Big Whale Accounts Are Great, But Developing Relationships with Referral Sources Can pay the Bills
March 7, 2011

When you work in sales one of your primary goals is to get big accounts and yearly contracts: “the big whale accounts.” However, it is also important to keep an eye open for smaller, regular, everyday opportunities because many times these are the ones that pay the bills.

While working as part of Randolph Sterling’s outsourced inside sales team for a plumbing company, I was having a slow day searching for prospects in all the usual places one would think of for that industry. But then I came up with this idea of calling insurance offices and trying to get our client’s number and information on their recommended vendor lists.

At first, I wasn’t even sure insurance offices kept such lists, so I called my own insurance company, asking for a referral for plumbing companies, just to see how it worked, or if they even gave referrals. Sure enough, they did. While on the phone, I asked to see how they got those numbers and why they recommended them. Most of them came through referrals and good customer feedback. They then even offered to send me an email with a list of good plumbing companies in my area.

The next step was to begin working to get our client onto the referral lists of the insurance offices in their area. Now, no, getting our client onto these lists is admittedly not the same as winning the big account or yearly contract, but when you do work that people need to have done every day, you cannot deny the value of having your name and contact information being given out by the those first contacted by the people who need your help. These insurance agents get to provide an even better service for their clients by researching and recommending service providers, thus differentiating them from their competitors who don’t do more than just collect premiums every year. Our client gets another sales team (in addition to us, of course) who is keeping their name top of mind when people need them.

It may not be “the big whale account,” but developing relationships with strong referral sources can definitely positively assist your bottom line.


Happy Birthday to Randolph Sterling!
April 22, 2010

Seven years ago today, April 22, 2003, the papers were approved and Randolph Sterling, Inc. was born. In some ways it seems like yesterday while in others, it seems like a million years ago!

I started the company because I thought we could do something different, something better than I saw out on the market. Sure there were tons of sales training companies out there, but that wasn’t what we strove to be. Our goal was to provide real time assistance to the people who were sitting right on the front lines of a company’s success. We started out as a “sales consulting company” and went through the typical growing pains that any small company went through. We defined ourselves by what we thought the market wanted (in comparison with the skills I, who at the time was the only employee, brought to the table) found our first clients and first “big” client to prove that we did know what we were doing, just a little bit! Next came our first big disappointment when I walked into our biggest client at the time to pick up payment of a few invoices and I was greeted with “Yeah…we’re not going to pay you!” As I later learned, if you talk to any entrepreneur, 99% of them will tell you a similar story—although it still burns me that I could have stayed home watching daytime TV for six months and had been in a better financial situation than I was by working with this client!

It is a lesson we all live and learn…the true strength of a man is measured not in his level of success, but how he handles things when they go wrong.

I learned from that experience and along the way, we found new and different ways to help our clients. The original “sales consulting” has grown into our outsourced sales management department, where we will help growing companies with their overall sales process. Our ideal clients are ones that are growing and need to keep up with their growth. We help them by not only working with them to provide a plan, but also in implementing that plan.

We then started our outsourced sales department when we noticed that many of our clients had the same problem…their salespeople were victims of their own success. That is they got to a point where the bulk of their day was spent working with current clients and growing current business, causing the task of developing new relationships to take a back seat. There was a tremendous need for professional inside salespeople to work with them to develop those new relationships for them with the right prospects.

Finally, we developed our SAM Peer Advisory Groups. So many times a CEO will have his advisory board where he will discuss operational issues and the overall vision of the company, but very seldom do the salespeople—the people directly responsible for the growth of the company—have this same opportunity to learn from their peers.

Seven years from the start and we are still looking for new ways to continue to help our target market grow. But let’s face it, the life of an entrepreneur isn’t always 100% fun. To endure the 12-14 hour days, wondering if I could be making more money working these same hours as a Wal-Mart greeter or at least thinking that I would have half as much to do if I “just sold for someone else.”

