The Secret Sales Machine
Tom FitzGerald & Linda Brakeall
Note To Reader
For a long time people have being talking about how to make "everyone a salesman". God knows how much has been spent to do this but there has been very little bottom line result. There are two basic reasons for this lack of result:
One is that it is difficult to alter the soul, the essence, of a company in any fundamental way. And that is what is needed.
The other is, when a fundamental shift does happen and real willingness to sell exists, nobody knows what to do with it, or how and where to send people into action.
This article, the second in a series, deals with what to do and how to do it. The first RENEWING THE CORPORATION, BODY SOUL AND BOTTOM LINE deals with the art and science of corporate transformation.
They come in earlier than most, these four women. Ann and Dor and Sandy and Fran. Two are grandmothers. One is a teenager carrying a coke. Unlikely guerrilla telemarketers. But every day, invisibly, they pass behind the lines of sales resistance. And leave no trace.
This is the Order Taking Department. But they will do a lot more calling out than taking calls. They are also the elite troops of Heartmann Woods. Each year they create more business growth from current clients than the entire sales department.
They chat together about family and kids and friends. And what they did last night. They laugh a lot. You can't tell who's the supervisor. If there is one. They are warming up for the conversations they will have over and over with great good cheer all day long.
They are now discussing their lists, who they will call, what size orders they will get. And though the lists contain companies that are household names, they think of people. Gerty and Sam and Gerri and Anne, friends they have made. Later, just before lunch, they will meet their "coach". He heads up the sales department. By now, with all the experience they have been getting, they are coaching him. And he loves it.
It is 7:15am and the day begins. And without a shot being heard, without a client knowing or caring, with genuine smiles and real interest as their only weapons, they reach out and ASK for the order. Yes they ASK. They know that asking alone will bring in more than waiting for a call. And asking with a smile in their voices, still more.
And so it goes. "Hi Sam! This is Fran. Did you watch Montel last night? ...."
THE GOLD MINE
It all began simply enough two years before when a branch of Heartmann Woods, seventy two people, only two in sales, performed an audit of telephone calls.
This was part of a biennial cost containment drive. It revealed that while the two sales people made about 40 calls a day, the other seventy Non-sales people were making some 200 calls a day, 1,000 calls a week, 50,000 a year.
Normally this analysis would result in a memo exhorting care and frugality. This time it fell on ground prepared by a newly found spirit of ambition and entrepreneurship. The company had gone through a renewal program that had changed its view of the world.
All those outgoing calls, well nearly all, were to clients. Furthermore the seventy received perhaps as many incoming calls from clients. That totaled 400 calls a day, 2,000 calls a week, 100,000 a year. Previously all these calls were viewed as interfering with the serene production of information.
But this time a new thought occurred: Could those calls be an opportunity? Were they an ore from which gold could be smelted?
The seventy non-sales employees made it so.
They had seen, what was always there to be seen. They had understood at the gut level, that when they connected with clients they reached people who wanted to talk, were willing, even eager, to make relationships. Who were serious buyers and influentials - but did not think so. They were inside the corporate defenses, inside the barriers to sales.
The seventy non-sales people became the fifth column of their company.
They had intuited that within every call, within every conversation, was the seed of a sale. A seed that continued the business relationship. A seed that identified the influentials and the real buyers. A seed that led to sales introductions elsewhere. A seed that uncovered new needs, new problems to be solved. A seed that sold the company and the branch and the section and the caller.
These clients, that thy talked to frequently, were buyers, were influentials. But they never thought of themselves that way.
And the 100,000 seeds fell on fertile ground. A new sales engine had been born. The SSM - The Stealth Marketing Machine. And the order department became its cutting edge.
Within two years that seventy-two became three hundred.
- As with all business concepts that work, Stealth Marketing is profoundly simple. Underlying it are just six ideas.
- Every "non-sales" call has already by-passed the corporate sales defenses.
- The best source of business is current clients.
- Every person in a client organization is a buyer, know it or not.
- Every person in YOUR organization is a salesman, know it or not.
- Every call is a sales call.
- Sell is not a four letter word.
To get Stealth Marketing up and running in a company requires just four things and this branch met all requirements:
An environment of continuing sales to existing customers. Most companies fit into this category.
A volume of customer contacts that exceeds official sales calls by a factor of 5 or better.
A commitment by the managing officer to have all members of staff participate in and feel responsible for company sales.
A little ingenuity.
But when it came time to implement the Stealth Marketing at Heartmann Woods, one difficulty was met that could have stopped it cold: People were afraid to sell. Stealth Marketing is like a bicycle. It is simple to ride but it requires an equilibrium that can only be gained by practice. People are afraid to get on. And who will hold the saddle? Anyway, everyone knows sell IS a four letter word.
The last, a pervasive and persistent corporate belief in many (perhaps almost all) companies, was the first that had to be faced and dealt with. Though the company had been talking "Sales" and "Sales Culture" for more than fifteen years, most people still didn't like the idea. Their resistance showed mostly in body language and performance but it was often articulated too:
- We are not sales people, we don't know how to sell.
- No one mentioned selling when I took the job.
- I'm in accounting/dispatch/production for God's sake!
