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Businesses turn to training programmes to shore up their foundations

 

The UK’s economic troubles continued in September, with the Office for National Statistics reporting that the consumer prices index rose to 10.1%. As consumers tighten their belts, businesses are having to revise their plans and their budgets to reflect the new economic reality. 

In this climate, a new survey by UK sales transformation specialist Sales Talent has shed some interesting light on how businesses are responding to the economic downturn. The survey consulted sales leaders spanning the commercial property, international residential property, logistics and home improvement sectors, providing a snapshot of the current situation so far as sales are concerned. Some 60% of those interviewed advised that their sales teams are finding it harder to sell than they were three months ago, in a clear reflection of the wider economic situation. 

Nor is a tougher sales climate the only issue. The UK’s job vacancies stood at a record 1.292 million in June 2022. While that figure dropped to 1.246 million in September, the number of vacancies means that firms are having to fight to hang on to their salespeople if they don’t want to lose them to the competition. The Sales Talent survey found that 40% of companies are currently facing challenges holding onto their sales teams. Some of those surveyed had already lost salespeople to other firms, while others had been forced to make changes to hang onto their staff. 58% of companies, meanwhile, reported having increased the pay of their sales teams to hang onto them. Of those who had increased pay, the increase was split almost equally between salaries and commissions. 

Paul Owen, MD of Sales Talent, comments:

“The turbulent economic situation in the UK at present is causing many business leaders to take a long, hard look at their operations. There’s an element of preparing to weather the storm, although, interestingly, 80% of the companies I’m working with report that their sales have increased over the past quarter, despite the economic headwinds. Of the firms looking ahead to 2023, the most proactive are putting training plans in place that will support and engage their sales teams while also benefitting the business as a whole.”

The survey of business leaders also shed light on the role of training in the face of the UK’s current economic situation. 80% of sales leaders feel that training should be delivered on a regular, ongoing basis while all agreed that one-off sessions here and there were not a good approach. Interestingly, however, just 20% of those surveyed reported approaching their training by scheduling regular sessions, while 40% were still booking occasional sessions “when needed”, signalling that firms have some way to go before they have actioned the training programmes they know they need. Owen continues:

“Whether it’s delivered in-house or using an external trainer, sales training should be a regular event. It’s about learning, then implementing that knowledge, then learning something more, then implementing that… it’s an ongoing process. A lot of firms are waking up to the value of this and implementing regular training as a way to engage, motivate and retain their sales teams.”

The importance of holding onto highly skilled salespeople is likely to increase as we head into 2023. Such individuals will be essential in supporting businesses through the tougher economic times that Prime Minster Rishi Sunak has said lie ahead. 

One way that companies can encourage their sales staff to stay is by holding regular, effective training. Yet the face of sales training is changing, with the lines between training and mentoring blurring. While many businesses begin by implementing a whole-team training programme, they then break this down into groups of two or three team members, where the training is more personalised and closer to mentoring. One-to-one coaching is often provided alongside this, with both the individual and the business benefitting as a result. 

The other notable shift is that sales teams (along with many others) are increasingly heading back into the office. This trend has already begun in earnest, as businesses appreciate the value that in-person social interaction can deliver as part of a more blended home/office working arrangement. Sales Talent’s Paul Owen concludes:

“For professions that attract a high percentage of extroverts, time in the office is essential to team members’ wellbeing. That doesn’t mean firms necessarily going back to the same rigid hours as before; it means taking a fresh look at how the office can add genuine value to individual’s daily lives, as well as supporting them in their roles. Regardless of the economic landscape and the pressures that sales teams are feeling, companies that focus on supporting their people through measures such as regular training and a proactive approach to wellbeing will find it easier to hang onto their teams.”