New York City digs my marketing action. Three hundred miles, at least five accents and an entire way of life away from my Maine perch, I do more business in the city than I do in my own backyard. It's evidence of an odd phenomenon: We've got a great appreciation for things from "away": art, people, literature, culture and, it seems, advice. What comes from within our home, community and workplace is never quite as compelling as what comes from without.
Embracing an outsider makes good sense when your sales force needs a little pick-me-up. The person nearest the sales difficulties, the manager, may be too hamstrung to diagnose the troubles and implement any substantive changes. "Those close to a situation often lose their objectivity and credibility," counsels Mike Marchev, a sales trainer, employee motivation consultant and president of Michael Marchev Associates in Colonia, New Jersey. Marchev, the author of Become the Exception (Greyhound Press), adds, "Regardless of the sales manager's ability to train, teach, coach and motivate, there's truth to the notion 'no man is a prophet in his own land.' "
Signs that you need an outside sales expert may be subtle or severe. Be on the lookout for decreased productivity, declining revenues, loss of interest in the sales process, less time spent in the field or more time in the office, and group depression that can grab hold of a team in tough times. Other indicators include salespeople complaining about everything from leads to pricing. When your employees show SOS (save our sales) signs in abundance, says Marchev, "they need a shot of enthusiasm, creativity and renewed purpose."
Sales consultants provide numerous services, including training sessions, compensation plans, lead generation systems, evaluation of strengths and weaknesses, recommendations for fixes and coaching for managers. Find a sales consultant through Web research, trade organization and referrals from others in your industry. "Carefully check credentials, qualifications and references before making a selection," says Bob Kantin, author of Sales Proposals Kit for Dummies (Hungry Minds) and a principal in Plano, Texas, consulting firm SalesProposals.com.
Sales consultants charge by the project or the hour-figure on $250 to $400 per hour for an ace with a proven track record. Other consultants charge by project scope, based on whether advising is done in person or by phone, or on a part- or full-time basis. Look for hard-and-fast deliverables, such as a contract that stipulates a specific dollar amount in new business by a specified time. If you write "$5 million more sales in a year," you'll have few qualms about paying a healthy fee.
Know what you want from an advisor before you start making the rounds. Do you want more appointments, higher sales revenues, an evaluation of what's right and wrong in your organization? Can you handle the truth, or are you just after support and guidance from a seasoned professional who'll encourage you and your team? Be prepared when you start interviewing-don't waste time or money on the wrong fit for your needs and desires.
When you've made the decision to invest in outside help, be ready to enthusiastically support your decision to your staff. There's a natural suspicion about bringing in an outside viewpoint, someone who's there to observe, make judgments and offer recommendations for improvement. Be upfront about your rationale and present the project as a career-quality improvement for the entire team.
Kimberly L. McCall is president of McCall Media & Marketing (www.marketingangel.com ), a business communications company in Freeport, Maine.
- Michael Marchev Associates
(800) 508-1364, (732) 381-3084