Supercharging sales

23rd April 2021 |   Nick de Cent

UK lawmakers warn that Britain is suffering from a shortage of salespeople and sales skills. MPs say much more needs to be done to recruit and train people with strong B2B selling skills.

Last month’s report by Westminster’s All-Party Parliamentary Group for Professional Sales underlined a persistent problem for the sales profession in the United Kingdom: quite simply, not enough people choose professional business-to-business sales as they embark on a career. Only a small minority of school and university leavers aspire to becoming professional sellers; indeed, too few even understand what a B2B sales career actually involves.

At the same time, of course, almost every growth-focused business needs good salespeople. Consequently, a perennial situation where the talent funnel is far too narrow at its entrance has become a major contributor to a shortage of high-quality talent in the sales profession. Moreover, fierce competition for the best talent means that the recruitment squeeze is hardest on SMEs.

According to the APPG report Supercharging Sales, while SMEs have made enormous efforts to take on digital skills since the first UK lockdown began – with 62% adopting at least one new technology – a majority continue to struggle because they lack the same resources and skills in B2B selling, sales management and digital technology.

Mark Pawsey: chairman of the APPG for Professional Sales.
Mark Pawsey: chairman of the APPG for Professional Sales.

Learn new way to sell

Mark Pawsey MP is chair of the All-Party Group for Professional Sales, which was set up in conjunction with the Association of Professional Sales 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, and to boost the success of British industry, especially in international trade. He told the Journal: “Our findings are that SME owners need to learn to sell in a new way. Many have only started adopting digital technology and are being held back by a lack of business-to-business selling skills. B2B salespeople need to be upskilled, and more need to be trained.

“We say that the government must intervene to help, as the recession has left many SMEs too weak to do it alone. If we turn round attitudes, and if we upskill our workforce, then B2B selling will be a major force to power the UK out of recession, creating jobs and building new markets overseas,” he added.

The MPs are calling on the government to:

  • Recognise the importance to the economy of B2B selling by SMEs, and its value as a career.
  • Encourage more entrants into the B2B sales profession at SMEs through work-based training.
  • Inspire more advanced skills in existing B2B salespeople and their managers at SMEs, and promote the uptake of digital sales technology.

for the skilled jobs of the future, professional B2B selling must be one of the UK’s top priorities, the report’s authors stress.

Three recommendations for B2B sales in the UK

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on business all around the world, ushering in major changes to the way sales operates. It has accelerated the digital revolution in how we trade and exposed an acute skills shortage in professional B2B selling.

Many larger corporates have managed the shock, but a majority of SMEs in the UK are struggling because they lack the same resources and skills in B2B selling, sales management and digital technology. SMEs are the backbone of the British economy, but they need urgent government support to help them trade, according to the APPG for Professional Sales.

“Action now will equip the UK to do business across the world as an independent trading nation, boosting our future productivity and prosperity,” the APPG for Professional Sales declares.

It makes three key recommendations:

  1. Recognise the importance of B2B selling to the economy.
  2. Encourage more entrants into the B2B sales profession at SMEs.
  3. Promote higher sales skills and uptake of digital sales technology.
Supercharging Sales report: issued by a cross-party group of MPs.
Supercharging Sales report: issued by a cross-party group of MPs.

Among its recommendations, the APPG calls for Level 3 courses in B2B selling and sales management to be made available free under the Government’s Lifetime Skills Guarantee; and for young people made redundant from low-paid, customer-facing roles in hospitality and leisure to be encouraged to retrain for a secure and skilled career in B2B selling, where the median salary is more than £46,000 a year.


There are welcome signs that politicians are beginning to take selling seriously as a profession. In January, B2B selling was recategorised by the UK’s Office for National Statistics as a professional occupation for the first time in recognition of the high level of skills and training required – putting it on a par with doctors and teachers. However, the B2B sector is routinely lumped in with retail sales in official statistics, although their needs are very different.

As a result, opportunities are missed to initiate policies that could meet businesses’ growing demand for professional salespeople and facilitate the UK’s B2B trade at home and abroad.

Small and medium-sized enterprises are vital to Britain. They account for 99.9% of the business population, represent 52.3% of the UK economy and employ 60.7% of working Britons. Source: National Statistics 2020 – Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy.

For further information, see the full report here

Founder of the International Journal of Sales Transformation | + posts

Nick de Cent is the founder and editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Sales Transformation. A business journalist for over 35 years, he has been covering sales since the mid-1980s and has been a strong advocate of enhancing its professional status. He has freelanced for the Financial Times and edited the Sales Performance supplement in The Times. He also writes and edits extensively on behalf of corporate clients, including a Big 3 management consultancy and a top four global executive search firm.