Fortunately, the boss had embraced the idea and wanted growth and profits. The company had gone through its renewal program was now very assertive. It encouraged its managers to become entrepreneurs. But to get Stealth Marketing through the all too human inertia and built-in prejudice against selling, something extraordinary had to happen.
SIDE BAR - SALLY SMITH, SECRET AGENT
STARTING THE ENGINE
The process began simply enough with a meeting of all who worked for the branch. They reviewed of the telephone bills, department by department. Yes, it was that bad, that good. 400 calls a day, 2000 a week.
But the first concrete step toward implementing Stealth Marketing occurred when the non-sales staff, section by section, began to review and appreciate the sheer number of human-to-human connections they made, day in and day out, individually and for their section. And who those contacts were with and how those contacts might buy and influence their company.
Both people from sales were there. They talked with the others. Partnerships would be made.
Then the boss introduced the raw numbers that underlie the company's sales function. It would be the first time that most people had ever seen them. W dials translates to X conversations, becomes Y meetings, achieves Z new sales. It can be as intimidating as 1000:100:10:1, sometimes worse. Here it was better, about 100:50:10:1. Still most were appalled. And frightened.
The sales people told real stories. They described how difficult it is for a salesman to get through on the phone. How nearly impossible it can be for a salesman to get a prospect to talk, to really talk, to disclose anything that they can use to begin a sale. The whole process became quite emotional. Something of the pain and loneliness of selling was transmitted too. And the frustrations, fears and the tears that are shed in silence.
Katherine was a natural at sharing the reality of this. It helped that she was also the top seller. But the other salesman opened up as the non-sales staff grew in awareness and sympathy. It also became a kind of therapy for the sales department. No one anticipated that! They were getting their "stuff" out and that would result in new sales too.
And they talked, person to person, sales to "non-sales". Both began to see the human, vulnerable faces of people they seldom met and had perhaps secretly despised.
After that it got easier. The concept of the easiest sale being with current clients began to be understood at the gut level. Before they had only understood it intellectually. And they could feel what such sales could do to the bottom line. And their paychecks.
Gradually, the "non-sales" seventy began to talk of the two sales people as "outside sales" and sidled up to the idea of themselves as "inside sales". Non-sales as a term disappeared from use.
A watershed had been passed. The ground was prepared. It was time to talk of attitude.
SELL IS A FOUR LETTER WORD
For over fifty years it has been known that most people who are not in sales (and many who are!) feel that selling is somehow unworthy or even dirty. It is a feeling that many do not express, even to themselves. But it is there and unless that attitude is seriously changed serious sales increases won't happen.
If you doubt it, just get your people when they are in a candid mood and ask what comes immediately to mind when you say "salesman". The answer can be scary, especially when you think of how much you, and they, and the company need the sales.
Each section worked separately, a sales person present. A SALES READINESS Questionnaire had already been issued to everyone and answered anonymously. The responses provided the grist for this work. The deepest feelings, the hidden prejudices were brought into the open. And were transformed. Sometimes spontaneously. Sometimes through NLP techniques. Sometimes through sheer guts work. One way or another a catharsis happened. And the energy released become the driving energy, the cathexis, for a new belief.
By the time they were finished, each department had adopted a sales person. They became her support system. She became their mentor. Her success, her score, became their interest. In turn she taught them to sell from behind. To become a Stealth sales force. Actually, they taught each other.
Every department, every person, they found, had something to sell. Every section, every worker, had a way to contribute to the effort. All of them became a secret part of the new Great Game. The game of sales.
Before all was done, one-by-one all departments would undertake the process. But the order in which they did this was driven by good common sense and the willingness of supervisors to do it.
In the branch, the order department went first. They got the calls. They created a program of calling-out-first. They thought of it as proactive order taking. They called it Guerrilla Telemarketing. It turned out to be fun. Then the production group. They were not next volume but they were eager.
One by one the departments accepted the challenge. First they faced the truth about themselves and selling. Then transformed their attitudes. Then they adopted a salesman and brain stormed and wrote scripts. And then they practiced. Then the first proactive calls. The clients loved it. And helped too. Rewards helped. And recognition, especially recognition, fueled the fire.
Almost from the first day, sales began to grow. Just a little at a time. Like a snowflake at a time. But a month later their average order had increased with almost every major client. Success bred optimism. Optimism bred success. And the game was on. Everyone was a player. Everyone was a fan. The branch grew. Profits grew. Paychecks grew. It was a fun place to work.
Almost every company owns a gold mine of opportunity. It exists buried in the hundreds, sometimes thousands, of daily calls to and from existing clients, to and from people who think of themselves as "non-sales".
It exists in the fact that their non-sales status causes them to be welcomed behind the lines of sales resistance in the organizations they talk to. In existing clients. In potential clients.
It exists in the ability of 80% of non-sales staff to metamorphose, become a hidden sales force for the company.
And it exists in the fact that the real buyers in an organization seldom think of themselves as buyers.
Any company which has a ratio of non-sales calls to sales calls of 5:1 or better, is sitting on a gold mine, has an opportunity to sell invisibly, without resistance and without costs. All that is needed is Stealth Marketing.
Stealth Marketing exploits this gold mine of opportunity. It is both a process and a philosophy of doing business. Where it operates it generates only good will and sales. It gives staff a sense of deep participation in the life and future of their company. And it is fun.
Copyright Tom FitzGerald, 1998