Friday 29 March, 2019
I had my first sales role at the age of 19, writes APS Sales & Marketing Specialist, RJ Cerasoli, and if I’m totally honest it wasn’t planned. I had no idea what sales involved, the only salesperson I knew was my dad who worked for an insurance company. In fact, I tell a lie. My mum had a short stint selling fertiliser to farmers over the telephone from our spare room when I was young – this was North Wales.
The job I fell into was working for a sales and management training company, generating leads for the consultants over the telephone. It was a relatively small family-run company and for a teenage bricklayer it was a great introduction to an office and sales environment.
The consultants were still trying to get to grips with email and mobile phones, and were able to research companies and information on the internet, albeit low-fi and 32 bit. I was able to show them how my generation was using email instead of fax, emailing documents instead of typing and posting, and how to keep in touch with people throughout the day via email and text, without interrupting their flow. I had the tech know-how to speed up communication and capacity; I was going to nail this role.
My sales figures were a disaster.
I thought by wowing clients with my use of the latest tech, being friendly and chatty, then telling them why they needed our services, was the route to success. Oh the folly of youth.
From day one the head consultant let me have a go my way, but stepped in once I’d had sufficient time to realise I needed help. He changed my perception of a salesperson when he introduced me to a structured sales process based around action learning and NLP-based principles. I was fascinated by the focus on communication and understanding of the individual and their needs, helping people to find their own solution, and creating a sustainable relationship that was based on mutual trust. My sales figures improved drastically. My enjoyment of the role went supersonic. This kind of selling was far removed from the yuppie hard seller that my generation had grown up with.
My opinion of a salesperson up till then has been that of most people. It was the image of the Porsche-driving guy with a Filofax, slightly unscrupulous, with a smooth-talking charming demeanour. Big teeth and gold bracelets. But back then any structured sales training was in its infancy, and any accreditation in sales was practically unheard of.
Unfortunately, those kinds of salespeople still exist. Not that I’m blaming them. They haven’t been exposed to the same kind of education and training that I was fortunate to have. Many of them have arrived in sales by accident with a lot of technical knowledge, or have chosen sales to earn a lot of money and buy the finer things in life, but with little understanding of communication and relationships. Those of us with decades of experience in business and sales have a responsibility to make sure that today’s salespeople have a completely different starting point.
There is a new generation about to join our national workforce and their expectations about their careers and their futures will be very different to ours. Whilst there is an increasing focus on personal, spiritual fulfilment and unique experiences, this new generation is faced with uncertainty and insecurity about the future. They are less inclined towards the rigid nine-to-five desk job and want to know what a job or career can offer them, not the other way round.
The new workforce is a generation that has never known a time without social media and the digital world. They have grown up with it. The average six-year-old child understands more about digital technology than a 45-year-old adult, according to a study by communication watchdog Ofcom.
And of course, the digital revolution has grabbed the sales world too, with more traditional forms of engagement moving into the ‘niche’ category. This does not mean that those of us who grew up without the internet have nothing to pass on or share. As technology and new digital platforms come and go, as new emerging environments change, it will be the basic principles of good communication, understanding needs, relationship sales, trust building and ethics that will underpin success. Also, as the digital world becomes ever more busy and saturated, messages can be lost. Increasingly, writing letters to contacts and other ‘quaint’ forms of engagement, are enjoying a renaissance. Do school leavers today know how to write a thank-you letter? Do they know how to write any kind of letter? How would they cope with being face-to-face with lots of people who are more senior than them at a networking event or conference?
If there is one legacy we can leave for the new workforce, it is our structure, our ethics, our learning, and principles to make sure that the old flimflam sales persona never returns and we future proof their careers against change. No matter if we are a multi-national or an SME, we can provide them with training in the form of apprenticeships and on-the-job qualifications. Our businesses will benefit from a nursery of talent. This is one reason why the Association of Professional Sales, with our clear oversight on sales apprenticeships, is the industry leader. Find out more about sales apprenticeships here.
The APS believes a new generation of super sellers will develop successful businesses and drive UK prosperity. And there’s a personal interest too, their business know-how and sales acumen will provide for us in our dotage, so let’s make sure they do a great job!
About the APS:
The Association of Professional Sales is the leading authority for salespeople, a not-for-profit organisation reinvesting in the sales profession to build standards, trust and education. The APS is engaged with MPs to promote ethical, professional selling across UK businesses and has worked with the government, business leaders and academics to establish sales apprenticeships up to degree and master’s level. We are also campaigning for chartered status to give skilled, ethical salespeople the same recognition as other professions like accountants, architects, and engineers.