Let Our Sales Force Be With You | Article

Faint Bulb in the DarkIn 1993 MCI had a problem. It called Bob Stockard to solve it.

Stockard and his wife Maria Massaro were running a successful executive search firm when MCI, a search client, approached them. The long distance carrier was looking for a temporary sales force to launch its new “Friends and Family” program. And, MCI needed its sales force now.

The husband and wife looked at each other and a light bulb went on. They had assembled an extensive database of sales professionals nationwide that was gathering dust on a hard drive, earning nothing. They decided to utilize this resource to help MCI.

The couple formed Sales Staffers International to assemble 1,200 sales representatives in 18 states in just 45 days. Their team set up tables at sporting events and fairs, allowing prospects to make a free three minute call to anywhere.

Two years later, their employees generated more than $65 million in revenue for MCI by acquiring 529,000 new customers. One of the nation’s first sales force outsourcing companies was born. Currently, the Andover, Massachusetts company operates 40 different sales forces.

Rapid deployment became a core value. Today the company still guarantees it can have a sales force on the street in 45 days after a buyer signs an outsourcing contract. “The name of the game is quick deployment,” says Stockard.

Hiring “The Hunters”

In 1999 Stockard changed the corporate name to Salience. Today Salience is a professional sales channel outsourcing company specializing in creating and managing business-to-business sales channels. The outsourcing supplier focuses primarily on the acquisition of new customers. Stockard calls his salespeople “the hunters.” Salience encourages its clients to handle the customer retention side of the sales equation.

Salience is a Latin derivative meaning in front of the battle lines. “It describes our strategic value to our clients. We are in the front of the battle lines of commerce for our clients,” says Stockard, Salience’s CEO. A secondary definition includes prominent or outstanding. The founders felt all the linguistic shadings made this a great word to describe the company’s new focus on the Internet.

In the early days, Stockard says outsourcing the sales function was a difficult sell. “The vice president of marketing believed outsourcing was a dangerous thing,” says Stockard with a laugh. “They liked their kingdoms.”

Salience carved a market niche by servicing Fortune 500 companies facing sudden deregulation. Suddenly, their safe landscape was changing overnight. Companies used to serving customers who had to deal with them now faced the tough world of competition and customer acquisition. The market leader had to learn how to protect its market share. Everyone else had to figure out how to get a bigger piece of the pie. That made them perfect candidates for Salience’s speed to market approach.

When Haste Is Critical

Telecommunications, energy and financial services were three industries forced to cope with this instant change. Companies in these sectors needed Salience’s 45 day guarantee because some didn’t have much more time to get ready given the vagaries of the regulatory system.

Today, new dot.com and technology companies in emerging industries are Salience’s hot market. “We’re experiencing an explosion of requests because they are looking at traditional methodologies in their B2B play,” says Stockard. These companies also appreciate the quick ramp up guarantee. Stockard says they want to be first to market to build their brands.

To help new companies, Salience created a new series of programs it calls Market Launch Services, according to Alan Gonsenhauser, vice president, marketing and chief marketing officer. This offering includes 26 activities a start up company needs to approach a new market and build a specific distribution channel. This is organized into four groups: market planning, sales force implementation and training, sales force management and engagement administration.

Market Launch Services includes assessing the competition and developing appropriate metrics to track sales success. Salience will put together and segment a prospect database and determine who will be the most profitable customers. Salience can also create and conduct all sales training, which is customized for each client. It also handles all the administrative requirements like payroll withholding and reporting.

Salience prepares a motivational compensation package for the salespeople and managers, which includes both a base salary (fixed compensation) and a commission structure (the variable component.). The company determines the variable portion by the amount of the sale and/or the number of customers acquired.

The Power Of Incentives

When the sales force generates more sales, the company earns a larger fee from its client companies. Stockard says Salience’s fees are performance based. “The more money our clients make, the more money we make,” says Gonsenhauser.

The marketing executive says incentives encourage his firm to perform. “Our revenues are at risk with every sales force we deploy. We have to be very good at training our staff to understand the customer’s business plan so we can maximize our profitability,” Gonsenshauser explains.

Salience is also helping new dot.com companies build vertical B2B market exchanges. It is building and deploying national sales forces helping companies acquire the suppliers or sellers part of their exchanges. One client is an automotive Internet exchange company. Salience employees enrolled 2,000 preferred retailers for this exchange. The automotive exchange company is building the consumer data base or buyer side itself through advertising.

It is also helping drive traffic to an exchange it helped build for a Chicago construction industry vertical market exchange. The site, www.bidbuybuild.com , is an exchange between commercial real estate developers and 16 categories of contracts and their corresponding manufacturers. The exchange facilitates the entire bidding and job scheduling required to build commercial real estate through the new Internet model.

Stockard says he never set out to become an outsourcing supplier. He just listened to what his customers said they needed. “Our customers made us what we are today,” he says.

Lessons from the Outsourcing Primer:

  • Incentives encourage an outsourcing supplier to perform at its best.
  • Outsourcing the sales function is a good option when time is of the essence.
  • Deregulating industries and start-ups both benefit by outsourcing the sales function.

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