Neil Sheth of Bubbl: “How To Be Great At Sales Without Seeming Salesey”

Do you know your business could be much bigger than it currently is, but aren’t sure how to get there? I can help!

Ask very specific highly relevant questions and dig if required: A customer recently told me that they were moving away from their current company as they are not getting the commitment they would expect. I dug deeper into this problem and found out that the core reason was due to their lack of communication. Now, that’s something we can instantly focus on if we were to work with the client.

As a part of my series about how to be great at closing sales without seeming pushy, obnoxious, or salesy, I had the pleasure of interviewing Neil Sheth.

Neil Sheth, former Investment Banking business consultant turned digital content strategist and serial entrepreneur, Neil helps become brands online. He is the founder of Bubbl, a creative content agency and Miingle, an online dating publication.

Thank you for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this career path?

The story of how I came to found Bubbl really starts with how I lost £20,000 in 2009 after launching my first ever website. As depressing as the whole situation was, I realised one major thing — I totally ignored marketing. I forgot about the customer. Instead, I focused on what I wanted to build.

Since then I began to learn digital marketing skills across affiliate marketing, e-commerce, SEO, content marketing and social media by launching small websites. Websites where the start-up cost was small enough to sleep at night, but large enough to take seriously.

After failing on a number of websites, I finally started seeing wins. The businesses I’ve traditionally grown have been service-based brands that still require an element of sales and customer services. Two skills I naturally feel confident in. That’s because my first job at the age of 16 was selling windows over the phone and my second job was working as a retail assistant within a department store.

As I spent more time growing businesses online while working in Investment Banking, I began to struggle with managing it all. So, I decided to speak to a few digital marketing agencies who could take some of the load, but I soon realised I couldn’t put my business into any of these companies. No one spent the time to understand the business and I felt like I was being sold some generic tasks. This was back in 2015 and it was the very first time I thought about creating a specialist content agency.

Fast forward to December 2016, I had handed in my notice and with a baby due in 6 months, I was ready to get my new life rocking and rolling.

Over the past 3 years we have grown at a fast rate, working across a number of industries with a tonne of weird and wonderful businesses. Recently we partnered with a brand that sells designer radiators — who’d have thought?!

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

One of the very first businesses I started was offering fun photo booths for special occasions like weddings and birthdays. The business model was quite simple, I would create a website, get people who are looking for a photobooth to come to the site via Google SEO and then sell them a photo booth over the phone or email. I would then outsource the job to a local photobooth company and agree a commission with them. I still remember the feeling of closing a photobooth sale.

Anyway, one evening at around 9pm I heard the doorbell ring. There was a mother and son waiting for me outside and as I opened the door, the mother said she found my photobooth service and needed to use it to take a picture of her son for a new passport application.

I couldn’t help but laugh and then helped them find the nearest actual photo booth for passport photos. That was the last time I was going to put my home address as the business address.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes! We’ve recently launched an online dating publication called Miingle. We’re on a mission to offer daters unbiased advice about navigating the world of online dating in the 21st century. Our content team is excited about the project too, and the best part of this project is that we don’t need to ask anyone to sign off on projects. We can test, make mistakes, be creative and naturally find our content rhythm.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

When I first started on this journey 3 years ago, I really struggled with self-doubt. Whilst my family was always supportive and helped as much as possible, I felt like I needed a bigger voice. Without a mentor in sight, I turned to Google and YouTube and gravitated towards content from Tony Robbins, Simon Sinek and Marie Forleo.

For my very first public speaking talk on digital marketing I was a total nervous wreck. I remember seeing a video by Tony Robbins that talked about how to improve your self-confidence by listing all the things you are grateful for. What you’ll find is that it’s hard to worry or be angry when we are thinking of gratitude. I still use this exercise today.

For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit why you are an authority on the topic of sales?

