In November, we were delighted to host the north east launch event for valued partners the Association of Professional Sales (APS) at our Newcastle office.

With a focus on raising the bar for the sales profession, the event was hosted by durhamlane’s Managing Partner Richard Lane and featured keynote speakers from across the North East, including Refract.AI’s Head of Sales Richard Smith, Jo Hedley from Northumbria University’s Global Marketing & Business department, and durhamlane’s Sean Ball (Director of Marketing).

With a wealth of knowledge, skill and cutting-edge sales training brought to the room, topics of discussion included;

  • Why should we bridge the gap between Marketing and Sales?
  • How can we add value before extracting value?
  • How to identify what’s wrong with our sales discovery and understand how these conversations can be improved.
  • How can harnessing change help transform organisations to achieve their commercial goals?

With so much valuable content delivered by the presenters, we’ve narrowed things down to five key tips and techniques we learned from the event:

Who are the Association of Professional Sales?

The Association of Professional Sales is on a mission to positively evolve general perception of the sales profession and encourage more people to proactively choose sales. They are committed to raising the bar through supporting, promoting and representing the sales profession and global sales organisations across providers, companies, and countries.

APS provide their members with regular industry events and networking, webinars, online resources and the opportunity to build key business relationships through their social community platform, APS Client Share.

They are the only independent organisation to assess, validate and recognise sellers through their qualifications and apprenticeship programmes. Here at durhamlane, we are set to launch our highly anticipated Level 4 Sales Apprenticeship to recognise excellence amongst top performing colleagues in organisations who are looking to upskill the commercial capabilities of their sales talent.

The funnel has been replaced by the flywheel

It’s fair to say that sales is the most important part of any business, but with today’s sales process taking 22% longer than it did 5 years ago, it’s never been more crucial to bridge the gap between sales performance and marketing ROI.

Demand generation defines the true blend of sales and marketing to achieve commercial objectives. Long gone is the outdated sales funnel, with the new flywheel model (a concept coined by HubSpot) taking its place to pose the query, ‘Where does marketing end and sales begin?’

Hubspot: Funnel to Flywheel Model

Bridging the gap between Marketing and Sales has never been more important

The traditional CMO and Sales Director roles are being replaced with titles like Chief Growth Officer, Chief Revenue Officer and Chief Commercial Officers, as boards increasingly lose patience with leaders that can’t align sales and marketing effectively in a rapidly changing world.

So the question is, what tangible efforts can be executed to align your sales and marketing?

  • Get marketers to sell. The only way your marketers can truly understand the customer and how to sales-qualify marketing leads is to have those inbound sales conversations. Not necessarily every call, nor taking on the full sales cycle, but they should experience the pressure of sales calls to help understand and empathise with their sales colleagues.
  • Get sellers to market. And vice versa! Your sales team know the product, so why not challenge them to write content for blogs and social media. Get them invested in the marketing demand generation process.
  • Implement a mutual SLA. Get your sales and marketing teams to create a service level agreement (SLA) for things like inbound response time, and content creation timescales (inspired by Mark Rouberge’s book, The Sales Acceleration Formula).
  • Align metrics. Although sometimes this is easier said than done. Setting intertwined targets provides the alignment required to achieve business objectives and promote growth i.e. MQLs, SQL conversion, sales cycle timescale, closed-won rate, ROI (rather than impressions, open rates, numbers of calls etc).
  • Learn from each other. After all, knowledge is power. The only way to strengthen your weaknesses is to put all your cards on the table and learn from one another.

Discovery calls are the most important, and often weakest part of the sales process

It’s all about the product, right?


Let’s ask ourselves this; how can we expect to sell a prospective customer our product or service, before we know their pains and how can we relieve them?

Discovery is the part of the B2B sales process that identifies how sellers can best help prospective buyers and to what extent (something we shout from the rooftops are durhamlane – our number one sales mantra is ‘Business Fit, Business Value’). It is information gathering, and it sets the tone for the rest of the relationship.

Here’s what to avoid and how to improve your discovery conversations:

  • Never combine discovery with product demos. Your discovery conversation should be the very first step and should focus solely on learning about the customer, as well as how you can help them.
  • Always provide the customer with an upfront agenda. Let them know why you’re calling them today, the information you seek and finish with an actionable objective to move forward with.
  • Avoid ‘premature pitchulation’. Too many sales reps forget to ask questions and instead, just can’t wait to jump into their sales pitch before they even know whether it can help the prospective customer.
  • Avoid staying in the shallow end. This best describes sellers who are content with ambiguous answers that don’t really tell us anything, and are afraid to get into the details with the buyer.
  • Never surrender control. Think of it as a doctor-patient relationship, with the patient (customer) describing the symptoms and the doctor (seller) providing the solution to their pains. Remember, the doctor never asks the patient what to prescribe.
  • Don’t try too hard with questions. Simple is most effective, so don’t overload the prospective buyer with loaded or multiple-choice questions.
  • Master the art of active listening. Always listen to respond, rather than firing off a list of questions. Try to pick up on any emotive nuggets that can reveal the customer’s pains.
  • Avoid poor decision maker questions. There will usually be multiple stakeholders involved in the decision making process – with an avg. of 7 in SMEs – so ask instead who will be affected/helped by solving these pains to identify multiple entry points and support your ability to help the prospective customer.

Universities must become commercial organisations to survive

Historically, public funding has always been readily available to universities in the UK so many leading universities are hardwired not to worry about ROI. But there is a growing need for universities to become more self-sufficient in order to survive, as they can no longer rely so heavily on student fees to support academic research and development.

How can this be achieved?

Where ‘knowledge exchange’ activities have always been a primary transaction between Universities, they are now leveraged with businesses to generate additional revenue streams that can be reinvested into academia. Using Northumbria University as a case study, some key internal changes in place to achieve this include:

  • Evolving business model. Make room for new opportunities to drive growth through new revenue streams.
  • Demand-led research. Identify opportunities for knowledge exchange with commercial organisations.
  • Culture shift. Adjust the mindset and objectives of executive and academic stakeholders.
  • Embrace what you don’t know. Change is good, especially when it results in higher revenue.
  • Use of language. Simple changes in terminology can align objectives and contribute to a positive culture shift.


Sales can no longer be a ‘dirty’ word in the public and private sector. In a rapidly changing digital world, with growing competition and increasing customer expectations, sales and marketing must be aligned and working in harmony (something we call ‘Demand Generation’).

While it has never been easier to get your message in front of someone, it’s never been harder to cut through the noise, engage them meaningfully and get them to take the action you want them to take.

Moreover, being seen as a true and trusted advisor (ideally early on the sales process) is paramount – especially considering that well over half of the buying process is completed before prospects will engage with a sales person. This is why discovery calls are critical to progressing through the sales process (especially when trying to navigate the 10.2 average B2B buyers).

Finally, universities must become more commercial if they are to prosper in the future.

The question is, are you willing to adapt and develop your sales skills to ensure accelerated revenue for your organisation?

Let’s talk

We’re always open to hearing from ambitious organisations that are looking to scale but are unsure how. Get in touch to see how we can help overcome your sales challenges.