In a career spanning three decades, Mark Jeffery was one of the industry’s leading salesmen with the trust and respect of the HR departments of many of London’s biggest corporate accounts. Steve Jordan spoke to him to find out a little more about those days on the front line and to see what advice he has for today’s sales professionals.
I had worked with Mark, loosely, in the 1990s. At that time, he was Trans Euro’s super salesman, I was working for the company on private migration work. Our jobs were poles apart and our paths rarely crossed other than in the stairwell or the Christmas party. So, as I drove on that crisp February morning to visit Mark at his home in Hertfordshire, I was looking forward to getting to know him a little better and maybe understanding more about the reasons for his success.
Mark started his working life as an apprentice with John Lewis. Although he enjoyed the interaction with customers, he felt that the job progression opportunities were just not there. After a short time working for a European groupage company, and learning a lot about the moving industry, he found himself the neighbour of Stewart Peck, then with Trans Euro. Stewart introduced Mark to Paul Evans and Richard Levine.
“I liked the way the two worked together,” he said. “They needed help to expand the business, so they offered me a job.” That’s how Mark became Trans Euro’s first salesman, working under the watchful eye of Sales Director Tony Squire.
Learning the trade
It wasn’t an easy ride for Mark. Tony made sure that he had as much product knowledge as he could before letting him loose on customers. “He gave me all the training I needed, including spending time on the road packing and in the office. When you're sitting in front of a client, offering a service, they need to know that you know how to do it.”
As for sales training, that was hands-on too. Mark would accompany Tony on sales calls and would, over time, begin to take more of a lead. How did he feel on his first day out by himself? “Nervous as hell!” he said. “I knew I had to come back with something because if I didn’t it would feel like failure. But the training from Tony helped a lot. You learn very quickly when you work with somebody with complete authority. It was a very fast learning curve.”
Mark started by tackling the financial sector. “It seemed the smart thing to do because everyone else was chasing oil.” And it worked, Mark was successful. But how? Why did he succeed when so many others struggled?
Of course, this was when international relocations were handled by HR. Relationships and trust mattered. “The most important thing was to be personable, listen to people and understand their requirements. I took a lot of notes about what they felt they wanted so, when I went back to them, they knew that I’d listened to them. I dealt with people in the way that I would have liked to have been sold to.”
And he was up against some stiff competition. He mentions, in particular, Ted Prior from Stewart & Harvey and Michael Gerson. “I aspired to be as good as those top people. Ted once told me to always look good in front of the client and keep your shoes shiny. I’m still very careful about that today.”
I suppose, talking to someone of Mark’s reputation, I was looking for a golden nugget, a key to success that eludes the majority. But it wasn’t that simple … or was it. Mark was ?determined to succeed. His sister was a successful doctor and he wanted to prove himself too. He had a good teacher in Tony Squire, and worked with a company that was prepared to reward him for a job well done. So maybe there is no trick, it’s just about having the stars aligned. “I just wanted to be the best.”
“It was drummed into me early in life the importance of relationships,” he said. “If you do your job well, and stay in touch with people, you can build a close relationship and they will want to work with you.” But there is a fine line between being attentive and being a nuisance. “You need to get under their skin and understand their requirements. I always tried to remember something from the previous call to prompt the next one. Sometimes I would take in coffee or maybe some ‘giveaways’ making sure that they were always for the general office, not the individual. Anything to create a lasting impression.”
The industry changes
Mark stayed at Trans Euro (later TEAM) for 18 years before moving on to Sterling. But this coincided with the switch from moving being an HR to a procurement function. That changed the picture for Mark dramatically. No longer were his customers primarily interested in service, and looking after people, it was all about money. “They were just number crunchers,” he said. “I wasn’t selling to people who knew about their assigned staff, they were just looking to buy in bulk.”
This was when the corporate world began to lose its attraction for Mark. When Sterling decided to split the surveys from the sales function, Mark took his chance to concentrate on surveys where, once again, he would be face-to-face with the people who mattered most and where he could really make a difference.
Mark left Sterling in August 2016 to go it alone as a freelance surveyor. Although this might appear to be at opposite ends of the scale from his role as high-flying corporate salesman, Mark doesn’t see it that way. “I enjoy what I do because I enjoy the face-to-face contact with people,” he said. “There is a great bond between the person that's moving and the surveyor that’s invited into the house.” And just as with corporate sales, Mark’s experience gives him an advantage in the home where people can immediately tell that he knows what he’s doing.
He said that most of his work is corporate, but it’s still competitive. With the rise of lump sum payments he is often competing with multiple companies for the same job. “I really don’t get it,” he said. “They are not going to get anything different with seven quotes than they would with three. If people want to cut the cost, why don’t they just leave some things behind rather than trying to find the cheapest possible company?”
Mark has loyal customers but isn’t tied to any moving company. He visits customers and files an accurate report within a few hours of the survey. He says that the skills needed to sell in the home and in the boardroom are not that different. “The first 10 minutes, when you are trying to understand their requirements, is very important,” he said. “I always ask about their experiences with previous moves; if something went wrong, make sure it’s noted and work out how to avoid it happening again. Your ears were made for listening, so listen to what the client says and pick up on the little things.”
Of course, today, especially during the current Coronavirus pandemic, video surveys are becoming more popular. Although that’s not something Mark is planning on offering at this stage, he is something of a fan as they are convenient, fast and save surveyors driving thousands of miles a year. “But I do think it’s important for the person conducting the survey to have had experience in the home,” said Mark. “You need to know the tricks to make sure you don’t miss anything and how to build a relationship with the customer. But if you can do that, I think it’s the way forward.”
I asked Mark who were the people who influenced him most throughout his career. “Paul Evans and Tony Squire gave me a break, built my confidence and showed me the way,” he said. “But people like Ted Prior were very inspirational and Len Crowley was the fountain of all knowledge when it came to routing, agents or costings. He always knew how to trim a quote or to get better value using a different route or shipping line. I really enjoyed working with Len.”
And advice for those who follow him, even though the sales environment is very different? “Be personable, never lie and if you make a mistake admit it straight away,” he said. “When people help you, make sure they get the credit, and thank them. This business is still about relationships. Oh yes … and keep your shoes clean.”