My voice was shaky, I couldn’t wait to put the phone down and felt totally embarrassed. I was 16 and I was cold calling and trying to generate quality appointments for people interested in fitting new windows. Fast-forward 6 months, I was training a sales team.

That was the very first time I saw the power of building rapport, quickly. One of my favourite tactics at the time was telling people that we were going to see their neighbour and how we would love to come see them while we were there. It really worked.

Since the age of 16 I’ve been selling in multiple ways. From working on a retail shop floor, convincing people to answer market research questions or using persuasion and negotiation skills as a project manager to launching multiple serviced-based businesses.

I’ve been through multiple sales programmes and sales systems, but you just can’t replace real life experience.

I’ve sold to individual customers, small businesses making less than $20,000 per year to businesses with revenues above $100 million. Whilst the sales cycle may be slightly longer and more complex for a larger business compared to a smaller business, the core sales principles are still the same.

Let’s shift a bit to what is happening today in the broader world. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the COVID-19 pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty and loneliness. From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to our families and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

If you’re feeling anxious about COVID-19, my advice is to control how much COVID-19 related news you consume. In the first few weeks of the lockdown here in the UK, my wife and I were watching the news throughout the day, and noticed our conversations and thoughts were all related to the same topic. Thoughts create feelings, and by controlling your thoughts, you control your anxiety.

After recognizing the negative atmosphere in our house, we now only watch the news a few times a day and it’s made such a difference. It’s allowed us to put our mental energy into things that we can control like improving our daughter’s learning, growing the business, and making really tasty meals. I can now make a mean arrabiata pasta sauce!

Ok. Thanks for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. As you know, nearly any business a person will enter, will involve some form of sales. At the same time, most people have never received any formal education about how to be effective at selling. Why do you think our education system teaches nearly every other arcane subject, but sales, one of the most useful and versatile topics, is totally ignored?

I fell into my first telesales job at 16 by accident and looking back at it, it was the best thing that could’ve happened to me. Having strong sales skills has helped me to sell myself in interviews, build rapport quickly with new people, be ok with rejection and above all, it has instilled confidence in me.

As you can see, these are powerful traits children should have from a young age. I’ve always said when our 2 year old is old enough, I plan to train her on handling sales calls.

So, why are sales not part of the education programme? Perhaps the people responsible for setting the education programme do not come from a business or sales background. Perhaps it’s because of the negative connotations that are linked with selling, like dodgy car salesmen or traders. Perhaps we’re waiting for the next statistic to help make the argument stronger. I don’t know.

What I do know is that currently, school-based education ignores practical life skills that are beneficial in both a professional and personal capacity, and the subject of sales should be at the top of that list.

This discussion, entitled, “How To Be Great At Sales Without Seeming Salesey”, is making an assumption that seeming salesy or pushy is something to be avoided. Do you agree with this assumption? Whether yes, or no, can you articulate why you feel the way you do?

I agree 100%. A few days ago I was cc’d into an email by a salesperson who had for the third time asked when a customer was ready to start a discussion about their next project. The customer had already said they were waiting for an internal meeting in previous emails so I felt like the discussion was way too pushy and ignored the client’s response. I would’ve preferred to give the customer some time and then in our next catch up call informally ask how the internal meeting went.

A desperate sales person is a huge turn off for me. However, the problem is that sales people are set on specific targets, which in turn encourages this type of behaviour that goes against truly understanding the customer’s situation and accommodating their needs. It’s always a rush to close the deal.

I also find that sales people with first hand experience of the problems they are solving tend to be more consultative during their sales conversations compared to sales people with no experience who are running off a script. Experience is very important.

The seven stages of a sales cycle are usually broken down to versions of Prospecting, Preparation, Approach, Presentation, Handling objections, Closing, and Follow-up. Which stage do you feel that you are best at? What is your unique approach, your “secret sauce”, to that particular skill? Can you explain or give a story?

