Why do I need to know about it?
Sales, as the saying goes, is the lifeblood of the business. So it stands to reason HR should be highly knowledgeable about what goes on in those mysterious, raucous parts of the office.
“During my time as Fairtrade Foundation’s HR director I worked closely with the commercial director to develop sales training. This was critical to establishing strong sales professionals, supporting career development and ultimately growing our income,”says Martyn Dicker, director of people and learning at The Prince’s Trust, of the vital role HR can play in boosting business growth through effective sales support.
Dicker also points out the value that being commercially switched on can bring back to HR: “I, like a number of HR practitioners, enjoyed a period working in recruitment. I have no doubt that this commercial business experience was incredibly useful. It teaches you about setting financial targets, negotiating, setting fees, business development, stakeholder management and networking. You also learn that you are only as good as your last month’s income.”
“My experience is that HR is often not well versed enough in sales,” he caveats, however. “This is partly because HR professionals could benefit from more experience in operations more broadly.”
What do I need to know?
While ‘sales’ may bring to mind bolshie types with headsets – or unnervingly suave suits and perfect hair – it’s generally agreed that the days of ‘hard sales’ are mostly over. (And that this was never the best approach for most anyway.) “The focus of sales activities should be understanding what the person
you are communicating with needs to be more successful and helping them to get it,” says Jonathan Bouchier of performance improvement consultants and trainers FranklinCovey.
Author of Sales for Non-Salespeople Robert Ashton advises sticking to three straightforward but vital rules: “One: listen more than you talk. You need to understand each customer’s specific needs. Two: talk benefits, not features. People buy what will benefit them so you need to tell them. And three: ask for the order. Too many people talk around commitment. Ask for it outright and often.”
Where can HR add value?
Regarding training, Bouchier advises that while “new technologies are bringing a wealth of new opportunities to engage and develop salespeople, the best method is still a hybrid of immersive, skills-based classroom-based training and practical application, and online and multimedia support.” He adds that: “Having a framework and structure to ensure the right amount and kind of practice occurs post-training is critical.”
CIPD adviser for performance and reward Charles Cotton urges businesses to approach the balance between bonuses and basic pay carefully: “HR should collaborate with sales and marketing managers to ensure that sales incentives are aligned to business requirements as well as employee needs. For instance, ensuring sales are not made at the expense of customer service or regulatory requirements, or the balance between rewarding and recognising individual, team and organisational performance.”
Sales skills are highly valuable to the wider workforce, even if you don’t work in sales, or indeed HR, points out Dicker. “Skills such as pitching, understanding communication styles, listening and questioning, objection handling and network mapping are incredibly useful in other disciplines, so sharing this knowledge is important,” he says.
“Selling skills will help anyone get on in life, from recruiting sponsors for events to persuading the canteen to cater for a short notice meeting,” agrees Ashton.