The ISM has endorsed AO for the quality of its in-house sales training, here, the company explains why

AO is one of the UK’s leading online electrical retailers. A fanatically customer centric company, we focus on offering our customers the best experience when buying electrical products. Founded in 2000 as Appliances Online, we have grown rapidly, becoming publicly listed in 2014, and now achieving sales of over £600m a year, with operations in Germany and the Netherlands as well as the UK. As part of our sustained commitment to growth, we recently relocated our sales team to Riverside, Manchester, where we’ve created a stimulating, motivational environment for our sales professionals, alongside a collaborative and innovative space for our digital teams. Our new offices have been designed to be a place where different minds can come together and see creative sparks fly. AO is a business that is always striving to find a better way, and there’s no better example of this than the way we treat our 2,500 employees. We know that any success we have as a business stems entirely from our people being able to be authentic, loving what they do, and striving to be the best they can be.


Nowhere is our commitment to our staff more evident than in the training we provide to our Aftercare sales division, which offers product warranties. As Colin Woodfinden, AO’s sales training manager (pictured top left), explains, “We’ve been working with the ISM for the past three years and our internal sales training has been endorsed by the Institute. In fact, our ISM assessor commented that our sales induction is one of the most thorough she has ever come across.” The Aftercare sales team has expanded to 150 salespeople and shows no sign of stopping there. “It’s not the kind of place where someone has to retire before you can get a promotion,” says Woodfinden. “We’re growing – as the demand to buy electrical goods online grows, we need to expand to meet that demand. Most of our sales managers joined us as sales executives, and it typically takes them around 11 months to progress into a management role.”


Underpinning AO’s success is service.  “It is very much a consultative sale, albeit without multiple calls before the sale is confirmed,” says Woodfinden. “The service element our salespeople provide is extremely important to us because, as an online retailer, customer feedback is critical to our success.”AO is one of just 20 businesses in the world to have more than 100,000 reviews on the online review site Trustpilot, and of those it is one of only 10 that has an “excellent” rating.“This feat is more impressive when you consider that we have an outbound sales department speaking to over 20,000 customers a week,” says Woodfinden. Karl Hinchcliffe, director of Aftercare, says, “We constantly strive to deliver a great customer experience as well as hit sales targets, and recruiting the right people is key to maintaining that. Over the past couple of years, we have focused a lot on recruiting graduates as they are a good fit culturally, and generally they are hungry for progression opportunities.” Hinchcliffe is keen to dispel the myth that B2C sales roles are somehow inferior to B2B. “Typically, B2C roles are considered a less lucrative option than B2B positions,” he says. “We go against the grain in this respect, demonstrated by the fact that a lot of our salespeople and managers earn £60,000-£80,000 a year.”


Sales roles at AO are not just about the money. Alongside the other benefits we provide, we soon plan to offer ISM sales qualifications, with AO becoming an ISM Recognised Centre. The ISM is the UK’s only professional sales awarding body to be recognised by Ofqual, the government’s qualifications regulator, so as an ISM Recognised Centre we will be proud to be able to offer Ofqual approved qualifications. Woodfinden concludes, “Our sales roles are challenging, so we need to recruit the best people we can find and give them the support they deserve. Many of them are graduates who are serious about building their sales skills and progressing their careers – so offering salespeople the chance to gain ISM qualifications is as good for them as it is for us. It’s a genuine ‘win win’.”