From a fear of flying to wing walking – the sales revolution at Royal Mail

Graham Davis, Group Sales Director, Royal Mail

March 23, 2018:

Search Google for Sales Transformation and in less than half a second you get 213 million results. Sales transformation could be one of the most over-used and least-understood phrases in business but for Royal Mail, transformation was not a luxury, it was business survival.

At the start of 2006, Royal Mail’s 350-year control of the UK’s postal service came to end. In the words of Graham Davis, Royal Mail’s Group Sales Director: “We went from a monopoly – something that made money whatever it did – to an organisation that was being commercially attacked on all fronts.”

In a fascinating talk to members of the Association of Professional Sales, Graham explained how the Royal Mail sales division overcame the odds, not just to survive, but to prosper – and strangely, wing walking was part of the process.

First, the organisation recognised they needed sales people fit for the future. This meant some hard decisions and the loss, early on, of 40% of their existing sales team.

Graham admitted: “Once you do something like that, you’re not in a great place. If someone wanted to describe your culture, it would be ‘hatchet’ and not a nice a place to work.”

So how do you come back from that?

Well, said Graham, you focus on what your customers and stakeholders want, then you build a strong vision that is brought together by the whole team. You establish values, attitudes, beliefs and customs. You encourage people to challenge themselves inside, and outside work. At the end, you have a motivated sales team engaged in that vision of the future.

Graham explained the transformation has been remarkable.

In business terms, Royal Mail is enjoying excellent results and performing very strongly in its retail markets. In personal terms, the stories that have inspired this success are extraordinary.

For instance, one of Graham’s colleagues in sales was terrified of flying. Six months later she was wing-walking. Graham was stunned: “She was on the wings of a plane – flying! She wouldn’t get on a plane, then she is strapped to the wings of one. Suddenly your team think anything is possible.”

Another colleague was awarded an MBE for setting up a charity in Gambia to help local people.

“We used to be frightened of change in Royal Mail,” said Graham. “Now my team welcome change because they see it as a great opportunity. My team are proud, they are motivated.”

So how do you maintain that enthusiasm and develop skills to keep winning?

“If you’re going to deliver performance and change, you need to sort out leadership,” said the Royal Mail sales director, and he asked: “What does a great leader do? They coach.”

Graham is clear that he has leaders in his team, not managers. “Technology manages. People lead. All my leaders are qualified coaches and spend 75% of their time coaching, up from 25% two years ago.”

In an honest appraisal of his role, Graham concedes they should have tackled leadership development earlier in the process because coaching is the key to unlocking potential.

Now, employee engagement is exceptional with 80% saying they are involved in running sales. Graham insists he simply oversees the sales process. “It’s theirs, not mine,” he said. He knows that with their sense of ownership has come an important rise in team accomplishment, business success and customer satisfaction.

Graham who is a non-executive director of the APS also praised the work the Association is doing to professionalise sales. He said the sales academy at Royal Mail was key to his team’s success and commented: “We are committed to having a professionally recognised sales force. Saying we’re ethical sellers and part of the APS has helped us.”

As Graham looks to the future, he was also gratified to welcome a new cohort of degree-level sales apprentices to his business: “They are a breath of fresh air. No one apart from their parents will be prouder than I am. If you can, get some apprentices.”

Graham’s key takeaways:

Engage your team to build a vision together.
Get good people on the bus.
Segment your customers.
Have a strong coaching culture.
Get a sales structure which evolves.
Win hearts and minds. That’s the only thing that makes them succeed and helps you to succeed too.

Graham Davis, Group Sales Director, Royal Mail, was speaking to members of the Association of Professional Sales on March 21, 2018. The seminar was hosted by Oracle at their City offices in Moorgate, London

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