Improving Sales Performance Growth Case Study:
10 Sales Tips that helped CEAVCO overhaul their messaging, align their sales organization and boost revenue with The Carruthers Group
When Matt Emerson inherited the leadership of CEAVCO Audio Visual from his father, he knew he was at the helm of a company that had a solid reputation. CEAVCO had been providing innovative audio, visual and creative services for events for more than 50 years. And they had a stellar retention rate — a cache of dedicated clients that partnered with them year after year. So, why weren’t they closing new deals?
Well, a lot can change in 50 years, especially in an industry that thrives on the cutting edge. CEAVCO had built its business renting A/V equipment and had moved into curating live events. As event planners began to seek creative partners, CEAVCO began to search for ways to differentiate themselves in the event space.
Emerson needed to help his team adapt to this growing market. But, their sales processes, their messaging and their proposal strategy were all rooted in old school tactics. Embedded in the way things had been done for decades and focused on daily business needs, it was a challenge for Emerson to step back and see just how to find a new path.
So, CEAVCO partnered with The Carruthers Group, a consulting firm dedicated to helping businesses expand revenue through intentional sales design. With The Carruthers Group, CEAVCO was able to modernize its sales processes, align on value and messaging, and grow revenue by $2 million. In fact, CEAVCO has seen 20 percent revenue growth in the first half of 2017 alone.
Want to know how they did it? Here are 10 actionable sales tips from the Carruthers & CEAVCO playbook.
Top 10 Sales Tips
[Tip #1] Align your team on your value and messaging to speed sales cycle. [Worksheet downloads]
So, how does a company navigate the macro shifts of an evolving industry and the internal shifts that accompany changing leadership, restructuring, or revamping offerings? How could CEAVCO weather these big changes while maintaining a competitive edge and winning new business?
CEAVCO and The Carruthers Group set out to answer just these questions. They began to work through The Sales Engine Diagnostic. This tool helps companies identify gaps and dysfunction in their sales organization by focusing on seven core areas:
In the process of exploring CEAVCO’s defined value, messaging, and marketing alignment, Emerson discovered that there were many different micro-cultures within his sales team. Each person had a slightly different idea of the value CEAVCO offered, how they provided that value, and how to get their messaging across.
“Before starting our work with The Carruthers Group, the sales team wasn’t having a conversation around value,” said Emerson. “No one had taken the time to get focused and on the same page. The team was operating as five independent salespeople, each like their own business. So, they all sold in a different way, they all used different words, even though they were selling the same product.”
It’s like the famous story of the blind men and the elephant. Three blind men encounter an elephant. One grasps the trunk and says, “This creature is like a snake.” Another puts his hand to the elephant’s leg and says, “This creature is like a tree.” The third holds the tail and says, “This creature is like a rope.”
If this is your sales team and the elephant is your company, you are going to have clients who have vastly different experiences of your services depending on who their sales rep is. What’s more, unless you can get everyone on your team to see the elephant, walking into the 21st century together will be nearly impossible.
The Carruthers Group helped the CEAVCO team see the elephant together. Through a series of exercises and conversations, Emerson and his team rooted out value and messaging misalignment and course corrected. They were guided by the following questions:
To make sure your team is aligned, try the following worksheets from The Carruthers Group:
Set aside dedicated time to go through these worksheets with your sales team and make sure everyone shows up. By getting team buy-in on the fundamentals like CEAVCO did, you can ensure that your team is honed for closing deals.
[Tip #2] Make your sales meetings fun and useful with these two sales meeting structures.
To support the work CEAVCO was doing around alignment, The Carruthers Group Founder Karl Becker set out to improve the company’s sales meetings. Like many companies, CEAVCO’s sales meetings usually involved reviewing the pipeline, monitoring tasks, and putting out fires. And, inevitably, when running through a pipeline review, multiple members of the team were uninvolved in the discussion at hand, which leads to a lot of wasted time.
“Our sales meetings were more of a check-in and less about getting the team to understand the real value of our company,” said Emerson.
Checking in every week without unearthing more substantial issues or discussing larger goals is a strategy that will only maintain the status quo. This strategy won’t get team buy-in for larger changes, identify deeper issues, or generate creative ideas.
Becker encouraged Emerson to divide his sales meetings by function. They separated strategic sales meetings from tactical sales meetings.
By allowing room for higher-level thinking to flourish without getting immediately bogged down by how a solution might be implemented, CEAVCO found that his team became more outspoken and creative. They started coming up with new ideas and felt more encouraged to participate in the shaping the direction that the company was headed.
Try this strategy out today with these sample meeting agendas:
[Tip #3] Create a stronger sales organization and expand team knowledge by sharing case studies and client stories.
As tactical staff meetings were given more room to develop, team collaboration around knowledge sharing and problem solving flourished. The team used to discuss what they had gotten done and still needed to accomplish; in the new staff meetings (and sometimes in breakout workshops), they began to build a shared knowledge base across the entire organization.
