Who amongst us has a crystal ball that can see where our industry is heading? If I did, I would retire rich, sipping cocktails on a beach somewhere. Yet, here I am in my office working hard like most of the people I know. But recently, I’ve had a feeling of déjà vu. Now, I’m a pretty optimistic fellow and I would be the last one to predict any downturn in the market place (I’ll leave that to Geordan Murray), but who remembers that thing called the ‘GFC’?

More to the point, who remembers the market prior to the GFC? It was quite a buoyant market and things seemed to be going along very well. For most, the market was good, orders continued to roll in the door and we were making money. Our sales people were all happy, making budgets, earning bonuses and doing little fist pumps as the orders continued to flow. Then, almost overnight, the market crashed; consumer confidence declined, sales began to vanish and we tightened our belts a lot!

This was exactly the time that my newly opened business was six months old, and it was also the reason why my business moved from a 100 percent industry recruitment organisation to a new industry focussed sales training organisation. This now accounts for more than half of our overall business.

At the time, clients asked if I could assist them in exploring what was happening to their business revenue and margins. Their star performers were struggling, core performers were now poor performers and the others? Well, let’s leave the rest unsaid. As I worked with these businesses,
I identified a trend. Our sales people had either forgotten the fundamentals of selling or that they had never known them at the start and had just ridden the market wave. It became obvious that we needed to go back and teach the foundational principles of selling and rebuild on them.

We are now eight years on, but the last 12 months of my research has convinced me that we are slipping or have slipped back to our old habits of just being transactional order takers and not the true sales professionals that we should be. My déjà vu is that we are entering or already in a similar
market to pre-GFC and that the current market buoyancy is masking the average and poor performers in our sector.

At the risk of repeating myself (which I will call positive reinforcement), here are some key areas from our research which we must continue to address:

• Training
It is clear to me that when we employ staff, no matter whether they are in internal or external sales, we expect that they know what they are doing and that they are competent. My research is showing that this is not the case.
There is a distinct need to increase the level of training across our industry sector because of the lack of technical skills, product knowledge, questioning technique, engagement and a general understanding of customer needs and how to service them. At the moment, it appears that we are in a very transactional mood; not looking for the next opportunity and just processing customers.

• Engagement
Because the market is busy, our sales people are not taking the time to engage with the customer, understand what the customer’s real needs are and develop solutions to meet those needs. We are just doing as we are told. Whatever I ask for, I get – and that’s it. During the process, I will say that I need products A, B and C. Generally the sales person says, ‘Yep, no problem!’ and provides what I asked for. Now, either they forgot or don’t know that I also need product D to finalise and deliver my promise to ‘my customer’…they just do as they are told for fear of being wrong and I just end up dissatisfied.

• Different
The work that we are doing has reenforced my view that you must be different to your competitors if you are to have a successful business now and into the future. Many in our industry will not see this article or be aware of the results that we are finding, so they have no reason to change. Some of you will read my articles and say, ‘my business is not like that’ and that’s fine. But it will be the individuals that learn from what we are sharing and plan to train themselves or their staff further; become more
engaged with their customers and are prepared to strive to continue to deliver outstanding customer service results that will be successful. All I can ask is that you genuinely think about yourself, your staff
and your business and how you can make a change and a difference.

Just to cap off what we have been learning, if you are recruiting, either through a professional recruiter or directly yourself, be open to bringing in new or unskilled talent from other sectors and taking the time to mentor and train them. Everyone wants someone who can hit the ground running and deliver results immediately. Unfortunately, this is unsustainable. In our
business, we have two mottos; ‘Recruit for Attitude’ and ‘Train for Experience’, and I would encourage you to do the same.