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  • The Publishing Post

Upskilling Tips for the Sales Department

By Meghan Capper, Tanvi Jaiswal, Misha Manani and Georgia Stack


In this week’s issue, we delve into the world of sales departments, from the key skills and tips required to land you a role, to the variety of positions available in sales. The sales team is crucial in turning books into business, analysing sales figures and staying on top of market trends. They pitch books to retailers and get them on shelves for avid readers like us to buy in Waterstones, Tesco or Amazon! If you’re a persuasive communicator, have a flair for data and spreadsheets, or have a strong commercial awareness, then a sales role may be for you.


Key Skills


Interpersonal: Interpersonal skills are paramount at all levels of a career in the sales department. It is likely that you will work as a part of a team and need to build strong relationships with retailers.


Organisation: The ability to plan ahead and juggle priorities across multiple projects with an eye for detail is important at every career level.


Tech-savvy: A proficient working knowledge of popular software, such as Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook, is sought after. For example, knowing how to create an aesthetic PowerPoint for a sales pitch, or navigate Excel’s functions will be useful in a role.


Commercial Awareness: Understanding the market and what is trending is key to selling! This is particularly useful in convincing retailers to buy the books. It is also important to know their audience, the genres and the differences between the retailers.


Communication: Be as clear as possible when communicating with a wide range of individuals from outside of your organisation. Similarly, working closely with internal colleagues to identify opportunities for growth or helping with sales pitches requires strong communication skills. When presenting to booksellers, you need to be short, concise and persuasive with your pitch.


Relationship building: This skill will be listed in almost every sales job description and is an essential for employers. Consequently, knowing how to build relations with the target audience is a must in a sales-related job.


Sales Roles


The career trajectory in sales is not straightforward, because there is a range of sales groups and each publisher has a different team structure. Here are the main sales positions typically available.


Sales Assistant: An entry-level role which involves creating spreadsheets to track the return volume and value of books, noting the trends, producing the sales catalogue, creating order forms, helping with sales pitches and assisting with administrative tasks.


Key Accounts Assistant/Executive/Manager: This is similar to a sales assistant, but instead of working on all sales groups, this focuses on the leading retailers. For instance, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, or Waterstones. The responsibilities and management level increase as you progress.


Divisional Sales Director: If there are multiple imprints and divisions for the company you work for such as Penguin Random House, Hachette and HarperCollins, these roles will be the highest level in the sales department in that division.


International Sales Assistant/Executive/Manager: You will be required to build relationships with distributors and retailers in other countries (e.g. Barnes & Noble in the US). You collate the revenue for books with the budgets allocated and attend sales conferences and book fairs internationally. The responsibilities and management level grow as you progress.


Faculty Liaison Executive: Not known to many in the industry, the role is an upcoming one and serves as a bridge between the publisher and institutions. The role is usually offered by academic publishers, such as Sage Publishing, and requires you to build relationships between the faculties of institutions, covering a specific region and a global publisher.


Application Top Tips and Advice


Build your understanding of various retailers: Know their size, customers, importance in the market and distinguishing features.


Go beyond the company: Don’t just learn the sales figures and strategies of the company you hope to work for, be aware of the wider market and its competition with conglomerates and independent publishers.


Look outside publishing: Observe sales campaigns in other industries because they can be intersectional and adapted to the book market. Your research does not have to stay within book publishing!


Know your target audience: Be it an area’s demographic or a single bookshop, you need to know who your book’s target audience is. This is one of the key understandings that someone hoping to work in sales should have.


Transferable skills: If you’ve ever had a part-time retail job, think about how you can harness the sales techniques you’ve learnt there to apply them to a sales position in publishing. Retail skills such as identifying consumer habits, pitching goods to customers and supporting business sales are vital when selling books too!


Thank you for reading issue sixty-three, our first article of 2023! We hope you had a great Christmas and a Happy New Year! Join us again for issue sixty-four, where we will cover Upskilling Dictionary: Editorial.

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