The Labour Party’s latest assault on a government policy they feel is stifling business growth in the UK is to target the sales industry as the cradle of growth potential.
So it was no surprise that Toby Perkins MP, shadow minister for small businesses, chose the SLA’s meeting in March to make his pitch that a Labour government would place sales at the top of its business agenda.
He opened with a blanket ‘thank you’ to an industry he personally knows very well. Perkins said: “As someone who has had a much longer sales career than a political one, I want to say a word or two to all those people who dedicated themselves to a sales career, to business leaders, to sales directors bringing through the next generation of sales superstars, to people who have generated revenue employed staff, trained and developed young people, paid the tax revenues that have built a thousand schools and a hundred hospitals and to all those who have supported the growth in our economy, I want to say a thank you.
“Because, without your contribution, the UK will never get back on the road to economic prosperity. Thank you because you take the raw potential and help deliver it to the business leaders of tomorrow. Thank you because the tax revenues that are generated by the army of sales people pays for the doctors, the nurses, the teachers and the policemen, pays for the school buildings, the hospitals, the libraries, the parks, pays for the army and for trains, the roads, the flood defences and the pensions. Don’t let anyone say that sales isn’t an important job. You could say it’s the most important
job because it’s the job that pays for all the other important jobs.”
Perkins said he had left school aged 17 and immediately went to work in telesales where he met his wife, Suzie, before branching off into recruitment where he saw the value of having quality staff working in the sales industry.
He said: “The NHS we are told is the third biggest employer in the world smaller only than the Indian railway and the Chinese army. Yet at 1.7M people, it is still some 500,000 less than the number of people employed in sales and customer services roles, 9% of all the people employed in the UK. If you could estimate how many people were employed in jobs created by salespeople it would be truly staggering.
“This is why I was disappointed that the first thing this government did in its first budget was to increase sales tax with VAT up to 20%. When so many of us see the value of sales while accepting this is a bigger issue in B2C sales than B2B it just sent entirely the wrong message at the time when we need to boost confidence, encourage consumer spending and try to grow our way out of recession.”
But Perkins was quick to point out that the negatives in the economy are easily outweighed by the enthusiasm he has seen by professionals working in sales. He said: “I know this is a positive audience determined to deliver growth in tough times, to find innovative new packages to keep sales growing and to find the opportunities that still exist today. It is because you are so positive and our businesses are so resilient that we all know that we can do better than this.
“It is because of that potential that we want to make it easier for you to access the finance that you need to grow. That’s why Ed Miliband has announced that the days of expecting the same four or five banks to do tomorrow what they failed to do today and yesterday are over. We need to open the way for new banks to enter the market and for the old players to feel the hot breath of hungry new competitors at the backs of their necks.
“For our banking sector connecting to the local economy and the local decision maker finding out how they can say ‘yes’ not just more computer says ‘no’.”
Perkins also aligned himself with the SLA’s stated aims to professionalise the sales industry still further. He added: “How can it be that successive governments have for so long had so little strategy to encourage young people to pursue a career in sales and so little idea of how to help people be good at it? Consider this, the A-Level business study specification mentions production 36 times, marketing 35 times and accounting 22 times, yet sales, just the once!
“In fact, it’s perfectly possible to complete a three-year business studies degree without once turning your mind to the idea about how a product or service is sold.
“We face a graduate employment crisis, yet too few graduates view a sales career as attractive. Sales is a multi- tiered role offering a step-up for so many people who haven’t enjoyed glittering academic careers. From telephone advertising sales to the car showrooms, from home improvements to the call centres many people have seen unpromising lives transformed by discovering unknown sales talents. That’s why I want to see a future One Nation Labour government see sales as a career and not to be tolerated but celebrated, respected and supported.”
He stressed that the industry must keep moving with the times and upskilling in technology has never been more important. Perkins explained: “While technology is changing so is the way that we sell and the way we communicate. The sales people of today have to be technologically competent and capable of communicating in many different forms as well as having rounded skills. Last year Labour held a Sales Skills Summit with professionals from across the world of sales to discuss the role a government can play in improving the sales skills of our school leavers, our college and university graduates and how we can ensure sales remains one of the most educational and socially diverse professions of all.
“The ultimate meritocracy where performance outweighs background, where how well you perform means more than where you come from. Since the summit we’ve visited Portsmouth Business School where they have an industry- leading sales module in their business degree. We have also had visits to post-16 sales academies and further education colleges, we have spoken to sales directors at two of Britain’s largest business-to-business sales forces and we’ve met with small business owners across the UK.”
Ultimately Perkins insisted that future governments must take the sales industry seriously in any planned economic strategy. He concluded: “We know we must make more. To make more we must sell more. That’s why the work that you do is so important and why the next Labour government will salute the work you do and promote it to the next generation. I look forward to hearing your ideas how we can get more of our young people turned on to sales and how we can build the growth of tomorrow by better preparing the young of today. “Your insight is as valuable as the work you are doing.”
Ben Turner, director of the Institute of Sales and Marketing Management (ISMM), told SI that he believes Perkins is on the right track to steer the economy back to prosperity with a strong lead from the sales industry leaders.
He said: “The ISMM are really pleased to be working with Toby and some of our corporate members in driving forward the professionalisation of sales. We believe to achieve a truly professional sales force, we need a qualified sales force. Over the last few years the concept of a professionally qualified sales force has become a reality, businesses such as Microsoft, AXA, SIG, Aggregate Industries and Virgin are all looking to have their sales forces qualified as a result of their own internal training.
“The work that Toby is doing in driving this from a school leavers perspective is equally refreshing, and complements the work we do. The idea that business studies courses at A- Level and degree level have never really had any sales content has been a frustration – although the work of universities such as Coventry University has helped to show that the tide is turning
“We think this is possibly the most significant change to the sales profession in the last 40 years and helps recognise that sales is a career and that the importance of professional selling is as important as having qualified, doctors, pilots, lawyers and accountants.”