Interview #2: What Lubna Ali of the Swiss Education Group can teach you about Sales.

If you want an objective and fair opinion from someone, Lubna is the right person to turn to. She is a cool headed, incredibly smart and elegant lady and I was so lucky to share an apartment with her at university.

I fondly think back of our time together: whether doing her best to teach us Arabic Dancing, structuring group projects or organizing parties to fundraise for our graduation - everyone loved working with Lubna. It is not surprising that the Swiss Education Group, who operates several universities in Switzerland, hand picked Lubna to manage and grow their Middle East & North Africa region.

A working mother to two beautiful children and with a Sales role that involves a lot of travel, Lubna has great insight to share into managing her time, exhibition attendance and creating a valuable client relationship.

Enjoy what she has to say!

Q: Lubna, your sales territory spans over several countries in the Middle East & North Africa and includes a lot of travel. Besides that, you also have two beautiful children to care for -  what is your top time management tip?

Set up a structure and a support system that works for you: Get all the help you can from the people around you and organize your personal structure so you can focus on your work and give it the time and effort it needs without feeling guilty. Separate personal life from your work life and give each its fair share so you can eventually reach a healthy balance between both.

Q: One thing that I know you have mastered throughout your career is exhibition attendance, as being at career fairs to represent your education group is a key sales activity for you. What do you really look out for when preparing your booth, your materials and yourself to stand out from the crowd of exhibitors?

I always make sure that my booth looks clean, organized and is clear of clutter on the table that could potentially distract me or the booth visitor. I like to keep only a few samples of each brochure so people don’t just come and grab materials without real interest. I found that having too many copies attract people to come and take them and later on they end up in the trash.

The way you organise your material on the table counts. I always start with a copy that I can use to explain the material, followed by my iPad or lead pad to record contact details. I place the box of business cards at the end so each potential lead can have my contact details after I have already built up their awareness and interest.

One banner to explain what you are promoting is also important! Keep it simple; a few key words, a catching phrase and a clean and attractive picture.

As for myself, I always make sure I had enough sleep before any fair so I have all the positive energy I need for the long fair days. Three things I always make sure to have: A professional look, hospitality smile and a bottle of water ☺

Q: As a sales manager, you need to stay on top of numerous tasks, from following up with parents of future students, to researching information for students, planning your next sales trips and preparing reports. When it comes to your sales strategy, how do you make sure it is being implemented?

It’s challenging to have time for the Sales Strategy you want to implement when you have all the other tasks to handle, especially during periods of heavy travel. What I learned from my experience in this field is to plan my strategy way ahead of my busy peak period, to simplify it into easy-to-follow tasks and start the implementation before my busiest period of the year begins. Once the recruitment season starts, I put my strategy implementation on the back burner and focus on my recruitment activities, leads, reports, parents meetings, etc… and give it the time and effort needed. Worrying too much about strict strategy implementation during the busy period might lead to frustration and distraction. I learned to take it a step at a time and not to stress about it.

Q: If your best friend started out in sales tomorrow, what would be the most important sales tip you would pass on to her/him?

  • Believe in what you are selling or promoting and people will trust you. If you don’t believe in it, then leave and find something you believe in.

  • Build an honest and transparent relationship with your client, but don’t get too personal or involved.

  • Don’t bad-mouth your competition: it’s unprofessional and will cause you to loose people’s trust and respect. Instead, know your product’s key selling points and learn how to best promote and sell them.

  • The after-sale relationship is as important as the sale itself; Stay connected.

Q: You have worked with several teams throughout your career. What behaviour in leadership (or what in a corporate culture) do you observe allows sales people to be most successful? 

Trust: Nothing strengthens an employee’s loyalty and motivation like trust. This feeling gives employees a sense of ownership of what they are doing and pushes them to show their best.

Recognition: Different employees are motivated by different things, but recognition from management and from your direct managers always pushes you to do more. This can be verbal, financial or through organizing team retreats.

A career path: employees are motivated when they know that their efforts in sales will pay off and contribute towards an advancement in their career. Show your employees that you care about their future.

Training, training and training. Keep the employees up to date with the latest trends, technologies and strategies.