George manages the global new business team for APS and has been with the business for 10 years. Prior to APS, George was VP of Sales for one of the US’s most loved cosmetics brands. Before going into business, George was a professional actor for 10 years, performing in the Broadway production of the Phantom of the Opera and many other stage, tv productions and voiceover work. Whilst he is originally from the Charlotte, North Carolina in the US. He now lives in Amsterdam with his husband Roelof. We’ve took some time to get to know George a little more, have a read of our latest article ‘Getting to know George Smart, Global Director of Customer Solutions & Strategic Growth’.

What was your first sale or new business win?

My first sales job was in first grade. Our school had a fund raiser every year and we all had to sell tickets. The student who sold the most got a prize – I was determined, won the contest and the rest is history.

What was the best piece of advice you got early on?

My dad owned car dealerships in the US. I was in awe of the relationships he had not only with his team but with his customers. He taught me that business IS personal. Relationships are everything and those are built on honesty and integrity. Do what you promise and treat people with kindness and the business will come.

How has the business of ‘selling’ in the marketing services industry changed since you started?

I joined APS 10 years ago. Since then our business has grown across regions and service lines, so it’s become a lot more challenging to put solutions together that work for both the client and for APS. It’s very much a puzzle – but I love the challenge.

Can anyone be taught to sell or do new business or do you think it suits a certain kind of personality?

Selling can be taught to a degree but yes, it takes a certain kind of personality. To be a successful salesperson you have to love the chase, love the feeling of winning and be willing to never give up. If I had a dollar for every ‘no’ I’ve ever received in my life, I’d be a millionaire many times over. In selling, you are constantly looking for a way to turn a ‘no’ into a ‘yes’, it never really stops. I really believe that those who aren’t in sales have no idea the amount of energy and tenacity it takes to just get a first meeting, not to mention turning that meeting into an opportunity and the opportunity into a new client. You either have the hunter mentality and tenacity or you don’t.

What are your thoughts about the process of pitching that the industry largely runs on?

You have to speculate to accumulate. It’s easy to say how great you are, but when it really comes down to it, you have to show it. There is a balance though and I think there are companies who try and take advantage of the situation however to me that gives me a great insight into the type of client they will be. Forewarned is forearmed, I say.

How do you go about tailoring your selling approach according to the kind of person or business you’re approaching?

I tailor my approach to the person I am selling to and the problems they are trying to solve. It’s all about building trust and to do that you have to connect with people on a human level. Do my research and try and connect with them on a human level – do they have kids, what are their interests?  Let them see you really do care and aren’t just trying to make a quick sale. For me the best way to do this is to listen. Get them talking about themselves, take interest and the rest will come. There is a reason we have two ears and one mouth.

New business and sales can often mean hearing ‘no’ a lot and quite a bit of rejection – how do you keep motivated?

I was a professional actor for 10 years – I’ve heard a lot of ‘no’s’ in my life. I keep motivated by enjoying the challenge. Sales isn’t a quick game, especially when you are selling services across geographies, various needs and cultures. There are some customers like Albert Heijn, Swarovski and AkzoNobel that took years to win. You don’t plant a seed and eat the fruit on the same day!

The advertising and marketing industry often blurs the line between personal and professional friendships and relationships… does this make selling easier or more difficult and delicate?

For me it makes it easier. Some of my closest friends are clients. Selling is personal. Business is personal. Anyone that tells you it isn’t, isn’t good in either, in my opinion. When I started my career in Europe 10 years ago, I knew no one. I’m at the point now, where most decision makers in many of the global clients we have or want to have know me, know what I’m about and if I need them, they will take my call or answer my email. To me that’s as much a thermometer of my success than the actual contracts I’ve won.

In your view what’s the key to closing a deal?

Building rapport with your customer, being available, over delivering on every request, being honest and upfront one what you can and cannot do. I take selling very personally. It’s my reputation on the line, my work ethic. Whether we close a deal or not, I want to always leave a contact and company having the absolute best impression of APS and of me.

How important is cultural understanding when it comes to selling internationally?

Cultural understanding is everything. When you are with a client you are their guest, you must adapt to their culture and mannerisms. My advice, be polite, show gratitude and show them that you are there to make them shine.

How is technology and new platforms (from platforms like Salesforce and Hubspot to video calls to social media) changing sales and new business?

I’ll focus more on Teams, as many meetings, especially initial ones have moved to online rather than f2f. To me, this is a positive step as it allows me to ‘qualify’ the potential in a more efficient and cost effective way. However, you have to adapt your communication style on Teams calls to connect with someone. Even on Teams you can look someone in the eye and connect.

There’s a lot of training for a lot of parts of the industry, but what’s your thoughts about the training and skills development when it comes to selling and new business?

The best training is doing, however I think that every single person in APS is a sales person. From reception, to client services, to my actual new business team. Every interaction with our current clients and potential clients is an indicator to them of what kind of partner we will be. For those reasons, I think training is very important. Everyone can learn and improve on things like i) being better listeners ii) picking up on non-verbal communication iii) how to communicate more effectively and proactively. Look at companies like Disney. They are known for their training programmes. I can always tell if a company has a good onboarding and ongoing training programme or not. I’m afraid to say, those companies who do not think training is important will never reach their full potential.

What’s your advice for anyone who’s not necessarily come up as a salesperson who’s now expected to sell or win new business as part of their role?

Get out of your head. Stop thinking about it as sales. Think about it as being kind, doing a great job, over communicate, be proactive – treat them how you would want to be treated if you were the customer. The sales and growth will come. Lastly, ask for help. Pull in a person from new business to some of your QBR’s and meetings. We can plant seeds that will grow benefits for your accounts.

Is there one event / piece of wisdom from your career that’s always stayed with you?

Get it done. Literally, just do it. You have to do what you can with what you have, no excuses. If you are making excuses for not performing, sales isn’t for you. You will never have everything you need, there is no such thing as perfection in sales. You just have to make it work.