Without Sales Skills, London 2012 May Never Have Happened - 29th June 2017

Chris Townsend OBE, was interviewed by Paul Owen, our MD, for his forthcoming book: SECRET SKILL. HIDDEN CAREER. The myths you’re told and the scandal you’re not. 20 successful business leaders who started their careers in sales were interviewed for the book.

London 2012 & £2 Billion

Chris Townsend was awarded an OBE in 2013 for his services to the London 2012 Olympic Games. As Commercial Director for London 2012, it was his responsibility to generate the funds required to host the games. Without the work he and his team did, London 2012 would probably not have been the resounding success it was.

Chris credits much of this success (along with many others he’s achieved throughout his career to date) to the skills he developed during the first few years after graduation, working in sales. Chris first dabbled with sales during the summer holidays, buying cars, doing them up and selling them on. “I could see it was a stepping stone. A great foundation for my career.”

After graduating in Geography and looking for a challenging role that fed his passion for music, Chris beat over 2,000 other applicants to a field sales role with EMI Records. Out of the 21 territories in the UK at the time, his new patch in The Midlands was the worst performing. “Within 4 months, we were top of the sales league.” It was to be the first success of many.

“People often hold misconceptions about what the sales process involves and how complex it is. “There’s more to selling than just selling. Selling is the art of negotiation and the process merely begins at the pitch.”

Even before the pitch, there’s a mountain of work. “When I moved from EMI to selling HP products into retail, it was a case of going through the Yellow Pages Directory and calling companies from there.” This business sourcing work, often seen as a relatively junior task, should not be underestimated. Its importance was underlined when London 2012 was just getting started.

“I had a blank piece of paper and I had to find contacts to sponsor the Olympics. I called companies myself and then went with Seb Coe and Paul Deighton to over 100 meetings to sign just one sponsorship deal. It was the planning and persistence I learnt from sales that allowed me to do that.”

As with any job, sales has difficulties and it demands a lot from those that work in it. “9 times out of 10 it’s not very rewarding. It requires a huge amount of planning and persistence to get just one deal. But that 1 in 10 win makes it completely worthwhile.”

Chris urges every young person searching for success in any area of the corporate world to spend time working in sales. “It gives you an understanding of the customer, the concept of selling and how to make it work. You develop negotiation and people skills that are invaluable in both business and life. I know a lot of people that work in finance and marketing that don’t have those skills because they haven’t experienced the sales process first-hand.”

“I have always retained the skills I learnt in sales and continue to use them now. Sales has taught me an awful lot about people, their behaviour, how they communicate and how to get a positive response. When I moved into marketing roles, those skills were critical.”

If you do it well, the rewards can be outstanding, giving you lifestyle choices as well as transferable skills. You need to be able to handle the extent to which sales exposes your strengths and weaknesses and address them.

“You’ll learn life skills quicker than you would in any other department which puts you in a great position for the future.

“Without the resilience and planning skills I learnt from sales, I would not have been able to generate the £2 billion needed to host the London 2012 Olympic Games.”

The book “SECRET SKILL. HIDDEN CAREER. The myths you’re told and the scandal you’re not” will be available in September 2017 in both paperback and e-book formats.