SkillForce is a national education charity. Its mission is to empower children and young people to make positive choices and feel ‘comfortable in their own skin’, building confidence, resilience and good character using the skills and experience of ex-services personnel. Like all charities, SkillForce needs to sell. In their case, to schools and academies who buy their services and to the partners who support them.
SkillForce employs business development managers who are responsible for new business acquisition and area managers responsible for client retention and existing partnership development. Both need to sell in some form and both are working in a market that’s not without its challenges. Whilst there is a huge willingness on the part of headteachers to engage in the character education that SkillForce provides, competing demands on budget mean it’s not always easy. Character building cannot readily be measured and with an ever increasing need to justify expenditure, headteachers often lack the business case to justify a project.
SkillForce must therefore define and sell a better business case and so enable those who want to buy, to buy. The value proposition for them is crucial. Many of SkillForce’s sales staff were not originally employed as sales professionals but started out in more operational roles. But as selling became ever more important they rose to the challenge, albeit with varying degrees of confidence, different approaches, styles and languages. Standardising these into one methodology was an important first step, as was giving sales staff the confidence to believe they had what it took to become highly skilled sales professionals.
As a charity SkillForce must justify every expenditure. Said Director of Fundraising, Lucinda Foulkes-Arnold: “Choosing a selling methodology that was extensively tried and tested as well as used by some of the biggest organisations in the world was an important reassurance factor for us.”
She continued: “The SPIN® sales process isn’t about showing us how to stand up and sell, which can be a frightening prospect, it’s about showing us how to share what we do with others in a way they’ll understand. And become as excited about it as we are. We could all relate to that.”
The SPIN® sales process is also as much about listening as it is understanding what questions to ask. And as the sales teams at SkillForce know, when you’re genuinely passionate and enthusiastic about something, learning how to listen can be harder than you think. As Lucinda points out: “Huthwaite taught us that to not listen is akin to using a blunt instrument. But when you get it right, it helps you achieve a far more professional and sophisticated presence. We could see that immediately.”
SPIN® gives sellers the tools to analyse their own behaviours and reconstruct them in a more effective way and that in turn builds confidence.
Lucinda continued: “It was really pleasing to see everyone’s confidence levels rising. Even individuals who don’t normally have a high profile within the organisation, were standing tall and in greater command of their situation.
The benefits of the SPIN® sales process
Although it’s early days the SkillForce team say they are starting to feel very different about the role of selling. Continues Lucinda: “We realise now that the world of selling is not about sharp suits and aggressively trying to meet targets at all costs. It’s about persuasion and negotiation. It’s about having a conversation but a more effective one. Sales can be seen as a dirty word when in fact when done properly is a legitimate and important function in any organisation.”
Other immediate benefits include:
- the ability to define and sell the value of character building education. This is a huge differentiating factor when competing against other budgetary demands
- an approach and language to sales that everyone understands and can talk about. It’s proving to be, they say, a unifying force and a bonding experience for the team.
Advice to other charities
Lucinda explains: “Charities have to think more commercially in order to survive. They shouldn’t be reticent about the commercial world. It’s not the aggressive place we might imagine it to be. They have to persuade and negotiate with human beings just like we do. There’s much we can learn from them and investing in your people and their skills is one of them.”
Working closely with their royal patron, HRH The Duke of Cambridge, SkillForce have just launched the Prince William Award which has raised a lot of interest. Lucinda concludes: “SPIN® Selling and our association with Huthwaite International couldn’t have come at a better time. We feel more ready and prepared to capitalise on the opportunities before us than we ever have. This is just the beginning.”
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