When it comes to our content services business, we break up the Presentation stage into two meetings:

1. Initial Call — establish the client’s needs and offer overview around how we might help them

2. Presentation call — formally present how we will work with the client

The Presentation stage implies that you are presenting information to the client, which as you can see in our process above, isn’t actually the case until our second meeting. I view the second meeting where we are presenting to the client as a formality. By the end of the first meeting, I tend to know our chances of securing the client. In fact, I would say 20–30% of the sales we close are actually closed without going into the second meeting. Without even walking through a presentation and going through the details. Also, on the flip side, I’ll know whether to continue to invest time into the customer by the end of the initial meeting.

That’s why the initial meeting during the Presentation stage is the most important part of the sales process. I truly believe the sale is made at this process. The relationship is established and trust is built. You should know whether the customer trusts you enough to pay you by this point.

So, what’s my secret to closing customers in our initial meeting without a presentation or at least moving prospects towards a 60–70% success rate before even holding a presentation?

Treat the customer as a person. Not a lead. Not a number. Not another row in your CRM.

I’m genuinely interested in people and their stories. One of my friends at university used to make fun of me (and still does) for asking a lot of questions. I think that works well for sales.

A career as a project manager in Investment Banking for 10 years has really helped too as my role was all about consulting with clients to establish their key issues and define a plan to resolve them. Most of the time there’s more to your customers’ problems then they first let on. You have to dig and dig and dig until your intuition tells you whether you have identified the root cause. Intuition comes with experience.

That’s why I think it’s important sales people have first hand experience with their product or service. I can tell within 5 minutes if a sales person knows what they are talking about. If your sales call feels rehearsed and robotic, you’re not going to close as many sales as you could. My calls are totally unscripted, I go where the customer wants to go and ensure it fits my overall framework.

Your customer will appreciate you spending time to understand the details behind their situation. As you can probably tell, my prospects do a lot of the talking. I’m focused on asking good questions and sharing small insights along the way, which in itself is relationship building.

I’m also looking for the initial meeting to be a friendly conversation. If we end up talking about Ozark on Netflix for 10 minutes, great!

The better the relationship you establish the more trust there is between both parties. Trust is key. As your customer doesn’t always logically understand what it is you’re going to do for them, but emotionally they buy into you. There are numerous studies proving that we buy with our emotions first and justify with logic afterwards. This is truer the more complex your product is.

Lead generation, or prospecting, is one of the basic steps of the sales cycle. Obviously every industry will be different, but can you share some of the fundamental strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?

Our primary lead generation strategy is through quality content storytelling and marketing. We’ve done outbound calls and prospecting in the past, but what works well for us is when prospects find value in the content we are sharing first and then reach out for a conversation. For instance, we’ve just finished a webinar where we had 80 people join and based on past experiences we know we will have a good conversation with at least 10% of those people. Start thinking about the content you can create to help your customers move closer to their goals.

In my experience, I think the final stages of Handling Objections, Closing, and Follow-up, are the most difficult parts for many people. Why do you think ‘Handling Objections’ is so hard for people? What would you recommend for one to do, to be better at ‘Handling Objections’?

If people struggle to handle objections that’s either because they haven’t prepared enough or they haven’t had enough sales calls to face the majority of their objections. You have to make mistakes before you know what needs improving.

For instance, my brother in law works as an accountant. Other than working on a shop floor as a retail assistant, he has never sold anything until the age of 30. As someone I highly trust I wanted his help with another travel business we run and spent some time training him up with handling sales calls and managing customers. After two months of practising, making mistakes and learning about the customer he found his own voice. He stuck to the overall framework of the call, but began adding in his own questions and overall personality. His sales started going up.

To help sales people speed up their ability to handle objections confidently I’d recommend holding role-playing exercises.

‘Closing’ is of course the proverbial Holy Grail. Can you suggest 5 things one can do to successfully close a sale without being perceived as pushy? If you can, please share a story or example, ideally from your experience, for each.

