Analysis: inside the mind of today’s sales leaders

Nick Laird. APS Board Meeting at Grange Langham Court Hotel, London. 2.12.15 Photographer Sam Pearce/

Nick Laird

Monday, July 4 2016:  Sales leaders want to do the right thing by their customers and to leave a legacy to the next generation by professionalising their industry, according to the surprising and heartening findings of instant polls taken at the Association of Professional Sales’s annual conference.

The poll results endorse the APS’s moves towards raising ethical standards and continuous professional development, says Nick Laird, the association’s chief operating officer.

Backing for professionalism

The Slido online survey of more than 400 sales leaders found that 78% wanted sales to be recognised as a true profession, 84% thought accreditation to a professional body would help them and their organisation stand out to customers, and fully 92% endorsed the idea that sales people should “do the right thing and thereby get the right results”.

“They are saying they think it will help them personally and their companies,” said Laird.

“It’s a real commitment to conduct, ethics and standards. These sales leaders are saying: ‘I have done well by sales and wish to put something back, so long as the legacy lives beyond me’.

“It’s a far cry from the usual stereotype. People outside sales often view the industry as being insular and little concerned about legacy and the future, but this shows true thinking for the long-term. It shows the moral compass of sales leaders.”

Admin burden

Laird said that the 19 question poll had raised a warning flag over the increasing burden of non-sales admin work that was being placed on sales teams.

“I was amazed at the amount of time: 60 per cent of them saying at least 40 per cent of their team’s time is spent on non-sales activities,” he said. “I think that sales leaders are becoming accustomed to too much admin, and aren’t pushing back hard enough. It tells me that if, as sales leaders, we can focus our strategic thinking more clearly, then it will allow us the argument to cut down the amount of non-sales activity by their team.”


Most sales leaders said that the most rewarding parts of their job were interacting with customers and their sales team, but Laird said that for him this too raised a warning flag.

“They love the customers, and the coaching, making a difference to an individual. What most haven’t done, however, is to have management and leadership training that allows them to pull back from the normal cadence of selling to think more strategically in terms of patterns, systems and trends,” he said.

Follow this link and scroll down to view the Slido poll findings in full.

Pace of change

Using a multiple choice format designed to deliver complex rather than yes-or-no answers, the questions revealed that the top worries for the majority of sales leaders were recruitment, and the intimidating pace of change. 81% feared their customers were evolving faster than they could adapt to meet them, and more than a third said their organisation was in the throes of some kind of transformation, led by the need to sell more effectively.

Laird said that the high numbers of organisations in flux could reflect the fact that the APS draws many new members from sectors facing rapid change, where the selling environment was apt to be fundamentally different within three years.

“They need to accelerate their learning. They haven’t time to do a six month pilot and six months’ evaluation, they need answers within six weeks. So coming to the APS, where they can share a deep pool of knowledge and learn the lessons from others’ successes and failures, has to be pretty critical,” he said.

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