David Fox, chairman of PP Control & Automation, tackles the much maligned world of the sales person...
When we list some of the big issues facing UK manufacturing, you could be forgiven for being blinded by the ramifications of Brexit and the widely acknowledged skills gap that doesn’t seem to be closing anytime soon.
There will be little discussion about the lack of expert sales people coming through the ranks, a widespread problem that could well be the biggest hurdle facing industry now and in the future.
It’s not a sweeping statement I make lightly, but it is one that I feel very passionately about. With over 50 years’ experience in internal and external sales, I’m well versed in all the different nuances of what many people in the sector regularly call a ‘black art’.
I’m also not buying into this magic formula that only a few have got it. Sales is more about getting the process right and making sure people get access to the right training and support.
However, I do sometimes wonder what sales people did in a previous life to deserve such a lack of respect and appreciation.
It seems that the US is the only country in the world where it actually puts its ‘sales’ professionals on a pedestal…the rest of the world prefers to tuck them away in the smallest possible office and, in recent years, bestow a whole new job title on them…Business Development Managers for instance.
Securing orders is the lifeblood of any business and without it a company can’t grow, invest in technology and employ and develop people…this is why we should make a concerted attempt to change perceptions and perhaps even look at developing some form of qualification for this profession.
There has to be a joint approach, which industry can drive by lobbying Government and Academia to develop some form of formal training or, taking it one stage further, the launch of our own Sales Degree.
I took over PP in 1979, when it was predominantly offering panel building services to a small customer base.
Together, we recognised that in order to succeed the firm needed to behave differently to its competitors and this started a journey of continuous improvement, embracing automation and giving every member of staff a personal development roadmap…the latter now stands at 200 hours training for each employee.
We now employ 200 people and provide electrical control systems, cable harnesses and sub contract manufacturing solutions to customers all over the globe.
PP had a significant change in our sales approach in the mid to late nineties, starting really with our successful pursuit of a world number 1 machinery builder. This transformed our thinking as it proved we had an offer that would sell; we just needed to make sure we targeted the right people and embraced the very latest processes.
Researching your customer before making the initial call is also one of the most important bedrocks, as is not assuming you know the answer to your customer’s requirements.
This is something we do particularly well and I reckon it could be an important lesson for other manufacturers. Over the last year, this approach has seen us identify outsourcing solutions that has reduced 3-week build times to just four days and boosted production for another client so they can now make 12 machines every month instead of just 8.
Sales doesn’t have to be a dirty word and it’s up to industry to ensure it isn’t. We can start by putting sales people on a pedestal for the first time.