At the recent BESMA awards run by the Institute of Sales & Marketing Management, Tony McHardy of Business Stream won the coveted ‘Sales Director of the Year’ award. McHardy had to battle against fellow Sales Directors from companies such as Virgin Business Media, Pareto Law, and Winkhaus UK so what made him stand out from the rest.
Tell us about your career to date, how did you get into sales and how did you get to your current position?
I’ve been in sales and sales management for over 26 years. I started out at university studying for a degree in energy engineering, but after a couple of years couldn’t support the cost of full-time education and took the decision to look for employment instead.
I really got into sales by accident. Within six months of taking up my first job as assistant project manager with an energy services business, my employers were so impressed with how quickly I was able to grasp the product knowledge and this, coupled with my confidence, competitiveness and positive mental attitude, directed me very quickly into sales.
The lure of working for a much bigger organisation took me into the utilities market in the early Nineties. I did 10 years with Scottish and Southern Energy; this is where my competitive streak really kicked in as winning business “out of territory” provided a great reward. This is also where I received significant structured sales, negotiation and account management training, which provided the real foundations for building my career.
Prior to moving to my current position with Business Stream, I did a six-year spell with British Energy’s Direct Supply business where I was responsible for instigating and building their electricity supply contracts business in Scotland. During my time with British Energy, which included a move for my family and I south of the border and also saw significant career progression, I was lucky enough to be involved in a major business cultural transformation project, which helped to reinforce my managerial, leadership and coaching skills - all key to becoming a good sales director.
And how did I move to Business Stream? The honest answer was that I wasn’t actually looking to move. I was contacted by a recruitment consultant out of the blue saying that he had the ideal job for me (as they often do). After much to-ing and fro-ing, I was eventually sent the job role and there was no going back! I was hooked. This role was clearly going to be challenging, but the truth is I love a challenge so it appealed to my competitive streak. The role also brought together aspects of what I had learned over the last 20 years – building high performing teams, driving cultural change, leadership and coaching, selling the value of relationships – and focused them all in a single business.
What do you think makes a good Sales Director?
I believe that a good or exceptional Sales Director will do more than just lead the sales team. They must be able to see the big picture, set aspirational targets and then break the journey to these targets down into manageable and achievable chunks or milestones – I call this process establishing the steps to success.
While it goes without saying that a good Sales Director needs to be familiar with the sales process – how sales work, how salespeople think, how teams work, and being able to see things from the perspective of others - they also need that additional dimension: the ability to influence strategy and build internal and external relationships, often with people who will have had both good and bad experiences with sales. And with the Board, they’ve also got to be clear, articulate and persuasive.
What do you try and do to make yourself exceptional?
As well as leading by example and always making myself accessible to both my team and the wider business, I believe that I’ve got a demonstrable track record in creating high performance teams. To help me do this I try to constantly focus on having a positive impact on all three broad stakeholder groups: my customers, my team members, and my company.
What do you think the key reasons were to why you won a BESMA award?
I think that, as well as my drive and passion (which I hope came across to the judging panel), I was able to clearly articulate the strategy of the business, where we have come from and where we are going. Metrics played a very important part in my presentation to the BESMA judges. As a sales person it’s easy to talk the talk, but you need to be prepared to walk the walk, and I was able to provide demonstrable results of the success of our business over the last three years. Not just on profitability growth, but on customer retention, sales channel management and influencing customer behaviours.
Bringing people along with you on the journey is also vitally important and at Business Stream we have now delivered staff engagement at the upper quartile of UK business – a great testament not just to me, but to the quality off the senior management and leadership team here.
What are the biggest challenges you face over the next 12 months?
Our market is still relatively immature and I can draw parallels to that of the early years of the deregulated energy market. We will see more competition appearing over the coming months which will undoubtedly put pressure on prices, but all of my experience tells me that we should learn the lessons of the energy market and avoid commoditisation.
I need to respond to the threat of competition by delivering better value for money, increasing service standards and driving more product innovation. If I get this right then customer retention levels will remain high; if I don’t get it right, customers have a choice and they will vote with their feet.
I, of course, will also be looking to raise the bar on performance within my sales team and will continue to look to augment, develop and support the team wherever necessary. Building long term, effective relationships with our customer base is essential and we will continually strive to have the best relationships we can within our chosen markets.
I hear you are a keen golfer, is the golf course a good place to do business or best for relaxation?
I've always found the golf course is a great and informal way of developing internal and external relationships. It often offers a 'safe' environment to identify and deal with problems or difficult issues head on, while it also helps to balance business and social conversation.
How did you celebrate winning a BESMA?
After being away from home all week at customer events and the awards ceremony, and struggling through flight delays from volcanic ash, I was delighted to be greeted on Friday with a homemade ‘Congratulations Daddy!’ banner that my two sons had made for me that day. I was kept up late yet again, happy to be celebrating with a cool glass of cider and dancing with my boys.