It is refreshing to see a company go against the trends. In an era where the overwhelming majority of business owners have pulled back, reduced their sales and marketing efforts, and cut out any investment in the growth of the business or its people, one company has done the opposite. As a result, they are prospering.
Here’s the story.
BLDI is a boutique environmental consulting firm consisting of engineers and geologists serving lending institutions, real estate developers and M&A firms with complete environmental analysis, risk assessments, due diligence and remediation. The 11 member business, soon to be 12 with another office, began adopting the training from The DaCo Corporation intensely about four years ago.
Joe Berlin, BLDI’s president, believes in the importance of sales training. ”Our challenge at the time was that, although we had engineers who were competent in their profession, we needed to be able to show that to our customers and prospects.”
“If we hadn’t done that, my business would be in trouble!” says Joe. “The environmental consulting industry has seen reductions of over 30% lately and my competitors are really struggling in this tough economy. However, my business is up over 15%! It all comes down to our focused sales efforts.”
Mr. Berlin goes on to say that it is difficult to differentiate yourself simply by giving good customer service. “Most everybody gives good service”, he claims. “At BLDI, we know about sales and the benefits customers receive from consistent sales contacts. It’s the daily focus and the daily follow up that makes the difference”.
“Margins are tough”, says Mr. Berlin. Reacting to the knowledge that several of his competitors are letting their sales people go in order to reduce costs, he exclaims, “I can’t imagine letting my sales rep(s) go, especially in this down economy.”
Bottom line. In a segment that is down 30 percent, his business is up 15 percent because he invested in sales.
I thought you’d enjoy his story.
KSS is a janitorial products distributor, headquartered in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and operating out of five additional branches. In 2009, despite one of the worst economic years on record in one of the hardest hit areas (Michigan), the company has dramatically out-performed the market.
Among other initiatives headed by Ed Stasiak, Vice President of Sales, was a focus on new account acquisition and sales training. According to Stasiak, “Our competitors reacted to the economy by cutting service levels and cutting sales reps compensation, while we focused on new account acquisition.” As a result of that focus, and then supporting it by investing in the development of their sales force, they were able to significantly out perform the market averages.
The entire sales force was trained in the Kahle Way® Selling System, using a set of DVDs and facilitator’s guides. After completion of the 16-session course, the sales people completed an on-line exam and were certified in the system.
The 10 sales reps who most fully-embraced The Kahle Way® Selling System had their personal best year ever . Veteran reps were slower to adopt.
The Kahle Way® Selling System gave them both the tools and the method to track sales rep’s behavior better
“We wanted the capability to do the training in-house, ”Ed said, “so that we could build in repetition, if necessary. We wanted all the sales people to have the same protocols and speak the same language.”
As a spin-off, the program has helped KSS’s recruiting efforts, and they . have been able to create higher standards for the sales people they hire. .
Midwest Sign & Screen Printing Supply is a distributor of sign, screen printing and digital products. Headquartered in St Paul, MN, the company has nine regional offices throughout the middle and western part of the country.
In 2007, they realized their need for sales training and a new selling system as the result of developing a new strategic plan with the help of a consultant. Previously their sales strategy was primarily ‘relationship based.’ The sales force was characterized by long tenured sales people, sales calls were ‘professional visitations,’ and the sales force consisted of many technical product specialists who serviced existing customers in the same manner they had for years.
The company first invested in the Kahle Way® Sales Management System for all of their managers. “I love Dave”, says Russ May, V.P. Sales and Marketing. “The Kahle Way has become a lifestyle at Midwest”. Sales managers meet every month to talk about what reps will do in the next 30 days to grow their business. It has changed our company”, May said.
“I first met Dave at a Top Gun seminar”, May said, “and then we brought the Selling System into the business. We have been refining the implementation for two years.”
In 2009, while total sales were down, the company outperformed the market, and new customer acquisition/growth continued even in a down economy. “I attribute it almost entirely to implementation of The Kahle Way Selling System.” Because of The Kahle Way, we are positioned for explosive growth as the economy rebounds.”
Sales Manager Pete Weinberg echoed May’s comments. “The Kahle Way came at ‘a good time’”. He said. “It provided the ‘format’ and the ‘roadmap’ to help us take our sales team to the ‘next level’. We became more successful in existing accounts.”
Among the benefits of the system, Weinberg mentioned these:
“2010 has been a good year. Both sales and profits are up.”
That’s a quote from Doug Rathbun, Senior Executive VP of Sales & Marketing at Lumbermen’s Inc. Wait until you hear the rest of the story. Here’s what is so remarkable about that fact: Lumbermen’s sells building materials, used primarily for the residential construction industry, in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana.
If ever there was an example of a market that has been devastated by the recession, it is the residential construction market in Michigan. While hard numbers are difficult to come by, the general consensus is that the industry was down 40% in 2008, and an additional 40% in 2009, and is flat or slightly down again in 2010.
Companies have gone out of business all around them. Doug named one national company no longer in business, and three regional competitors who have closed their doors. Others have pulled back, reduced the number of branches they operate, and retreated out of the market.
With that kind of defeat and withdrawal all around them, what has Lumbermen’s done to survive, and thrive, in the middle of an economic graveyard?
It begins with an attitude and a mindset. “We’re thankful every day for what we have,” Doug said. In fact, that attitude of thankfulness permeates everything the company does.
“We try not to focus on what we don’t have, but rather on what we do. And we’re thankful for what we have.”
In a world of people focusing on the empty part of the glass, Lumbermen’s keeps the full part in view.
Here’s another example of that kind of thinking. “The recession has been a good thing,“ Doug said. “Prior to the downturn, people were out of touch with reality. All they had to do was show up, and they got a portion of the business. Now, people have become much more realistic. They now realize that they have to be better and earn the business on the basis of the value they bring.”
Doug throws Lumbermen’s into that equation. “We became leaner, and slimmed downed sales management and the sales force to right size it to the reduced customer base. But that has been a good thing. Now, the messages are clearer, the strategic direction is put into play quicker, the understanding of expectations more precise.”
Specifically, what is Lumbermen’s doing that some of the now defunct competitors didn’t do? Three things:
He always finds something to be improved. He told the story of being in a car with a sales person as that person talked to a customer. The customer asked about the availability of a new product. The sales person took the order, and then told the customer that he, the sales person, would see to it that the customer got a significant discount. The customer didn’t ask for a discount. The sales person just gave away significant margin without even thinking about it. If Doug hadn’t been with the sales person at that moment, the incident would have gone unrecognized, and the sales person would have never been aware of what he had done.
“Even the best sales people have room to improve.”
The biggest challenge going forward? “We have to maintain the track we are on. We need to carefully reinvest in people and infrastructure just ahead of the curve, watching as the economy slowly improves.”
Lumbermen’s final thought? “It’s a great industry. But a lot different than it once was.”
Dave’s notes: In this economy, the companies who grow are those who sell better than the competition. In order to sell better, you must invest in effective sales management and selling systems. Hats off to those who bucked the trend, invested in their sales people, and are now more successful as a result.