In David March's struggle to keep his far-flung sales force apprised of new products and competitors, he turned up the volume on his message to his 59 reps -- providing them with audiocassettes he produces in-house. "I travel with our salespeople. I know how much driving they do," says March, who is vice-president of marketing and engineering at Baird, a $30-million analytical-instrument developer in Franklin, Mass. "So we try to use their time more productively."
Sales rep Kathy Munyon reviews the tapes before she makes sales calls. "They're great," she says. "The tech people respond to questions the salespeople interject." For example, one tape helped her recognize that a Baird product for analyzing alloys was too powerful for certain clients: "We were selling it wrong." After listening to the tape, she saved herself valuable face-to-face selling time.
March picks a topic, then names a panel -- usually, the sales manager, the product manager, and the head of engineering. The panelists have a week to review March's outline of the topic. But he cautions against writing a script or rehearsing. "You want it to sound informal and natural," he says. Participants meet in a conference room, pop a 90-minute tape into a cassette recorder, and talk away.
March realizes that he's competing with Zig Ziglar for airtime, so he includes the reps themselves on each tape. He set up a voice-mail box for sales reps to call when they have questions about products. He plays the questions, and the group responds. Says the marketing chief: "It's important to play the questions onto the tape, so that the other salespeople hear the voices of their comrades." -- Robina A. Gangemi* * *