Skills Developer

Expert advice from Dr Madelise Grobler, MD of Bytes People Solutions.

Vital Stats

  • Name: Dr Madelise Grobler, 44
  • Designation: Managing director
  • Company: Bytes People Solutions, a company in Bytes Technology Group, a subsidiary of JSE listed Altron
  • Sales Team: National sales team of 22 people
  • Offering: Internationally accredited education, training skills development and people consulting services

Career summary

Grobler completed a BCom in informatics at the University of Pretoria, and in this time also studied at the Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands. She lectured Informatics at the University of Pretoria for seven years, leaving to open her own IT business.

Three years later that was acquired by CS Holdings, then one of South Africa’s top business consulting and IT services firms.

She was appointed MD of CS Education Solutions and six years down the line, in 2004, the company was acquired by Bytes Technology Group. Grobler has headed up Bytes People Solutions for the last eight years.

As a sales leader, what is the best advice you have ever been given?

You cannot turn someone into a sales person. Irrespective of whether they want to sell or not, if they do not have the competencies and natural flair, there is nothing that you can do. I was one of the lucky ones.

I got a part-time job at university selling very expensive vacuum cleaners. My first sale was to a man in the Free State who had a house with tiled floors. I realised then, that if I can get past the door, I can persuade people to buy anything.

How would you characterise your sales leadership style?

I lead by example. If I cannot sell a product or a service, I can’t expect others to. I’m also a firm proponent of measurement and monitoring. I have visibility across the team at all times and when I see someone is falling behind, I take action immediately. My approach is not punitive. I focus on providing the kind of support that makes people successful.

What is your greatest sales learning to date?

You can sell in any economy. Behind every closed door lies a chance to do business. The key is to seek the opportunities and to keep adjusting your offering in line with what the market wants. To do that, you have to be prepared for constant change – and plan various scenarios.

What is the worst mistake you have ever made?

To believe sales people’s progress reports for too long. You must always question feedback, not because you don’t trust them, but because sales people are incredibly confident and convincing. I’ve learnt to always delve a little deeper and continue to query exactly where they are in the sales cycle.

What helps is my background as a business analyst. I know which questions to ask. Never think that it’s not necessary to manage sales people. A sales leader must be interactive to ensure that the team stays ahead of the pack.

In this economy, you have to be truly innovative and in my experience you cannot leave that up to the team; you have to take the reins.

How do you manage tricky customers?

We were recently involved in a deal with a large customer and I had to make a call about whether or not to sign the contract during the final stages of the negotiation. I had two choices – sell them a very big solution, or sell them nothing.

I realised that the customer would never do the necessary change management required to make the solution work, so I chose the second option.

The last thing I want to do is to sell something that does not deliver on the customer’s expectation. The fact is that customers seldom identify their needs correctly.

That’s why I never accept what they specify as the business requirement. Instead, I take them through a process to analyse what they actually want. If I believe the system will work, I am happy to close the deal.

But what is most important is to build trust and play an advisory role. It’s not always necessary to sell – if you can help the customer in some way, they will come back when they are ready.