Why Wales needs to get selling

Walter May says a poor sales culture is holding the Welsh economy back

A poor understanding of professional sales  is the most important contributing factor to slow growth and business failure amongst the entrepreneurial community in Wales.  So what can we do to bring about the change necessary to help Wales develop a better customer oriented sales culture?

Making an entrepreneurial Wales


Tomorrow: Walter May says Welsh companies should adopt the ‘American way’ in their marketing strategies. On Wednesdeday he says Welsh entrepreneurs abroad can help those at home


I don’t particularly like the much used phrase, ‘elephant in the room’ but it describes very well the situation discussed here. No matter how good your manufacturing operation is, how cutting-edge your technology is, how tight your financial goals are or how progressive and forward-thinking your management techniques are, you must still have an efficient sales mechanism in place, or everything else is meaningless.

You could argue that each business is best viewed as two distinctive parts. The first has to do with your product or service and the second relates to the business of selling.  This is where effective entrepreneurs should spend most of their time.  It is a lesson that has been learnt by our most notable entrepreneurs and successful businesses.

Perversely, however, when starting a new business, most entrepreneurs focus on issues other than selling. They spend most of their time and money on secondary issues. These include such things as creating a logo, office accommodation, striving for the perfect product, and legal and administration issues. These may make you feel like you have a real business. However, they are meaningless unless and until you sell something. They should be put on the back burner until you have established an effective sales system.  People buying your product or service and revenue growth is the most tangible evidence that you have a sustainable business.  As Wales’s most successful Entrepreneur, Sir Terry Matthews says, the three most important things in business are:

  1. Sales
  2. Sales growth
  3. Profit”

Why you should focus on sales? There’s a direct relationship between the success of a business and the resources devoted to selling – especially true during the stages of establishing and growing your business.  No matter how good you think your product or service is, the only meaningful measure is your sales figures. Arrogance that your product is so good it will sell itself and waiting for the phone to ring is folly. Early and sustainable focus on sales will also generate all-important cash flow and reduce your dependence on external sources of finance.

Business is all about adding value to the customer and the customer is the only one who determines whether you’ve added value. If a customer thinks your product is good, they’ll buy it, recommend it to their friends and buy again.

While improving your product is important, this should be postponed until you get customer feedback and have generated profit to reinvest in areas that make your proposition even more compelling to customers.

Re-ordering your priorities in the following way provides the best chance of being successful.

  1. Ensure your product good enough to sell – but don’t worry about perfecting it.
  2. Sell it – ensure you adopt the most appropriate route(s) to market.
  3. If it sells, re-invest and improve it – value analysis can help here.

Although there are many things you can do to help your business succeed, none will impact success more than generating sales. Only when you have achieved this should you shift your emphasis to improving production methods.

There needs to be a greater focus on perfecting soft skills within a business context, and none more than sales. Knowing what areas to improve is a start but the real challenge is effective execution. We must therefore provide young Welsh businesses with a focal point and a mechanism to promote ‘Sales Excellence’.

A lively discussion has taken place on the ‘Welsh Entrepreneurs’ LinkedIn group on the question; should a Welsh University appoint a Professor of Strategic Sales? The issue has also been debated at the recent ‘Entrepreneurs Wales’ events that took place in the four corners of Wales during at the end of last year.

There are many routes to market and sales processes, depending on what you are selling and to whom, as well as the following issues to consider:

  • Commodity óTechnical
  • Tangible ó Intangible
  • Individual ó Corporate
  • Low ó High cost
  • Consumable ó Asset
  • Replacement ó New Capability
  • Unique ó Competitive
  • Stable ó Rapidly Changing Market

This is a complex area and getting it right will propel your business to unprecedented success. Equally, adopting the wrong approach or poor execution will surely lead to failure or a hand-to-mouth existence.

While common in the USA, Cranfield is the only UK University that has a Professor of Sales. Could this be the catalyst for changing Welsh business culture to be more sales (especially international) and customer focused? There appears to be strong support for this amongst our aspirational entrepreneurs. The question is, how to take the debate forward and make it happen?

Walter May is a lead mentor on the Welsh Government’s ‘High Potential Start-Up programme’. In November 2012 he organised the inaugural ‘Entrepreneurs Wales’ conference followed by a series of related seminars through 2013. He organises the LinkedIn Group ‘Welsh Entrepreneurs’. To join contact Walter May at [email protected]

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