Before, they were grousing rather than grinding, and busyness was killing their business. But after making one simple shift, this sales team went from dead last to first place nationwide.
Whether your business uses cold-calling direct sales reps or runs Google Pay Per Click to fill your funnel, you can use this same tactic to refocus on what really matters… and it’s guaranteed to work in any company of any size.
Here’s how Ken Courtright, founder of Income Store, transformed one corporation’s worst-performing sales department into the best… in just 91 days.
Nowhere to Go But Up
In November of 2000, I got a call from MCI WorldCom. At the time, WorldCom was the fastest-growing telecom stock on NASDAQ, five years running. Steve, the branch manager of their Chicago office calls and says, “Ken, I heard you are really good at reinventing sales offices. I need you to come in. Our Chicago office is in 33rd place.”
I’m thinking… 33rd isn’t too bad. After all, WorldCom is publicly traded; I’m assuming they have 200-plus offices across the country.
“That doesn’t sound terrible, how many offices do you have?” I asked.
“Thirty-three” Steve barked.
“Ahh, so you’re in last place.” Intrigued, I said, “I’ll be there on Monday.”
After a brief and impromptu SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis, Steve and I put a plan together and decided that we’d take on what was to be a 90-day project. After sharing my guttural idea of what was wrong with the office, Steve and I came up with a plan.
A Little Subterfuge and a Big Turnaround
Unbeknownst to the other eight sales reps, I was introduced as a sales rep. Why? Because I needed to listen for the cancer in the sales office. I needed to see who was bad-mouthing the managers and the company. In short, I needed to see who was on the team and who wasn’t.
Three days later, we explained to the team that I wasn’t really there as a sales rep. They quickly learned that, for the next 90 days, as far as they were concerned, I was now the “acting” branch manager. You should have seen their faces. At the end of that day, six of the eight people no longer worked there. I kept two people purely because they were relatively new and I liked their energy and personalities.
A week and a half later, using a recruiter and running a large newspaper ad for sales reps, we hired in six new reps, none of whom had ever sold telecom before.
Ninety-one days later, the Chicago office was in first place.
How’d that Happen?
I knew in the first five minutes on the job why this office was in last place.
My first day was spent on a “ride-along” with another rep. I asked him what the office sales method was for prospecting. He shared with me that some of the reps made calls from the office while some preferred to knock on doors out in the field. This rep preferred cold calling out in the field.
That day ended with us knocking on eleven doors, getting a few business cards, and selling nothing.
My first day as “acting” manager started with a short meeting.
I announced that I wasn’t brought in to be liked, that, in fact, I was brought in to create a sales model and atmosphere that got the Chicago office producing sales immediately and consistently. I went on to explain that my methods are very old fashioned and not “hip,” but they produce 100 percent of the time.
I then held up an old-fashioned calendar and a thick phone book. In Vince Lombardi–style I said, “This is a calendar. This is a phone book. Starting Monday morning, nobody runs any appointments. We are changing everything.”
Work the Week Backwards
Until this time, this office was run under what is called an activity model. Whether online or offline, these are the least efficient sales models in use today. I explained that we were simply going to jump over to an accomplishment model, one that I call work the week backwards.
“Work the week backwards” is, by far, the most efficient and effective sales model in existence. I explained that not only will it sound strange, it will feel strange, and that the best way to explain it was to show them their new routine.
I began by stating, “We are going to work our week backwards. From now on, on Mondays, your only job is to pick up the phone book, decide on a set of businesses to call on, and keep calling businesses until you set an appointment for Friday at three o’clock. To be clear… the only time you can set an appointment is Friday at three o’clock.”
To say the reps were confused is an understatement. I knew I needed to spell it out and even use pictures to explain.
I held up a mocked-up appointment calendar that had five appointments already booked.
I pointed to the spot at 3 p.m. Friday and said, “Your first appointment goes right here. Once you’ve set that appointment, you then have only one other spot you can fill.” Pointing to the 11 a.m. spot, I stated, “That is eleven a.m. Friday.”
They were stunned. I could tell that not only was I not getting buy-in from the group, it appeared some were beginning to tune out. Time for a little paradigm shift.
Why ARE You Here?
“Who in here is here to have fun?” I asked.
“Who in here is here to make money?”
Everyone raised their hand.
“Who in here would like to make more money than they ever thought possible?”
Again, everyone raised their hand.
“Who in here understands that the way things used to be done produced the worst results in company history?”
Everyone raised their hand.
“I say we play “Let’s Make a Deal”. If my new method doesn’t start producing consistent sales for each rep in this room in under thirty days, I vote we scrap this crazy plan and move on to more traditional methods. However, I vote that if it starts producing immediately, and I mean even this first week, I say we give it everything we have for ninety days and measure our results. Who’s willing to try this?”
With that minor opening of potential flexibility, I had their full attention.
I went on to say, “Under no circumstance can you set an appointment for a different time or a different day. Period.”
I gave them an example or two of how mentally strong they will have to be. I shared with them that the toughest part is when they have someone on the phone who claims they are in the middle of taking bids and would like to see a sales rep today or tomorrow. No matter how large a potential customer was, or how close they were to making a decision, nothing was more important than controlling the calendar.
Control the Calendar, Rule the Day
I shared that once they book the three o’clock time slot, then, and only then, can they book the next time slot, which was Friday at 11 a.m. Let’s say the day ends and each rep only booked one or two appointments. Guess what they get to do on Tuesday? You got it. They are free all day to book more appointments.
