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Toby outlines the importance of sales skills at a national conference

Toby Perkins, Shadow Minister for Small Businesses, and Labour MP for Chesterfield, today (12 October 2012) addressed the Institute of Sales and Market Management’s (ISMM) Annual Conference at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry.

Toby spoke about his background in sales and as the owner of a small business and also outlined how he believes sales skills are vitally important to the economy and for helping young people to find employment.

You can read what he said below.

Why selling is key to the skills agenda

“Thank you to the ISMM for all of their support in the work we’re doing to promote sales skills and for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today, it’s great to be here.

Before I start, can I say this. Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour Party has quite rightly highlighted how there are parts of our business community that must change. He has highlighted the behaviour of some of our banks and the impact that has had on the small businesses who rely on them; he has spoken of the need to challenge the vested interests in fields like energy and the media who don’t work responsibly and whose practices have shamed us all.

Can I start by saying as someone who has spent more time in a sales career than a political one, I know that the vast majority of people in business don’t see the values of the rip off merchants as representing anything that we want to be associated with.  And I know Ed Miliband understands this to.

I’d like to say a word or two to all those people who have dedicated their lives to a sales career, to business success, 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 . To all of you I want to say this.           THANK YOU.

Thank you is something we don’t find time to say often enough, but I mean it from the bottom of my heart.
Let me tell you a little bit about my history and why I am so passionate about the importance of sales for the economy, as a career option and in helping British firms to grow on the world stage.As I alluded to a moment ago I have been the Member of Parliament for Chesterfield since 2010 but before that I was a human being.
But for all the sales we made, I can still remember the first one, and though it was only £22 I can still remember the feeling when my email box went ping and that first order came in.I Left school at 17, went into sales, worked in telesales (like most people I didn’t look for a job in sales, I just kind of fell into it). From there, I worked in recruitment as a Consultant and subsequently Regional Manager at one of Britain’s fastest growing companies. In 2005 I set up my second company, and this one actually did pretty well, Called Club Rugby we were an online rugby kit distributor who also imported and sold bespoke kit to rugby clubs, universities and schools.

I can also remember the very first sale I ever made back in 1987. I know what it was for, how much it cost and who it was too. Sales was a passion as well as my livelihood
I can also remember that first morning when I woke up self employed. And that feeling. If I dont sell something today, we dont eat tonight. Can be pretty lonely.But sales has been the life blood of so many businesses since the beginning of time.

Because so many firms know the truth of one of the oldest adages in business; until someone sells something, nothing happens.

But whilst sales is certainly key to businesses across the UK, it is also a key component of our economy in its own right. Famously the NHS is the world 3rd largest employer, behind just the Indian Railway and the Chinese Army . Yet at 1.7 million people it falls some 500,000 behind the number employed in sales and customer services roles (9% of all the people employed in the UK.)

2 million three hundred thousand people employed in selling, and if we could estimate how much of the economy was employed by those people it would be truly staggering.

And yet when sales is so key to our economic prosperity, so vital as a source of employment and revenue growth, how can it be that government has so little strategy to encourage young people to pursue a career in sales and so little idea how to help people be good at it.

Consider this…  The A level Business Studies specification mentions production 36 times, marketing 35 times and accounting 22 times. Sales?? Just the once.

In fact it is perfectly possible to complete a three year Business Studies degree without once turning your mind to the idea of how a product or service is sold.

It seems that in Britain we are ashamed to promote the value of selling, and indeed to describe someone as a salesman is a pejorative term to describe someone as showy and lacking in depth or understanding. This denigration of the reputation of sales must stop!

But alongside the value of sales to the UK economy there are other strong reasons for one nation Labour to want greater recognition of the importance of sales.

We face a graduate employment crisis, yet too few graduates view a sales career as attractive, and sales is also 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 and from home improvements to the call centres many people have seen unpromising lives transformed by the discovery of unknown talents.

That’s why as Labour’s shadow small business minister I want to see a future one nation labour government promote sales as a career that is not only to be respected but is imperative to our future economic success and to embark on a programme of discovery that ensures we have more young people better prepared for the world of business and work generally and for sales in particular when they leave our education system.

The world is changing, soon the world will house 8 billion middle class people, and the N11 countries are chasing the BRIC nations in fighting for their share of the growth. Success in the future wont come from being quite good at a lot of things but from what you excel in.

When we think of the pace of technological change that we have seen in recent years. With the growth of the internet followed by the enormous opportunities created by social media, the electronic  infrastructure developments and necessity for worldwide high speed broadband, the quantity of data we store and move and the technological developments that open new frontiers in every field in every country every day it is hard to believe this.

But the truth is the pace of technological change will never again be as slow as it is today.

Many of the jobs that our young people will do in ten years don’t even exist today, and so the skills agenda will place a premium on the capacity to absorb new information and skills, to communicate and to persuade. And whilst technology is changing so we all know is the way that we sell and the way that we communicate.

So the sales people of today often need to be technologically competent and capable of communicating in many different forms as well as having rounded skills.

Later this year, the Labour Party will be holding a sales skills summit with professionals from across the world of sales to discuss the role 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 educationally and socially diverse professions of all, the ultimate meritocracy where performance outweighs background and where how well you perform means more than where you come from.

Inviting business experts to feed into our policy review isn’t just good politics and leads to good policy making, it is absolutely fundamental to ensuring that Labour’s business policy is rooted in the real world needs of British employers.

We know that Britain faces a serious challenge. The road back to financial prosperity won’t be easy and for us to get there we must make the best of all our talents, to be one nation we must build a country in which we can all contribute and we expect no less of all those who can.

And we know that we must make more, but to make more we must sell more. That is why the work 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 about how we can get more of our young people turned onto sales, and how we can build the growth of tomorrow by better preparing the young today, your insight is invaluable as is the work you are doing have a great conference friends. Thank you very much.”

2 Responses to “Toby outlines the importance of sales skills at a national conference”

  1. Toby,
    I attended the ISMM conference and listened to your speech.
    I agree fully with all your comments.
    I think there are all lot of young people that have been let down by the system, parents and themselves.
    I am convinced that if we give young people an introduction to sales and marketing processes and principles they will be able to ‘sell’ themselves into employment and a career.
    I also think that the construction industry could do with some new sales orientated blood, after all its one of our biggest industries; and if we could get folk on their bikes to go and sell construction related products and services abroad we would do our country a great deal of good.

    So I wish you every success and if you need any help please let me know.

    Regards,

    Terry

  2. Toby,
    I attended the ISMM conference and listened to your speech.
    I agree fully with all your comments.
    I think there are all lot of young people that have been let down by the system, parents and themselves.
    I am convinced that if we give young people an introduction to sales and marketing processes and principles they will be able to ‘sell’ themselves into employment and a career.
    I also think that the construction industry could do with some new sales orientated blood, after all its one of our biggest industries; and if we could get folk on their bikes to go and sell construction related products and services abroad we would do our country a great deal of good.

    So I wish you every success and if you need any help please let me know.

    Regards,

    Terry

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I am Toby Perkins, Labour's Member of Parliament for Chesterfield. If you would like to get in touch with me, my office is open and can be reached by phone on 01246 386 286. I also hold regular surgeries so that constituents can meet me and I can take up their concerns. If you would like to make an appointment then please do contact my office. Thank you for visiting.

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