The Shadow Minister for Small Business, Toby Perkins MP, visited Portsmouth Business School yesterday to see first-hand an English university which is an internationally-recognised pioneer of sales education.
Mr Perkins’ visit was inspired by a recent round table meeting with sales professionals including the Head of Marketing and Sales at Portsmouth, Beth Rogers.
He told staff and students sales skills are vital for the growth of UK and more emphasis needs to be put on sales education in schools, colleges and universities. He also said he was concerned that professional sales skills have been undervalued in business studies courses and praised Portsmouth Business School for being a beacon of excellence in sales education.
He met current and former students and took a strong interest in their work, quizzing them on their training, skills and the rationale behind different selling techniques.
Beth Rogers said: “Toby has a passionate interest in sales education, as do we, and it is encouraging that he is determined to address the sales skills gap which exists in the UK.
“If the UK is to fully and quickly recover from the recession we need to develop the professional salespeople and sales managers that employers need and value.
“You don’t get to grow quickly internationally by being cheaper, you get it by knowing how to grow your revenue by being smarter and better at creating value for customers with very different needs – this is at the root of what we teach our business studies undergraduates.”
The MP told staff and students that he left school at 17 and his first job was in telephone sales. Soon after he became regional sales manager in the Midlands for a national recruitment firm and after seven years entered parliament.
He said: “What strikes me is how casual the UK is in valuing and recognising sales ability.
“Sales accounts for 10 per cent of all jobs in the UK, more than the NHS. When I found out about the work going on here at Portsmouth I was very enthusiastic to come and see it first-hand.
“We in the Labour Party want to raise the profile of sales as a career. It’s a tremendously important profession and has the potential to put UK plc back in the black.”
A few months ago, Mr Perkins started working with the Institute of Sales and Marketing Management to find ways for the government to help the sales profession become more credible and provide better training and clearer career paths for young people.
He believes what is required to turn sales into a profession is a research base underpinned by a partnership between government, academia, industry and professional sales institutes.
The UK Commission for Employment and Skills has reported that sales and customer service are among the skills most lacking in the workforce and are also among the jobs with high vacancy rates.
Ms Rogers said: “I fear other countries are going to overtake the UK on sales skills. It will not come as a surprise to anyone that sales education is booming in the US, because business sponsors of higher education there want sales-ready graduates.
“What may be more of a wake-up call for the UK is the performance of Finland, where the government encourages sales education because new companies in their small local market have to go global very quickly.
“The labour market report for sales commissioned by the government in 2008, before the recession, revealed huge gaps in the sales skills needed by employers, and the latest report for sales shows the problem persists. The government quite rightly pays attention to legislating against bad selling, but policymakers should consider how important it is to encourage good selling in its place.”