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Shadow Minister delivers keynote speech on sales skills

On Thursday 21 March, Toby Perkins, Labour’s Shadow Small Business Minister delivered the keynote speech – “Why Selling is Key to the Skills Agenda” – at the Sales Leadership Alliance Conference.

The Sales Leadership Alliance is a professional body that works to promote standards, build knowledge, enhance professional standing and promote excellence and best practice at all levels and is powered by the Chartered Institute for Marketing (CIM).

The Conference was held at Moor Hall, the CIM’s headquarters, near Maidenhead.
You can read the full speech below:


“I’m Toby Perkins, Labour’s shadow Minister for small business

Thank you. Its great to be here… Just a day after budget day, and I did wonder with a penny off beer last night what sort of state I’d find you in.

I feared that some of you might have calculated that if you drank 280 pints, the 281st would be free, but I was of course forgetting the professionalism and dedication that Sales Leadership Alliance members are so famous for.

Because I want to start by saying that the Sales Leadership Alliance does some really important work lifting standards of professionalism across our industry and as I set out to develop some political enthusiasm for boosting the profile and the support for the sales profession, I know that in the Sales Leadership Alliance I have a valuable ally.

As someone who has had a much longer sales career than a political one, I’d like to open by saying a word or two to all those people who have dedicated their lives to a sales career.


To business leaders,

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 .

To all those who have supported growth in our economy. I just want to say THANK YOU.

Thank you because without your contribution the UK will never get back on the road to economic prosperity,

Thank you because you take raw potential and help to develop it into the business leaders of tomorrow,

Thank you because the tax revenues generated by the army of salespeople pays for the doctors and the nurses,

the teachers and the policemen.

It pays for the schoolbuildings, the Hospitals, the Libraries and the parks

It pays for the Army,

it pays for the trains, the roads, the flood defences and the pensions.

Don’t ever let anyone again say that sales isn’t an important job, you could say the most important job.

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.

Let me tell you a little bit about where my passion for sales has come from.

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). Met my wife in Sales, she sold too! When you get a seller selling to a seller, everyone’s buying!

From there, I worked in recruitment as a Consultant and subsequently a Branch and Area Manager at one of Britain’s fastest growing companies.  When I arrived we had 15 branches and 150 staff, when I left seven years later, there were 800 of us (I don’t think it was all down to me) but I was proud to grow with the company.

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.

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 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 don’t sell something today, we don’t eat tonight. Can be pretty lonely.

Because so many of you will 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.)

2million 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.

That’s why I was so disappointed that almost the first thing this government did in its very first budget was to increase the sales tax, VAT, up to 20%. When so many of us see the value of sales, and whilst accepting that this is a bigger issue in b2c sales than b2b, it just sent entirely the wrong message at a time when we desperately need to boost confidence encourage consumer spending, and try to grow our way out of the recession.

And when we identify the big issues facing business today, that lack of confidence continues to hold us back. Its that lack of confidence in the economy that is causing many companies to defer important buying decisions.

It is that lack of confidence, coupled with an over reliance on lending to short term quick buck sectors of our economy that has seen a drought in access to bank finance.

It is that which has left the construction industry facing such tough times and housebuilders sitting on land, and the combined effect of those has left Britain 18thin the G20 for growth in the last three years.

But enough of the negative, because I know that 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.

And it is because you are so positive and our businesses so resilient that we all know 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 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 or yesterday are over.

That we need to open the way to new banks to enter the market, for the old players to feel the hot breath of hungry new local competitors at the back of their necks,

for a banking sector connected to its local economy with a local decision maker finding out how they can say yes,           no more ‘computer says No’.

That’s why we want to see the biggest ever revolution in banking in this country as we look to increase business bank account portability and give firms a real chance of going elsewhere increase peer to peer lending and alternative sources of finance and support a network of local banks tasked not primarily with shareholder profits but sustainable lending aimed at boosting their local economy.

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.

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 to see sales as a career not to be tolerated, but to be celebrated, respected and supported.

The world is changing, soon the world will house 4 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 won’t come from being quite good at a lot of things but from what you really 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 single 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, yet whatever and  however we sell, sell we must.

So in that changing world 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.

Last year, the Labour Party held 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.

Since the summit we have visited Portsmouth University, whose business school has an industry leading sales module to their business degree and have visits to post 16 sales academies and Further education colleges set up. We have spoken with sales directors at two of the UK’s largest profession al business to business sales forces, and have met with small business owners across the UK.

Inviting business experts to feed into our policy review isn’t just good politics leading 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. That’s why I am so grateful for the support that we have had from the Sales Leadership Alliance and the ISMM.

We know that Britain faces a serious challenge. The road back to financial prosperity is not a straight one 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.”

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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.

Contact Toby

Tel: 01246 386286
Post: 113 Saltergate, Chesterfield, S40 1NF


I hold regular surgeries for my constituents.
Please call 01246 386286 or email to make a booking.

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