5 things you can do to successfully close a sale are:

1. Find something in common: I was talking to a prospect customer last week who is based in a similar region in India to where my parents visit. Instantly, we hit it off.

2. Ask very specific highly relevant questions and dig if required: A customer recently told me that they were moving away from their current company as they are not getting the commitment they would expect. I dug deeper into this problem and found out that the core reason was due to their lack of communication. Now, that’s something we can instantly focus on if we were to work with the client.

3. Be yourself: It’s funny when sales people are totally different during a sales call compared to real life. I used to do this, and I can tell you first hand it not only reduces your impact, it’s really tiring.

4. Know who you’re talking to: research their business, understand the background of the person you are speaking with and overall know who you’re talking to. After researching the owner of a yoga studio there was enough evidence that her passion was lying somewhere else. I asked her about this and during the next 20 minutes she opened up her personal ambitions. She became a customer as we are a deeper conversation.

5. Avoid one-time deals or timed offers: I’m not a big fan of pressure selling at all. In contrast to what many experts may recommend, I think it cheapens your brand; it makes the conversation transactional and just feels wrong. If the customer is seeking to reduce the price, if it’s possible look at taking something away within reason. You pay less, you get less. Why is that a surprise? We’re working with a new client who is looking to reduce the fee for a brand new website. We’ve offered to reduce the fee if the customer manages the content.

Finally, what are your thoughts about ‘Follow up’? Many businesses get leads who might be interested but things never seem to close. What are some good tips for a business leader to successfully follow up and bring things to a conclusion, without appearing overly pushy or overeager?

This was actually an improvement we recently made as noticed following up wasn’t as good as it should be. We simply turned on our CRM (we use Pipedrive) to schedule and notify us of customers who require following up. Generally we follow up after 5 days, 3 weeks, 6 weeks and then 3 months. We just send a friendly message, like:

Hey {first name},

I’d love to hear back from you to see if you still need our help.

No worries if you don’t, just let me know.

Neil Sheth

If the customer goes totally cold, a good way to warm them up and subtly follow up is to share an industry insight or development that will be relevant for them. Keeping in touch keeps us top of mind.

As you know there are so many modes of communication today. For example, In-person, phone calls, video calls, emails, and text messages. In your opinion, which of these communication methods should be avoided when attempting to close a sale or follow up? Which are the best ones? Can you explain or give a story?

When I first started Bubbl I was a big proponent of in-person meetings as I thought I could build rapport quickly and therefore you should share the same space when you can. However, what I found is that the conversations would tend to take longer, the travel would be time consuming and exhausting and then on top of that the customer may not be a good fit.

It’s a strange thing to say, but I’ve found prospects who specifically ask for a face-to-face sales meeting have less chance to turn into paying customers. Therefore the risk to reward ratio is too high. There are tough times when we flex this rule if there’s a sizable project that we can get our teeth stuck into. That’s why I prefer video or phone calls.

Ok, we are nearly done. Here is our final “meaty” question. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Everyone should find a passion or a hobby outside of your day-to-day work. When I first quit my investment banking career I stopped going to the gym, running and playing football, because I felt guilty for putting time into personal activities at a time when I needed to pay the bills. After 12 months of working long hours and thinking, eating and sleeping work, I started to burn out and feel unmotivated by it all. I was constantly bogged down by work, I wasn’t working smartly and it was clear where the problem was. Me.

My wife actually convinced me to get back into the gym and I noticed the benefits immediately. They say your mind, body and soul are all interconnected, that when you work on your body, it helps to boost your mind and soul.

Overall, I was more productive, I felt I had more clarity and enthusiastic about my day. This is why I’ve taken up running during the lockdown period and I absolutely love it.

How can our readers follow you online?

Creative Content Services:

My Blog:


Thank you for the interview. We wish you only continued success!

Neil Sheth of Bubbl: “How To Be Great At Sales Without Seeming Salesey” was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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