From East End boy to South Yorkshire super salesman – unLTD’s Jill Theobald meets The Sales Mindset Coach Steve Knapp to find out why he is the Sheffield City Region’s go-to guy for ‘sensible, pragmatic’ techniques that blend traditional and contemporary skills
From a grocer lad in the East End of London leaving school with few qualifications to founding his own ‘Sales Mindset Coach’ company and training more than 1,000 business owners as well as staff at Sheffield Chamber of Commerce.
Oh and in between the small matter of a two-decade role at Shell where he, literally, wrote the book on sales that’s still used by the global energy firm today.
Steve Knapp is an unLTD ‘Success story’ indeed!
No wonder he’s now launched his own book ‘FunnelVision – Selling Made Easy’ which has been described as “one of the best sales books ever” by Daniel Disney, one of the world’s leading authorities on social selling.
But let’s return to the beginning – or chapter one.
“I grew up in a big family in Dagenham and Bethnal Green before we moved out of the East End,” says Steve, “and I often reflect on how my path might have been very different. I was not mixing with a bad bunch as such, nothing criminal, but it was certainly an ‘earthy’ experience! But my grounding in a family meant with a strong work ethic meant I knew I had to get a job and work hard, and I started working in a greengrocers.
“When my dad got a new job we moved to leafy Berkshire which was a very different environment – and not the best time to start a new sixth form! My accent marked me out, more socially than educationally.”
After leaving school with no qualifications, Steve began his sales career selling Calor Gas cylinders door-to-door in the late 1980s. But he went on to rise through the ranks at Shell to become responsible for the company’s sales teams right across the globe, with his selling methods and ‘mindset’ techniques adopted across the business including his aforementioned handbook.
Steve moved from Berkshire to Nottingham to work for Calor but was driving to head office in Manchester regularly. He met his wife, who was working in marketing at Shell, and they decided to move to Bamford as it was ‘slap bang in the middle’ over 20 years ago, enjoying life on the outskirts of the Peak District with their three children ever since.
And the decision to take the leap into becoming entrepreneur?
“I knew Shell were looking to diversify the culture – and rightly so. The workforce was predominately white, male Europeans and that just isn’t reflected in today’s population, it’s not inclusive enough. I knew there would be job opportunities with them in London for me, but I lived in the Peak District, and so the idea of doing something myself became appealing.”
He tried retirement first (“I thought I’d do it for six months, but I quickly got bored!”) before establishing ‘The Sales Mindset Coach’ in spring 2018.
Since then, Steve has become a mentor with The Source, worked with more than 1,000 business owners through his Facebook Group, coached in excess of 150 businesses and had scores more join his online Sales Mindset Coach platform.
“Salesmen were seen as Cockney wide boys – your Delboy and Arthur Daley stereotypes,” says Steve. “That portrayal is still there today, and I always felt a little inferior when declaring what I did at a dinner table, when people announced, ‘Doctor’, ‘Lawyer’, ‘Accountant’. It’s my mission to change that. The sales culture really needs a shake-up, and with that, an improved and enhanced image and reputation will follow.”
He’s already taking the lead. A member of the Association of Professional Sales, he’s also a keen supporter of the lobby working towards a charter mark for the industry by 2020.
And now the next chapter – his book which he hopes will resonate with business owners across the Sheffield City Region (SCR).
Despite never having the ‘desire’ to be an author (“writing 500 words a day on my craft sounded like homework!”), the book sprang to life from his work with Neil Anderson, who has written several books on the SCR’s music and cultural scene.
“It was Neil’s involvement and his approach looking at content and asking questions that really got me motivated. Taking what I’d learned from a massive conglomerate and making it accessible from a SME perspective. A lot of the techniques I learned are equally applicable for local firms – my syllabus is a stripped-down version.
“Great swathes of the traditional manufacturing sector here, for example, don’t research their target customers or invest in their sales staff and are relying on outmoded, decades-old sales strategies which are totally out of touch with the digital age. These firms are being left behind – to stand out from competitors, they need sensible, pragmatic selling techniques.”
Steve describes his technique as a blend of traditional and digital – pointing out that social media isn’t a sales ‘silver bullet’.
“You can’t just post on Facebook and expect people to come to you. Not all customers want to be approached online and those traditional methods are still important – some customers will prefer the personal approach of a phone call or going out to meet and hanging out with them.
“The younger emerging generation may well be tech-savvy but we have this issue of Millennials in particular and their ‘fear of the phone’ – they can live their lives online via their smartphones but just having the courage to pick it up and speak to someone is a struggle. It means some of the personal and more traditional sales skills of my generation are still valued and necessary.”
Added Steve: “You have to be rigorous and disciplined in your approach to sales – there really are no short cuts.”