Although he was the global sales director for a substantial North American corporation at 32, Richard Few had hit the proverbial wall. It was time to do his own thing.
The concept for his venture was straightforward: to provide sales directors on a fractional basis to small and medium-sized companies. He left his job in February 2017 and was fully booked by September. “There are many small business owners who aren’t from a sales or marketing background and this solved their need,” he says. Soon he and wife and co-founder Lucy connected with another experienced sales leader, Jonathan Finch, who was about to set up a sales training business; they joined forces in the summer of 2018.
By providing part-time sales directors and by training sales people, Blackburn-based Sales Geek began to motor. Revenues were doubling each year. Employee numbers were increasing. Bigger offices were needed. In mid-March 2020, the company won a hat-trick of trophies at a local business awards. “We were in a really exciting place,” says Few.
When the pandemic hit, income fell off the cliff. As profits and cash had been reinvested into the business, reserves were scant. But Sales Geek didn’t just hold on; they used their time to develop new products and services that have become the keys to their growth.
The first was to create an app-based digital sales academy and what Few believes to be the world’s first free sales training app. It has rapidly acquired tens of thousands of users and has been downloaded in 11 different countries, he says.
The second move was to build out the franchise model for the part time sales director service; operating under the brand of Your Sales Director, it was launched in January 2021. While there’s still a north-western bias in the spread of franchisees, there are now nine on board. And a second franchise model has been developed for sales training under the brand of Your Sales Trainer, which gained its first franchisee in London.
“The pandemic gave us time back and it changed our customers’ attitudes,” says Few. We had been struggling to get companies to adapt to using Zoom or Teams. Now, we have a much wider geographical base of customers. We have been able to grow without the confines of geography and that’s been really exciting.”
Sales Geek’s growth has been assisted by its participation on Lancashire County Council’s Two Zero Resurgence programme – a 90-day fully funded programme delivered to 25 Lancashire businesses to help them return to their high-performance track. “The public sector can get stick from the business community but you couldn’t criticise their speed of reaction in getting this programme up and running,” he says. “At the best of times, it can feel lonely being the founder or owner of a business. It feels more so in the middle of a crisis.
He says that he immediately liked the peer-to-peer model of the programme. “Just being involved in meeting peers and spending time, albeit virtually, with people going through many of the same challenges is reassuring. You quickly realise that you’re not the only one having to deal with these issues and I felt hugely supported by being part of that community. We have maintained several of those connections well beyond the length of the programme.”
The experience inspired him to get involved with the peer network Vistage which, he says, “has helped me even further. The chair of our group has been a great mentor to me.”
He describes Sales Geek’s app and franchise model as “two racehorses,” both of which he intends to let them both gallop.
For the sales training app, the opportunity is global. The goal is to hit one million users within the decade. Sales Geek’s technology is also being white-labelled for other sales organisations.
For the Your Sales Director service the target market remains companies in the £100,000 – £5m turnover bracket, retaining a part-time sales director for a certain amount of time per month usually for a six-to-12 month period. “We have looked after more than 350 clients in the last four years with that model,” says Few. “It just works.” As the UK will only have capacity for a certain number of Your Sales Director franchisees, Sales Geek is already exploring international growth.
“We’re not far away from launching Australia and we’ll probably launch in the US in 2022.” In both cases, Sales Geek will look to operate through master franchise models in which the master franchisee will run both Your Sales Director and Your Sales Trainer. “There are some challenges in the barriers to entry into some of these international territories,” he acknowledges. “From a licensing and legal perspective, landing in the US is very expensive.” He has been put in contact with the Department for International Trade. “I always thought that export support was just for manufacturing and engineering businesses,” he says, “so it has been great to learn how keen they are to support the international growth of services businesses.”
There’s a wider lesson here, he adds. “In any local area, do businesses take the time to fully explore all the support that is available? Probably not, because we have our heads down doing our own stuff. But as our business is scaling up, it’s my role to explore this. And there is a wealth of support out there.”
“In any local area, do businesses take the time to fully explore all the support that is available? Probably not, because we have our heads down doing our own stuff. But as our business is scaling up, it’s my role to explore this. And there is a wealth of support out there.”
Richard Few, Founder & Managing Director, Sales Geek
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