Vanishing Profits?

Who's Going To Solve It?

Once again, there are no set rules when searching for a sales consultant, but there are general guidelines.

1. In most cases, avoid pre-packaged programs. People who come in with software or a training program that isn't customized usually don't do much good. Instead, opt for a program or system that's built from the ground up for your company, or at least one that's modified to suit your needs.

2. Make sure the consultant asks a lot of questions. Instead of just pitching their plan, prospective consultants should inquire about the company. Insist on someone who is willing and eager to investigate the problem before offering a solution. The more the individual asks about your business, the more interested you should be.

3. Look for a "twist" or a new, innovative approach to a problem. If sales are falling short of goals, stay away from someone offering platitudes or warmed-over ideas about how salespeople should become better at making calls.

4. Avoid motivational speeches. Unless you're looking for a pep talk--which definitely has its place--stay away from inspirational speakers masquerading as consultants. It's unlikely they'll offer any real or substantial advice. Although it may be fun to listen to their war stories, these speakers generally don't address concrete problems or offer long-term solutions.

5. Check references. Talk to your peers about the people they've used, research the names you're given, and ask the references detailed questions. It's amazing, says one consultant, how infrequently companies that end up hiring him actually call the references he gives them.

6. Agree on payment before anything is done. Fees can range from a few hundred dollars for each salesperson to six figures for an ongoing program.

7. Don't expect too much.Keep in mind that no one person is likely to turn around an entire department, particularly if it's overrun with problems. Look for answers within the company, too. At the first sign of a problem, it's not necessary to run to a consultant. Still, a good one can prove to be an invaluable asset to your business. If nothing else, the individual will give you the perspective of an outsider, and in the politically charged world of most companies, that alone can justify the cost.

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This article was originally published in the November 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Vanishing Profits?.

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