Philip Squire

Building a Competitive Advantage through Sales Apprenticeships

Philip Squire / 23 August 2017
Building a Competitive Advantage through Sales Apprenticeships

There's plenty of research to support the view that investing in the right talent conveys substantial competitive advantage (for examples, see McKinsey's various papers on the "War for Talent"). Unfortunately, however, supplies of such talent are shrinking: the talent pool is constrained by sheer demographics as fewer younger replacements flow through as the population ages. For sales organisations in the information age, competition for high-performing talent is especially fierce.

Today, salespeople need a complex mix of communication and business skills. Firms spend considerable time and resources identifying, recruiting, developing and retaining professional salespeople who can thrive in today's fast-changing commercial environment – and all from a restricted talent pool.

Employers find themselves competing for a limited number of high-potential candidates and quite rightly use various strategies to emphasise their "hiring brand"; they may also offer above-average compensation and seek to stress the potential for candidates to impact their company in a meaningful way. More often than not, they poach candidates from other organisations.

Transforming the talent pool

But what if there were a way for employers to transform their hiring approach by expanding the pool of high-quality talent? One route to competitive advantage – one that has only just becoming available – is via the new apprenticeship programmes: the first cohort of degree-level sales apprentices are due to enrol this autumn. These programmes offer employers first pick of sales talent potential and the opportunity to build a skilled and qualified sales force. What's more, organisations that adopt this approach during the coming months will gain an important early-mover advantage.

The government has approved the first-ever apprenticeship standard for business-to-business sales professionals in England: a Level 6 Degree Apprenticeship, which will enable participants to gain a Bachelor's degree qualification on completion of their apprenticeship. It has committed to an additional three million apprenticeship starts – across all disciplines – in England by 2020.


As an alternative route to a degree-level qualification other than studying full-time at university, apprenticeship programmes offer significant advantages both to employers and apprentices. Participants earn a salary with no tuition fees to pay, so avoiding the considerable burden of debt faced by most graduates.

Meanwhile, employer costs are funded via the Apprenticeship Levy, with their contribution dependent on the size of their annual pay bill (for which they also receive an offset allowance); smaller firms (e.g. 1-50 employees) do not have to contribute to the levy and will be able to access co-investment funding on a 1:9 ratio, meaning that 90% of the funding will be paid by the levy or additional government funding while the business contributes the remaining 10%.

Win-win for employers and employees

Employers are able to use these funds to pay for an apprenticeship programme with approved suppliers. An immediate benefit for employers will be a flexible training and development framework that can be customised to their specific requirements –in terms of industry sector and company culture – as the majority of the learning is work-based. Employers will be able to work with training suppliers to create programmes tailored to their individual requirements provided that the core standards are met and assessed and accredited by a qualifying organisation.

In the lead up to the launch of the new sales apprenticeship, the B2B Sales Professional Trailblazer Group of senior sales leaders – including representatives from Royal Mail, BT, BAE Systems, Kimberley Clark and Whitbread – has been consulting closely with the Association of Professional Sales to define standards. The APS has been supporting the development of the programme as part of its goal of professionalising selling and positioning sales as a career of choice.

Professionalising selling

This new vocational qualification will serve as a far more professional introduction to B2B sales for a new generation of salespeople. Moreover, because there is no age limit, currently employed salespeople can also apply.

Going forward, employers are likely to recognise the apprenticeship as a new benchmark, so that holders of this new degree-level qualification will enjoy a considerable advantage in the jobs market. At the same time, by recruiting or developing apprentices, employers can be sure that they are employing suitably qualified professionals. The initiative offers the opportunity for both employers and employees to gain a substantial competitive advantage in return for practically zero risk.

The first B2B Sales Professional Degree Apprenticeships will launch this autumn (subject to validation) with a number of high profile companies already signing up to the Consalia and Middlesex University programme, which will pioneer as part of a mixed company cohort. We hope to start our first 'in-house' degree programme early in 2018.

If you would like to find out more about how a B2B Sales Apprenticeship could work for you, please contact Consalia at or call +44 (0)20 8977 6944.

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