Emerson said, “I have worked in this industry for 28 years, so I have a huge store of information and case studies to draw on. But, even our seasoned sales team, many of whom have been with us for five or ten years, don’t have that kind of longitudinal view of our clients and sales processes.”
With help from The Carruthers Group, CEAVCO implemented bi-weekly case studies discussions. “When the team is in front of a prospect or brainstorming about challenges and ideas for a new client, I know they now have a deeper reservoir of stories and experiences beyond just their own portfolio of client shows,” says Emerson.
John Bogdon, a Vistage International marketing writer, suggests compiling this collective information into a comprehensive prospecting guide. He says, “sales staff can prepare themselves beforehand by composing a case-specific guide to study these variables thoroughly.” This way your sales team can anticipate nearly any curveball a prospect throws at them.
[Tip #4] Close more of your best customers by defining your target audience as a team. [Worksheet download]
Along with processing case studies and client wins as a team, CEAVCO began to identify patterns for the type of prospects who converted. They came together as a team to define the type of clients they most wanted to work with.
“We went through the process with every team member,” said Emerson. “We asked them, what are the characteristics of your best customers? And a profile started to emerge. Not just the industry or demographics, but the deeper characteristics of our ideal client. We found our best customers are companies that are looking for new ideas, those who are interested in committing to change. We work best with companies who like to communicate, who work transparently with us, and want to have an open dialogue.”
Under this new model, everyone on the sales team can evaluate and qualify leads on shared criteria. Instead of a reactive, disjointed sales process, each member of their team asks prospects the kind of targeted, challenging sales questions that help identify ideal clients. The team only pursues the potential clients who are a good fit for the solutions CEAVCO offers.
Want a guide for articulating your target audience with your team? Get The Carruthers Group Target Audience Worksheet.
[Tip #5] Improve time-to-close with this lead bucketing technique.
Because of this collaboration and a clearer definition of what makes a target audience, Emerson and his team grew more strategic about how they spent their prospecting energy.
“We began to see that we made the sales when our value aligned with prospect’s need, we had direct communication, and we were able to clearly articulate the solution we could provide to their problems. It was like dating profiles that matched. With the deals we lost, some aspects may have matched, but the person didn’t show up to the date, they didn’t answer the call, or they were giving short answers,” Emerson says. “They just weren’t engaged.”
And just as in dating, you spend the most time with the matches you fit the best with. So, create a process to separate your leads into two categories:
Dedicate more time winning the ideal clients. Because of the clear value you can provide them, you may likely land bigger deals with higher margins. Allocate less time on your second tier prospects — limit the amount of energy you and your team spend pursuing their business.
Becker encouraged Emerson and his team not just to prioritize value alignment but also to look at the type of working relationship that is typically most successful for their business.
“We looked at our existing clients and realized that every one of them engaged with us on a high level,” said Emerson.
“It was a real ‘aha’ moment for us, identifying this key aspect of our working relationship: If they aren’t going to engage with us in the process, to truly be our partners, it’s probably not going to be the best fit for the way we work. This was a great learning opportunity for the whole team. We changed how we responded to prospects and created a couple of different types of responses based on the amount of effort or engagement those leads had with our company.”
[Tip #6] Elevate your brand and land right-fit clients by shifting from transactional selling to solution selling.
Before working with The Carruthers Group, CEAVCO’s messaging was mixed, often focused around saving money. And they were getting a good response rate, but they weren’t winning any jobs.
Think about price promises that you’ve encountered. Whenever someone touts the lowest cost, the cheapest deal, the best price tag, what do you learn about who they are as a company or what they offer?
The answer is: very little. A price promise alone gives a pretty bland picture of a company and tells your prospects very little about you. Not only does it commoditize the value that you offer, it limits the scope of your deals.
Especially if you’re in an older industry where offerings may be quite similar, added value and brand reputation are competitive differentiators that can increase margin and deal size. Ian Altman, Vistage thought leader and CEO of Grow My Revenue, argues that, when you provide the best value, a higher price is rarely a deterrent. By focusing on stronger values, you can win more business and increase your margin.
Through defining their value, the team explored why CEAVCO’s loyal customer base worked with them. They came up with complex answers that had nothing to do with price, such as:
CEAVCO used these results to overhaul their messaging and shift from transactional selling to solution selling. Emerson says, “The results were a slightly lower response rate, but a much better-qualified response rate. We were getting people who were interested in us for the right reasons. Our close rate has improved significantly.”
[Tip #7] Generate more referrals by teaching your team these simple tactics.
Emerson knew that referrals were the best source of business and that his team was the best source of referrals. But, he had never created a process for generating referrals from his team and instead relied on their individual initiative.
The Carruthers Group encouraged CEAVCO to create a training system to bolster their organic referral base. They created structure and mentorship around when and how to ask prospects and customers for referrals. They had each sales person look through LinkedIn networks of past and current clients to pinpoint ideal customers who those clients were connected to. Then, they sought referrals from their client base for intros to those ideal customers. They even sweetened the deal by offering a monthly prize to the team member who generated the most leads.
Sales trainer and consultant Chuck Bauer suggests these additional referral tips for your team:
[Tip #8] Win new business more consistently with flexible, in-depth proposal templates.
