When sales are growing at breakneck speed, it's crucial to have a straightforward way to ensure that all your new salespeople are moving in the right direction

Mounting competition was threatening C.A. Short Co.'s primacy. In 1955 the company had started up as a pioneer in the industry of managing incentive-award programs for employers eager to improve safety, attendance, or morale. But by 1989 CEO Charles Davis was feeling the presence of other players and pressure from the newly public company's stockholders, who clamored for growth and profits. He figured that the fastest way to expand sales beyond the few states close to the Shelby, N.C., headquarters would be to bring on an army of sales reps.

But Davis worried about keeping track of customers as the then $1.3-million company grew. He feared that accounts would disappear with departing reps, and few of the 130 new reps, mostly independents, had ever sold incentive programs. "I could count on one hand those who had experience."

He knew he'd have to systematize the selling process. Up to then, a sales rep would have called on a prospect and then gone home and tried to prepare a successful sales proposal based on market trends, one that would respond to the prospect's needs. That required creative juggling of some 1,800 products and incentive programs -- and still, the rep would have to close the deal. And Davis was concerned that he had no mechanism to monitor sales calls.

To track performance, take the administrative burden off sales reps, and build account records, Davis developed a new selling process with the one-page Incentive Needs Analysis (INA) as its cornerstone. The INA's questions lead the reps through their initial contact with prospects, prompting them to ask about problems incentive programs might address, programs already in place, and budgetary outlines. Following their first call on potential customers, the reps mail completed INAs to North Carolina, where, within five days, the home office generates a sales proposal. Those proposals allow even the newest hires to steer their follow-up sales pitches in the right direction.

"The INA frees the salesperson to sell," says Davis. "It cuts sales time in half because there's less of an administrative burden." And, knowing how quickly the home office will have the proposals ready, reps can set up callback appointments during their first call.

It took some time, though, before reps got a handle on the process. Right after Davis introduced the new system, the reps inundated the home office with thousands of INAs, but sales stayed perversely flat. Reps were dutifully completing and forwarding INAs to headquarters, but instead of calling on their prospects to make the sale, they simply mailed the proposals to them and waited. "Reps were mailing 500 proposals and closing none," Davis remembers. The challenge was to educate the sales force to use the INA as a sales tool, especially with prospects unfamiliar with incentive programs. So Davis instituted frequent training sessions, "and I hammered them on their closing ratios," he says.

Once the kinks were ironed out, Davis realized that the INAs spurred C.A. Short to form more of a partnership with customers. As reps gathered information on companies' safety and attendance problems, they started acting more as experts, offering solutions to their customers' quandaries. That value-added approach has spawned several more-detailed INAs that help reps target opportunities. "We use this form as a guide to go to a more specific discussion," explains sales-support manager Jim Barr.

Most of today's reps are comfortable enough with the process to use one of the more specialized forms, especially with repeat customers. "We instill in reps that the first call is nothing but a dialogue with the customer to assess needs," says Barr. "The INA is sort of like a telemarketing manual. You use it until you learn the script, then you go with the flow of customer responses." The sales reps are expected to record additional comments at the end of the form, which, Barr says, "are vital, because without them we're just generating canned proposals. With them we can meet the specific goals and objectives of each customer."

It took the company about a year to streamline the system. Then sales jumped from $1.3 million in 1989 to $24.3 million in 1991 and $44 million in 1992, winning C.A. Short a spot on the Inc. 100 list of fast-growing public companies for each of the past two years.

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Below is a sample INA, with responses in italics

Target Human Resources/Safety Coordinators

1. What type of Incentive Awards/Gift Programs are you currently using?

Safety Sales Incentives Birthday

Attendance Recruitment

Production Holiday/Business Gifts

Other: Wellness

2. Is your program successful? If so, why? Yes. Reduced accidents by 10% last year.

3. What problem areas would you like to target? S implified administration. Individual Productivity.

4. Would an incentive Program addressing several problem areas be of interest to you and your company? Yes.

5. What type of awards are used? (For Example) Belt Buckles, Jackets, Merchandise Cash. Gift Certificates.

6. What is your Incentive Award/Gift budget per employee? (If not sure), what is your total Incentive Award/Gift budget for your company? $130/person, $11,000/year

7. Are your Incentive Programs designed and decided upon by plant, division or corporate? Committee

8. How many employees are participating in the program? 85

9. Do you currently handle the administration of your program in house or is it handled by an outside source? In house

10. Do you recognize your employees:

By Individual Company Wide

Departmental Other

Team or Group
11. What was your annual workers compensation premiums? (If Human Resources does not know, check with Safety.) $100,000 billed (confidential)

Sales-support manager Jim Barr Analyzes the INA:

1) If the rep goes in totally blank, with no idea what the customer's doing, this gives a general picture of what market segment to approach. Wellness programs are becoming more popular. When we see new trends, we certainly want to get a piece of the market. So we develop a new program.

2) Of course, if the prospect says no here, the rep should introduce what we have to offer. If the answer is yes, we find out why the program's successful. It's a classic sales approach: get potential customers to talk so we see where we fit in. Say a prospect has reduced accidents by 10%; we may think we can do 30%. But we have to be careful when we approach areas in which we feel a prospect is delinquent. We don't want to destroy the relationship we're building.

If the prospect has no sure response here, it could be we're not talking to the person with the answers. Very tactfully, the salesperson tries to get an appointment with the decision maker.

3) We get all kinds of responses here. If the prospect says the company doesn't have problems, we might suggest a maintenance program. But if the rep prods a little bit and continues to get that response, the best thing a salesperson can do is close the interview and leave. It's a pretty good sign that we're not going to get any cooperation out of that prospect.

4) If you ask the question just like this, you're asking for a "no" answer. With a prospect, you always want to have that assumed consent. You should set it up more like, "Let me show you some programs I think you'll be interested in."

5) This is a good lead-in to sell our service. For example, a lot of companies just give a cash award because it's a no-brainer, but here's the opportunity to explain the philosophy of the awards concept: ongoing recognition.

6 & 8) If we know how many are in the program and the budget per employee, we can come back with a very realistic proposal. Companies have budget limits, and our programs will meet them. We need this information in order to introduce our programs' cost-savings results.

7) More and more, we're getting into companies at which decisions are made by committee, especially in union-type situations. If that's the case, the rep ought to meet with the committee.

9) Some companies don't want the hassles of administering their incentive programs, and some prefer to keep administration in-house. That information changes our approach. Some programs run more smoothly when we handle the administration.

10) This tells us how sophisticated and serious a company is about its incentive program. It changes our sales approach and helps us design the company's program. A good follow-up question to this would be, How often do you recognize your employees?

11) We ask about workers' compensation because most of our programs are safety oriented, and this helps us do an investment justification. But we don't always get the information. Lots of customers regard this number as confidential and don't even want to see it printed in a proposal. If that's the case, we wouldn't use that figure anywhere. We still regard those cases as prospects, and if we become too demanding, we're going to lose them.