There’s been a lot of talk about getting sales taught in schools but only one organisation so far has rolled up its sleeves and got stuck in.
Sales development and training specialist, Silent Edge has launched a course for sixth-formers of Cranbrook School in Kent to show students the advantages of sales training and sales as a potential career.
Spearheading the move is Silent Edge’s CEO, Russell Ward whose son, Ryan, attends the school, and he told the Sales Leadership Alliance (SLA) quarterly meeting that the results could drive a sea-change at government level.
He said: “We’re teaching 20 students how to sell and the reason for doing this is that we’re taking this as a case study to the government because we want to get sales put on the curriculum of schools.
“I believe very passionately in sales and I believe it should be should be as important to teach as English of Maths as a subject.”
Ward said, as a former sales director himself, he found that there were very few aids to judge whether sales recruits would be up to the role.
“I don’t think in my first year in this role I saw a CV where a candidate admitted they had ever missed a target,” Ward said. “And that’s the problem – how do you know whether the person sitting in front of you can really sell?
“Traditional approaches that people use in recruitment are, actually, quite poor at answering that question. So someone comes on board and after three to six months you find out whether they can sell or not. I used to get so frustrated and I looked at the sales industry and started to see it as a very weird industry – with no standards, no qualifications that could indicate whether anyone is good at selling. In any other profession, there are relevant qualifications to give an indication.”
So began his drive to measuring a sales person’s effectiveness and, ultimately, the birth of his consultancy, Silent Edge.
Ward explained: “I devised a way of measuring this objectively. It was by identifying what ‘good’ looks like for all the different sales roles.
“Because this took us on a journey of creating standards so that within a few hours you could tell exactly how good someone would be good at sales.
“Where I come from as an individual is I am sales all the way through and have been passionate all my life about trying to make sales professional and respected.
“We produced some research with Cranfield University and in 2008 we published out data identifying eight different types of sales people. It showed how few good sales people there were in the Blue Chip community in Britain and that the majority do not know how to sell.
“In the US there has been a growth of universities that have now started teaching sales – in 2005 there was just one university growing to 102 universities offer sales as a degree today.
“In the UK there were 1M people selling in 2008, yet how many of those had a proper education in the role they were performing? The average amount of training that a sales person has is just one-day-a-year for every year that they have been selling, according to recent research.”
Ward admitted that one of the biggest problems for the sales industry is in raising the profile of sales among the aspirational youth.
He said: “No school leaver aspires to sales as a career and, ultimately, if sales is going to become a profession of significance we have to look to the schools and the youth of today if we are to grow this industry. A survey in 2011 stated that a third of employers wanted to increase the number of sales roles in their organisations.
“We are just about to publish our own research involving 200 sales directors where 49% are finding a problem with the time it’s taking for deals to close and this indecision by organisations was a big problem last year. The 20% reported that losing a pipeline was their biggest challenge. Another 49% admitted they had no more than two days training for their sales managers in the last two years and 83% said those managers go the jobs because they were good at selling not because they were good at managing. Sixty per cent of directors find that traditional training courses do not change behaviour of staff in a sustainable way. The research showed that 96% of sales directors want their forces to sell solutions not products while the average sales person scores just 32% in their ability to discuss and deliver a value proposition in a meeting.
“This is against a backdrop of 1M unemployed 16-to-21-year-olds and we’re creating a jobless generation.”
Yet, out of a chance conversation with one of his son’s teachers, Ward realised there was something practical his company could do in tackling the problem at the grassroots.
Ward took up the story saying: “In February 2012 I was asked to speak to 330 sixth form students at Cranbrook School after a chance meeting with a teacher at a local rugby match.
“He said, ‘We are always getting doctors and lawyers and the like giving talks to the students and they are seldom interested in what they have to say. We have never had anyone come talk to them about sales.’
“After thinking about it I decided that I’d like to take this a step further and so I asked the headmaster that if any of these students would like to be taught how to sell, I’d be prepared to teach them for a whole year for free.
“My speech was a big change-of-life for me and I don’t know who was more shocked, them or me! I asked them about who were going to university and how many knew what they were going to go into afterwards and only 20 hands went up.
“So I said 85% of you are going to university but have no idea about what you are going into afterwards and with about £50,000 in debt.
“I wanted to get them thinking about themselves as a brand and I was shocked that they couldn’t tell me what the brand-values were. Then we moved into ‘your-values’ and they didn’t understand either. Then I mentioned their Facebook walls and what they put up on them and then told them 66% of employers trawl Facebook before hiring new recruits. And you could watch the blood drain out of their faces.”
One of the biggest surprises Ward found was that, after his talk, about half of the Lower-Sixth volunteered to be put forward for potential sales training. These were whittled down to a manageable 20 who the head of the sixth-form thought would benefit most and the course began the following September last year.
Ward said: “We’ve been teaching communication, presentation skills, format communication, to do one-minute and three-minute pitches and value proposition, the sales industry as a whole, how people structure their sales. And I have been astonished over the impact this has made on the students.
“I’m taking this as a case study to the government and have had a meeting with Labour’s Toby Perkins in a bid to get sales put on the curriculum at schools.
“Because the impact I’ve seen on the Cranbrook students has been life-changing for me and everything I’ve worked for in sales training has led to this.”
This project has prompted Ward to launch a new training business, the Academy of Sales, aimed at 18-26-year-old age bracket currently struggling to find employment in this depressed UK job market.
Ward explained: “In these courses they will learn how to communicate, they are going to learn about mind-set, positive thinking and they are going to be very capable telesales and transactional sales people by the end of that six months.
“Also, they will be some of the most positive people because you will have to pass a psychometric test showing tenacity, resilience and curiosity to get on to this course. That’s because, if you haven’t got those three core DNAs of a sales person then you’re going to get disappointed and won’t be able to handle knockdowns.
“I have already been told by several companies that will take students from this course so my proposition to the students is that they have a guaranteed job at the end of it. So, if you hit a certain standard, measured by Silent Edge in terms of your capability, then you will be eligible for a job.
“This addresses a need to get young people into work and is also great for business thanks to the speed at which these people can start to be productive.
“There is also an opportunity just announced call the EOP bid – a government grant of about £250M where the government will match funding for employers who want to get young people into work and to up-skill existing staff.”
Ward said he was hopeful this was just the first steps in a growing realisation that sales can be a viable skill to be taught to young people within the education system.
He concluded: “If we can affect sales at the grassroots, and people like the students of Cranbrook in a positive way, then they will have an aspiration to come into sales and view it as a profession with respect.”