Before their work with The Carruthers Group, CEAVCO had a very bare bones proposal that was little more than a price list.
“We’d get an RFP through email and we’d respond through email, with a list of our services and our corresponding prices,” says Emerson. “Most likely, we wouldn’t even have a conversation with the prospect. And would you believe we weren’t winning any new business this way?”
Proposals are your prospects’ first insight into how you work. Don’t waste a good opportunity to stand out, especially if you’re directly competing with other companies for a contract. Implement an intentional, thoughtful proposal creation process that involves much of your team and your prospective client.
By creating and refining an adaptable proposal template, you can speed up the process. Instead of going back to the drawing board on format and language each time, you’ll spend time on higher-level thinking, strategy, and creative solutions so your prospects have a clear picture of what you offer.
Becker helped CEAVCO overhaul their proposal template and their proposal creation process.
2. Discuss how you will help your prospect solve their unique challenges. Don’t make the proposal all about you.
3. Meet as a team to discuss client need. Have an ideation session with the team after meeting with prospects and before writing proposals. Tap collective experience and team innovation to create the strongest proposal possible.
4. Connect with the client again. If you don’t have follow-up questions after your ideation session, you probably want to go back to the drawing board and dig a little deeper.
5. Restate client needs based on your conversations. Altman suggests you use the proposal not just to exhibit your skills but to articulate your understanding of client need: “For example, you might say in your proposal, ‘From our discussion with your team, we recognize that the reason you are replacing this system is the frustration your customers face when they cannot get accurate information. We appreciate how this is impacting your brand reputation, and we will work closely with you to ensure your customers adore the new system and will want to tell their friends about it.’”
6. Make your proposal look good. Remember, this is the company’s first formal sample of your work. Don’t let sloppy formatting or grammar mistakes cost you a good client.
7. Use proposal creation software. Tools like Proposify can help automate some of the more rote processes involved in proposal creation (and make sure your proposal looks impressive).
“With this new process, we’ve won two accounts in the last year that we weren’t able to secure in the past,” says Emerson. “They both said, ‘It’s amazing how many people respond to an RFP and didn’t pick up the phone to call us. They just gave us an equipment list with a price.’ That used to be us.”
[Tip #9] Close new deals by showcasing your current client work.
Proposals aren’t the only way to show clients what you’re made of. Use any opportunity to showcase the good work you do.
For example, CEAVCO started taking new prospects to events they curated for other clients. Prospects were able to see firsthand what a partnership with the company would look like. They also gained insight into what was possible for their own events and were able to ask questions of event staff.
Other ways to showcase your work focus on clear communication, well-kept archives, and strong content:
[Tip #10] Leave the status quo behind and break through growth plateaus using outside consultants.
Emerson couldn’t have made these systemic, intentional changes to his sales organization without the guidance of The Carruthers Group. He had tried going it on his own in the past, without much success. He would bring in ideas from workshops, his Vistage group, and even from other consultants, but nothing stuck. “I would bring back ideas and try to get the team to absorb them. If it worked at all, we’d only see change for a short amount of time, and then it was back to business as usual. I had trouble getting everyone on the same page”
Bringing in outside consultants and sales talent provided a fresh look at old processes that Emerson and his team had begun to take for granted. “One of the things that Karl brought to my organization was outside credibility to a process. I’m often too close to the company to see things from a new perspective. Karl has the advantage of being an objective outsider.”
This fresh perspective allowed the team to find new, improved ways to do things. Becker says, “Even when companies are willing to put in the time to improve their processes, it can be extremely hard to identify the areas that need improvement. Leaders may think, ‘well, we need to improve our sales funnel.’ But this is really a symptom of a sales team that isn’t on the same page on value, messaging, or even who they’re selling to.”
Reflecting on their continued work with The Carruthers Group, Emerson says, “Looking at sales holistically through the Sales Engine Diagnostic, we truly had to get buy-in from every team member. There are no magic bullets, the change didn’t happen overnight. But through the process of aligning on value, messaging, audience, and tactics, we learned to be a new team. That change is just as valuable as our new revenue.”
Want to create lasting change at your company? Connect with The Carruthers Group today.
About CEAVCO Audio Visual
CEAVCO Audio Visual provides video, audio, lighting, and creative services solutions for events nationwide. For more than 50 years, our highly skilled team has created exceptional event experiences by providing creative and technical expertise, guidance, and extraordinary service. When you collaborate with CEAVCO, you will love what you see and hear.
About The Carruthers Group
We started The Carruthers Group in 2010 to help companies generate more revenue. Since the beginning, our mission has been to partner with our clients to create and run integrated sales and marketing processes within their organizations. This collaboration works to increase sales performance and generate revenue growth.
We believe that intentional sales design generates revenue, resonates with clients, and powers team alignment. We put that belief into action by coaching leaders and teams to see that sales is a very winnable game. We invite you to begin a conversation with us and explore how we can help grow your company, strengthen the team you may manage, and boost your own selling and leadership skills.