THEMES – SALES TRAINING
David Fox, chairman of PP Control & Automation, tackles the much maligned world of the sales person and explains why the ‘dark art’ of selling is more about process than gift of the gab
When we list some of the big issues facing UK manufacturing, you could be forgiven for being blinded by the ramifications of Brexit and the widely acknowledged skills gap.
There will be little discussion about the lack of expert sales people coming through the ranks, a widespread problem that I believe is the biggest hurdle facing industry now and in the future.
It is not a statement I make lightly, but it is one that I feel very passionate about. With more than 50 years’ experience in internal and external sales, I am well versed in all the different nuances of what many people in the sector call a ‘black art’ – not difficult to understand when 80 per cent of orders are supposedly won by 20 per cent of sales people.
NOT JUST FOR THE FEW
I’m not buying into this magic formula that only a few have got it when it comes to sales. Sales is about getting the process right, and making sure people get access to the right training and support. And I do sometimes wonder what sales people did in a previous life
to deserve such a lack of respect and appreciation.
It seems that the US is the only country in the world where sales professionals are put on a pedestal. The rest of the world prefers to tuck them away in the smallest possible office and, in recent years, bestow a whole new job title on them – business development manager, for instance. Securing orders is the lifeblood of any business. Without it a company can’t grow, invest in technology and employ and develop people. This is why we
should make a concerted attempt to change perceptions and perhaps even look at developing some form of qualification for this profession.
There has to be a joint approach, which industry can drive by lobbying government and academia to develop some form of formal training or, taking it one stage further, the launch of our own sales degree.
I took over PP in 1979, when it was predominantly offering panel building services to a small customer base. I recognised in 1993 that in order to succeed, the firm needed to behave differently to its competitors, and this started a 23-year journey of continuous
improvement, embracing automation and giving every member of staff a personal development roadmap. The latter now stands at 200 hours training for each employee, and the company now employs 200 people, providing electrical control systems, cable harnesses and sub contract manufacturing solutions to customers all over the globe.
CHANGE OF APPROACH
We had a significant change in our sales approach in the mid to late nineties, starting, really, with our successful pursuit of a world number one machinery builder. This transformed our thinking as it proved we had an offer that would sell; we just needed to make sure we targeted the right people and embraced the very latest processes. I’m a firm believer of learning from the very best and that involved readings lots of sales books, the majority of which – unsurprisingly – were written by Americans. We get everyone in our sales team involved, almost like a book club, you could say. Each person takes a section and then presents what they have learned to the rest of the group. Sales have gone up from £12 million to £20m in three years so something must be working.
Researching your customer before making the initial call is one of the most important bedrocks in the PP sales approach, and then not assuming you know the answer to your customer’s requirements. Over the last year, this approach has seen us identify outsourcing solutions that has reduced three-week build times to just four days, and boosted production for another client so they can now make 12 machines every month,
instead of just eight. Sales doesn’t have to be a dirty word and it’s up to industry to ensure it isn’t.
We can start by putting sales people on a pedestal for the first time.