I know not only not to call again but that I do not want to work with you. I also know that of the remaining 98%, 60% are generally pleasant and the other 38% soften once they realise that I am no master at this.
My confidence is still lacking but I’m doing it and that’s enough. It’s led to interesting conversations with likeminded people that have opened up real potential for the business. Thankfully we limit ourselves to one call a day each so Freshspace is not soul-destroyingly sales based. Not a bad thing as I can now second Darren’s thoughts in that neither of us are sales people at heart.
As our Indian Summer will no doubt come to an end I suppose I will also need to limit my expectations about how much time Darren can spend shivering outside while I attempt to develop our business (did I mention I don’t like making calls in earshot). Although it may be that I found my feet too late in the day as people now also come to us. It’s nice not to be continually searching for opportunities as our business builds, but I also know I’ll never be able to really hang up my sales shoes if I want this to be a continued, growing success.
Even if I never understand how I make my way past that awkward conversation, I live in hope that I make a dazzling second impression.