Lord Digby Jones makes an impassioned plea to UK business to “put its money where its mouth is” and invest in the development of salespeople.
Building sales skills emerged as the key theme during a day of patriotism and passion at the National Sales Conference (NSC) 2016, the UK’s premier sales event, held at Coventry’s Ricoh Arena on 6 October, sponsored by Avention and supported by the IoD, ISM and the APS.
The halls of the Ricoh Arena were buzzing with hundreds of leading sales professionals, from every corner of British industry, eager to listen and learn.
Most impassioned of all was that doyen of British industry, Lord Digby Jones, with his plea to British industry to “skill up to succeed”, a theme that resonated throughout the day. Lord Jones’s rousing address began with a morale-boosting acknowledgement of the importance of selling to the UK economy, especially in a post-Brexit world. “It’s salespeople who are creating wealth,” he said. “It’s salespeople who will open up the new markets Britain now needs throughout the world.”
Lord Jones’s message was that, with a professional approach, business skills – and sales skills in particular – can be developed. “The belief that ‘anyone can sell’ is rubbish; it is an art, deserving of good training, thoughtful application and strategic targeting,” he said. “Those who make things look easy, work harder, prepare more and take nothing for granted.”
“I think there’s still a culture in this country of unskilled people asking themselves ‘What can I do for a living, oh, I know, I’ll go and sell,’ and of course you can’t just turn up and sell. Everybody recognises sales skills are important – and they’re not the same as marketing skills. A good marketer can create the right environment for a sale, but you have to have someone who can ‘put the ball in the net’. It’s not about screwing customers over, but taking them on a journey, so they end up thinking ‘Aren’t I lucky to have got what I’ve got’. The German car industry has been brilliant at it for years.”
Warming to his theme, Lord Jones, showed he is a strong advocate of sales qualifications to drive up sales skills. “Qualifications do three things: firstly, they provide a universally acknowledged standard; secondly, they reinforce the message to young people to ‘skill up to earn money’; and thirdly, qualifications show that selling is something you can learn.”
Lord Jones may have stolen the show, but the day will be remembered too for the inspirational contribution of Will Greenwood. Greenwood explored the strategies and tactics that Sir Clive Woodward’s England team employed to achieve glory at 2003’s Rugby World Cup. He drew parallels between sport and sales, showing how the same commitment and mindset is required to deliver peak performance in either discipline. “The only thing you can count on is that things will not go according to plan,” said Greenwood. “You must adapt and ask yourself, can I make the difference as an individual, in small units, or as a group? No one is born a winner. You earn yourself that title when things go wrong.”
NSC also heard fascinating keynotes from Maggie Buggie, Global Sales Officer, Digital for Capgemini, and David Rutherford, Business Development Director for EY. An expert in digital transformation, leadership and people, Buggie argued that, what is needed for digital sales success are technology and sales-savvy people with a mindset that will allow them to grow and be trained into a hybrid role over time. Rutherford described a number of commercial improvement projects within EY and for clients. As a Board member of the not-for-profit Association of Professional Sales (APS), one of NSC's key supporters, he also explained the APS’s development of an Ethical Sales Programme and an emerging quarterly forum for Sales Leaders.
During breaks in the conference, delegates had the opportunity to attend interactive workshops from a range of top sales experts including Grant Leboff, Sir Trevor Soar, Chris Bindley, Jon Bradshaw and Brian Hall. It was an inspirational day – a day of new ideas, practical solutions, networking opportunities and entertainment. But above all this year, there was passion.