Britain lacks salespeople with right skills, say MPs

12th December 2019 |   Journal Of Sales Transformation

Stephen Kerr:
Stephen Kerr: Closing the productivity gap would boost the economy by around £270 billion.

Britain is critically short of professional salespeople with the right leadership, negotiation and digital skills to win deals in new marketplaces, an inquiry by a cross-party group of MPs has found.

In its first report, published as Britain prepares to leave the European Union, the All- Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Professional Sales highlights endemic problems in Britain’s sales sector that affect the country’s ability to do business. The MPs’ report, which was published on 16 October, suggests that these deficiencies are likely to have contributed to the stagnation of productivity in the UK economy since 2008.

Chair of the group, Stephen Kerr, said: “The recommendations in this report aim to increase the productivity of our SMEs by improving the way they sell. If every SME in Britain could increase their productivity by just a few percent, it would transform the UK economy and lift the living standards of British workers. If we could close the productivity gap between the best and the rest it would boost the economy by around £270 billion, according to the Bank of England.”

Andrew Hough
Andrew Hough: Working with MPs has highlighted the selling challenges faced by small businesses. © Nick de Cent

SMEs hardest hit

The skills shortage threatens every business, but affects the UK’s small and medium-sized enterprises in particular, say the MPs. A fundamental part of Britain’s economy, SMEs account for 99% of businesses and employ 60% of the UK’s private sector workforce.

The APPG heard evidence from SMEs, academics and senior sales leaders who highlighted a negative attitude towards selling and a lack of effective sales education. The inquiry, supported by the Association of Professional Sales,3 examined what is preventing small businesses from taking on apprentices who could help them embrace digitalisation, and discussed how UK universities can develop research centres to foster a generation of expert sales leaders.

The Prime Minister has described how he wants Britain to be an “outward-looking … free trade” country with a “high wage … high skill, high productivity economy”.4 To achieve this, the government needs to intervene to close the skills gap, and to promote a more professional attitude towards selling, a spokesperson for the group told the Journal.


The APPG report sets out 24 recommendations that can be condensed into four key changes Britain needs to make:

  • Learn – Study sales ethics and techniques in schools and colleges and create sales research centres at universities.
  • Train – Help SMEs to develop sales skills, to manage sales better, and to embrace digital sales technologies.
  • Respect – Recognise sales as a profession with a standards body established by Royal Charter to ensure high ethical standards.
  • Lead – Appoint a sales tsar to take responsibility for driving change, and for ensuring that this vital part of the economy is understood at the heart of government.

Supporting the sales sector can be done with a minimal outlay of public funds, but it requires leadership to bring about a change of mindset, and this, the government can help to provide, the MPS declared.

Andrew Hough, Founder and CEO of the Association of Professional Sales, said: “Working with MPs on this important inquiry has highlighted the selling challenges faced by small businesses. A good salesperson or sales team can drive the productivity of a whole company. If the government raises awareness of the value of proficient, ethical selling, promotes sales education and apprenticeships and boosts the adoption of sales technology, we could make a positive impact on the UK’s productivity crisis.”

About the APPG

Purpose: To improve recognition by Parliament and industry of the importance of sales and its impact on the UK economy; to promote and advance sales as a profession; to boost the success of British industry, especially in international trade. The Association of Professional Sales (APS) acts as the group’ secretariat.