Tim Copeland is one of three founders, and a current director of SilverStripe, a web development specialist with a namesake, open source CMS product.
Copeland's roles in the company since its inception in 2000 have put him in front of a wide range of clients, from early stage startups to large public sector organisations, in New Zealand and abroad.
In the early days, Tim would write code. But he was soon outclassed by all his colleagues. Today, he only writes code at home “when nobody is looking”.
Donning the business development manager hat he wears at the company, Copeland talks to Reseller News about the best and worst — and everything in between — of salesmanship.
What motivates you to succeed?
Money is important to a point, but the chance to transform businesses and the world for the better is what really drives me. Very little change occurs without someone selling and someone buying — be it an idea or product. When you’re selling, you’re driving change.
What should a salesman do to get out of a rut?
Poor performing salespeople are typically taking orders and processing them when the phone rings or a customer walks in the door. Good salespeople make the effort to understand problems being faced by clients and sell solutions to these problems. Great salespeople develop an understanding of their clients business and their industry — they are able to see new opportunities for their clients and sell these.
With high-priced services or procducts, if you're struggling, it’s because you’re fundamentally not adding enough value for enough clients. Focus on understanding the industry, your clients’ business, and the people who make everything tick. But know this takes time — around ten years in my experience. It’s a long term solution, not a quick one.
What part does personality play in sales?
People buy from people they like, but they only buy because of what a company has to offer. It’s hard to separate the two, as both are critical.
Most salespeople have some experience of other jobs, what’s yours?
I spent five hours behind the supermarket checkout when I was 17. Does that count? Soon after leaving school I founded SilverStripe, and have essentially been in that same job ever since. My role within the company has changed several times, however, these days my primary focus is on supporting and growing the sales team.
Is hitting sales targets stressful?
Absolutely. There is a tremendous amount of responsibility resting on your shoulders when you’re responsible for revenue, as behind the numbers we’ve got dozens of employees, and their families, all of whom are counting on you to perform so that they have a job.
Have you ever put your foot in it when talking to a client?
The worst would have been on a conference call to a major US client, where I was stopped halfway through my pitch because the client couldn’t understand a word I was saying. Fortunately we had a translator on the line who understood English who was able to jump in. We still won the job.
Do you consider yourself a persuasive person?
I’m genuinely enthusiastic about what we do, and people can tell that. It’s easy to be persuasive about things you really believe in.
What’s the best deal you have ever closed?
Winning the website development work for one of the main campaign sites of the US Democratic Party in the lead-up to the 2008 US elections (when Barack Obama was elected) was big. A small web development company on the other side of the world isn’t an obvious choice to build and run one of the most important websites of the US election, so winning that was a pretty monumental result.
Would you encourage your offspring to go into sales?
I wouldn’t give it any special weight over any other profession, but the skill in selling is a critical thing to develop, and that is something I’d try to pass on. Even if ‘sales’ was never to appear in your job title, we are always selling something in one way or another.