Co-founder, Dr Yekemi Otaru, led a 5,000-word research that saw twelve business leaders take part in interviews. Interviewees have between 10 and 38 years of industry experience in manufacturing and engineering sectors. Yekemi notes, “There’s so much potential for UK SMEs to grow and scale. But the limited support for the sales function is holding back many. I was encouraged to see the openness of leaders in sharing their experience and challenges with nurturing sales talent.” In this article, Dr Yekemi Otaru summarises the report and provide some recommendations for SMEs in technical industries on how to improve their sales performance.
In a new report entitled “The State of Sales Skills in UK SMEs,” we analysed the ways in which small and medium-sized enterprises in the UK identify, evaluate and nurture sales talent. Our qualitative research included interviews with twelve sales and business leaders, as well as additional third-party research. We identified three core themes: sales skills and hiring process, onboarding and training, and sales outcomes.
The hiring process
Our research found that SMEs in the UK, particularly smaller ones, tend to hire people through referral, which can limit the talent pool available for recruitment. While SMEs do follow a relatively structured hiring process, business leaders often hire based on gut feelings and prioritise soft skills over industry-specific and even sales skills. Therefore, it is crucial to identify and nurture skills such as trustworthiness, self-motivation, empathy, technical knowledge and market understanding.
Onboarding and training
Smaller SMEs often do not have internal training programmes and have a limited training budget, which can range from £500 to £5,000 per person, with an average of £1,000. Furthermore, SMEs that rely heavily on their sales teams to generate revenue are least likely to provide sales training. Therefore, we recommend that SMEs focus on a robust onboarding process and invest in ongoing training to ensure long-term success and help support sales retention.
The report also found that salespeople who exceeded their sales targets use social media daily, highlighting a strong correlation between social selling and sales performance. Therefore, SMEs must embrace social media and provide salespeople with the necessary tools and training to use it effectively. SMEs must also be willing to experiment with new sales strategies to find what works best for them.
Recommendations for UK SMEs
We provide nine key observations and associated recommendations for UK SMEs looking to improve sales performance and develop a better understanding of how to nurture new and existing sales talent. Our recommendations include:
- Develop a clear hiring process that emphasises both soft skills and industry-specific and sales skills.
- Use job descriptions to attract candidates with relevant experience, and skills to achieve your business goals.
- Implement a robust onboarding process that focuses on sales training and provides support to new hires.
- Invest in ongoing sales training to ensure long-term success and support sales retention.
- Embrace social media and provide salespeople with the necessary tools and training to use it effectively.
- Use data and analytics to monitor sales performance and identify areas for improvement.
- Experiment with new sales strategies to find what works best for your SME.
- Develop a strong sales culture that emphasises teamwork, collaboration and continuous improvement.
- Seek outside support, such as business coaches or consultants, to provide guidance and expertise.
In conclusion, our report highlights the importance of identifying and nurturing sales skills within SMEs in the UK. By developing a clear hiring process, implementing a robust onboarding process, and investing in ongoing sales training, SMEs can improve their sales performance and support sales retention. Furthermore, embracing social media, using data and analytics, and experimenting with new sales strategies can help SMEs stay ahead of the competition. While our research has limitations, we hope it will spark further discussion and initiate better support for sales teams.