Frank Rowe is probably best known to ISM members as Head Judge for the British Excellence in Sales Management Awards (BESMA), a role he has fulfilled since 2013.
He has more than 35 years’ experience in sales, marketing and training, working in the UK and overseas for major blue-chip companies in the construction industry. Along the way he has been a sales director, a VP of marketing, and a training director. He is nothing if not well-travelled, having worked in Europe, the US, South America, South Africa, the Middle East and the Far East – and he now spends summers at his vineyard in Hungary. Now 59, for the past three years Frank has been managing director of L&D Consulting, developing training solutions for new and emerging markets and existing businesses globally. Before this, he was UK group training manager for construction materials company SIG.
But his start was a sticky one. He left school at 16 “to put money on the table” and gained no significant academic qualifications until completing an HND in business studies at evening school. “I decided to start L&D in 2014 to concentrate on training and development of sales talent in the UK, Europe and Middle East. This business has been very rewarding, as my ambition throughout my career has always been to develop new and existing talent in the sales industry.” Since the 1980s he has been a member of the ISM (or ISMM as it then was) when he was working for another construction supplier, Hilti UK. “I saw a certificate on my sales director’s wall and asked how he had achieved Fellow of the ISMM. He told me how he had gained this professional recognition, and I was sold. There was no widespread recognition of salespeople in those days, and I vowed very early on that this was what I wanted to focus on. Training and development of my salespeople has always been a priority throughout my career and I have been lucky to manage many successful teams and individuals. Some are now in very senior positions or own their own businesses, but the great thing is we keep in touch – and the ISM has been a catalyst for that.” He continues: “Today, sales is fast becoming recognised as a genuine profession, which has led to degree-level courses to develop real talent in the industry. The problem is that many able teenagers and non-graduates do not have access to the right kind of sales education at an early age. This will continue to be a major challenge in the coming years.” Frank says his toughest challenge is salespeople who will not readily admit they need to be trained. “They come on courses because they are sent,” he observes. “Training should be built into the development plans of all salespeople, but in hard times most companies cut training programmes because they do not see the benefits in the short term. They need to look at long-term results.”
He continues: “No company I’ve worked for has actively charted the results of training and how individuals have responded to it. In sales, it is sales managers who hold the key to this, through regular meetings with salespeople to monitor their skill levels and help them continuously develop.” In terms of sales training tools and techniques, he is not wedded to a rigid formula. “One size does not fit all. Meet the sales team, talk to the sales manager, talk to the sales director and, in short, get them to decide what the programme should look like. Training programmes shouldn’t be picked from a shelf, but designed for the case in hand. Of course, skills learning packages exist already and have not changed that much over the years – it’s all about how the trainer tailors a programme to meet the team’s objectives.” He says having a mix of verbal and visual tools is important, but follow-up training in the field has always been crucial. “And unless you have complete buy-in from all parties the training will not succeed. Show the training to the management team, insist that they follow up, let the trainees know how this will happen, then implement.”
As for his goals as ISM President: “I would like to reinforce the stability and integrity of the ISM,” he says. “We have been through a tough period of transition over the last 18 months and I want to help embed the important changes that have taken place.” He adds, “We have some great young talent too, and I would like to be there for them as a mentor and coach, if needed.
On the customer facing side, I will be ever present at events such as the Sales Summit and BESMA, and would like to help out at regional meetings too.” Above all, Frank brings an ultra-positive attitude to his new role. As he concludes – and his black belt in karate attests – “Winning is everything; second is last, in my opinion.”