They get the opportunity to book more appointments for 3 p.m. on Thursday, then 11 a.m. on Thursday, then 3 p.m. on Wednesday, literally working their way backwards on the calendar.
This method is phenomenal for a number of reasons.
First, it avoids the largest deal killer in a sales office: the star method. The star method is where managers allow sales reps to set appointments at any time. On paper it sounds OK to book an appointment at any time. Isn’t a bird in the hand better than two in the bush? Not in the case of appointment setting.
Consider the following scenario: A rep enters the office at 9 a.m. and starts dialing the phone. To their delight, on the third dial they speak to someone who is able to see them at 12:30 that same day.
If that were to actually happen, what do you think the rep would do for the next two hours? Do you think they’d use the momentum of that appointment to hang up and dial for another appointment right away? Studies show that the rep will be filled with emotion and won’t make another call for about 30 minutes. In fact, the average rep does a quick analysis of the hour or two before the appointment and the hour or two after the appointment that was just set. During that time, they will factor in everything from drive time, prep time, lunch time and drive home time.
After doing a time evaluation they move on to a “success” evaluation. If successful they may have to come back to the office to fill out paperwork; if unsuccessful, depending on the length of the appointment, they’ll need to determine whether they will make it back to the office at all. Either way, the last thing the average sales rep is going to do after setting an appointment is pick up the phone and attempt to set another appointment. The star method KILLS the opportunity for multiple appointments in a day.
Add to that, studies show that sales reps make very few calls in the first and last 30 minutes of each day. In a sales rep’s mind, this is the time for getting organized and winding down. In addition, they don’t want to interrupt decision-makers during the preparation and winding-down phase of their day.
Appointments: The Best of Times AND the Worst of Times
The harsh reality is that an actual appointment is the greatest disruption in a sales office. To make it worse, this method gets its name, the star method, because reps who are allowed to set appointments anytime in the week are usually all over the board when it comes to appointments. They may have a Monday morning appointment, a Wednesday afternoon, a Thursday morning, and a Friday afternoon. If you were to connect the dots of their appointments, it would look like a constellation. The greatest amount of inefficiency and lack of production occurs in the two hours before and the two hours after a sales appointment. The star method is the least efficient way to manage a sales office.
The second reason the work the week backwards model is brilliant is because it forces success. If I had a choice between a great closer and a great appointment setter, I would take the appointment setter hands down. You can’t close an appointment you don’t have.
Get Them Bumping into Themselves
The pure genius of this model is that sales reps literally set appointments until they bump into the part of the week in which they begin to run appointments. This method works every time.
Before I showed up, the office had a bunch of negative, stinking-thinking sales reps. The reps showed up on Mondays, shuffled a lot of business cards, set very few appointments, and did very little actual presenting.
Bottom line here is that when I walked into that office, the average rep was setting 1.25 appointments each week. Three months after I took over, our office was setting more appointments than any other office. Each rep was averaging 4.75 appointments each week. It is not by coincidence that we were the #1 producing sales office in the country — we were the office that set the most appointments!
280% Improvement and a Morale Overhaul to Boot
When I left that office on day 91, there wasn’t a negative sales rep in the office.
Soon, without my urging, the reps would show up before 9 a.m. so they could start dialing right at 9. They would dial the phones right up until 5 p.m. They understood that often the best time to reach decision-makers was first thing in the morning or at the end of the day. This was the time decision-makers could actually take calls and have meaningful conversations. It went against everything the prior team thought they knew.
Corporate wanted to know what I had done to “motivate” and “train” the sales reps. I explained to corporate that our results had literally nothing to do with motivation or training. I shared, in detail, how I almost had a mutiny on my hands and that almost every rep wanted to abandon ship when I told them they were cold calling out of the phone book. They were not motivated in the least with my method. Corporate was stunned. They are dialing straight from the phonebook?
I explained to corporate that production takes care of motivation. By the third week, every sales rep in our office had a sale — and had regular sales every week thereafter. I also reminded corporate that our results had little to do with training as our whole team was new to selling telecommunication services and I spent very little time, if any, on closing techniques. Sales meetings were centered around understanding the importance of time management and the need to improve our self-image through books and audios.
Once our reps realized how strong this method was, they couldn’t wait to get to the office to book the next appointment for the proper time in the week. They couldn’t wait to “set” appointments until they bumped into being forced to stop so they could “run” the appointments that were set.
Accomplishment Beats Activity in Any Company
Does your company operate in an activity model or an accomplishment model? Take a moment to reflect on how your company brings in revenue. Can an accomplishment model be overlapped to add efficiency? I find most sales offices are efficiently ineffective.
What if you don’t have direct sales people? What if you do use paid Facebook advertising or Google Pay Per Click to generate leads and sales?
Is the day you buy your ads and the day you track results the same day of the week, or is it different all the time? Is there unproductive time in your week that if segregated could be used for further split testing to allow more ad buys?
In short, is your team using the star method for marketing, or do you have an exact set time for proactively generating potential clients, that when performed long enough, forces your company to stop at some point in the day or week to service potential clients?
Another way we like to clarify this method is the following:
If your marketing team works until 5pm, that’s an activity model.
If your marketing team works until “X” is accomplished, that is an accomplishment model.
Accomplishment models can be forecasted, activity models cannot.
Which are you using?
Founder of Income Store
Author of Online Income: Navigating the Internet Minefield