OK, truth be known, when I think these things, it is usually my ex-wife’s voice I hear saying them…I wonder why 🙂

Anyway, you have to have a little fun along the way. One of my goals each year is to make sure that I do certain things that I would not have had a chance to do if I was not CEO of Randolph Sterling, Inc. Some of them have included:

  • Getting paid to go on a cruise
  • Playing golf with former major league baseball player Tony Womack
  • Co-hosting a small business radio talk show on an Atlanta radio station (that was simulcast over the Internet all around the world)
  • Writing a book—“Closing the Deal,” available on Amazon and at other fine retailers!
  • Meeting Miss North Carolina
  • Getting paid to ride the Spiderman ride at Universal Studios
  • In one day, being a resident sales expert for a plumbing company, used equipment manufacturer, accounting firm, marketing firm, and event planner…and that was just a normal Wednesday
  • Having the opportunity to work with some of the greatest minds and best people I have ever had a chance to meet

Thank you to all of the people who have made the past seven years possible, from our fantastic staff to our business partners to our referral partners to our clients. You have made every day great and I can’t thank you enough for all helping to make the dream I had as a high school kid a reality.

…now let’s see what the next 7 years brings us!

5 Years and Counting
April 5, 2010

My five year anniversary with Randolph Sterling came and went on April Fool’s Day. For those who know me well, they might say “How appropriate.” However, I would say “How Incredible!”

My career with Randolph Sterling began as I was looking for a fresh opportunity.  The company offered me unlimited growth potential and a completely different career path, however I recall feeling hesitant to leave a position and company where I had built a solid foundation. Would a young company like Randolph Sterling really be a good fit for me, would I be successful? I was unsure of how it would all work out but I decided on a leap of faith.

Admittedly, my first year or so was a bit of a rollercoaster. There were highs and moderate lows in my learning curve, but what grew and became a certainty for me was my passion for what I was doing, and that I was pretty good at it! I no longer wondered is this the right place for me or can I succeed, but instead began thinking in terms of how far can I go and how much can I do. I truly believe in this company and all that we can do for our clients. With Rich Burghgraef’s patience and guidance I found my stride and began to share his vision for the company and future.

Today, I review the past five years. I’ve seen our company grow from a select group of Illinois based clients to a nationwide company with a vastly increasing client base. Our second office location opened in 2009 in North Carolina along with the addition of several staff members to handle sales management and inside and outside sales. In 2010 we have increased our staff size yet again and are continually adding new and valuable services for our clients, allowing me to take on even more of a managerial role where I am greatly involved in the decisions that are made for the direction of our growth.

Looking back I am amazed and proud of not only my accomplishments and growth within the company but in the company itself.

I will part with my final thought: to have survived the past 5 years with a Yankees fan alone is a feat in itself.  If I can do that, imagine what the next 5 years will bring!

You Don’t Have to be a Basketball Superpower to be Successful
March 24, 2010

Well, it’s that time of year again.  March Madness, to many sports fans, is the best season of them all.  Numerous games over a three week period, every game means something, loser leaves town, the highest high and the lowest low, and players shedding tears, some for joy, most for sorrow.  If you like sports, it’s hard not to get a lot of enjoyment out of the tournament.

Everyone has their favorite team, but I always enjoy watching a mid size school, where kids go to get an education, beating one of the powerhouses.  If your favorite team is Kentucky, Kansas (too bad), or Duke (which is mine), you know that they are going to have a pretty good year and be in the tournament.  But imagine what it is like to be a Cornell or a Northern Iowa fan.  The excitement because not only are they are there, but they are winning games.  My daughter was in Iowa over the weekend and she said the whole state is going crazy.  All you heard about was Northern Iowa.

Now, you may be asking yourself where am I going with this?  How does this relate to business?  Go with me on this…..

These other schools are proving that you don’t have to be a basketball superpower to be successful.  These smaller schools may not have the biggest recruiting budget or the best facilities in the world or are able to attract a player that only plans on being in school for one year before moving on to the NBA.  Yet, the Cornell’s of the world can be successful.  Maybe you have to think a little more and do things in a smaller scale, but do it right and you can come out on top.

Not every company can be AT&T, Shell Oil, or Microsoft.  These are the powerhouses.  Most companies are like Cornell and Northern Iowa.  They may not have the largest budgets or the newest manufacturing facility or office building, but they can certainly compete with the big boys, even beating them from time to time.  It may not be easy, but it is done every day.  Take a good product/service, team it with a modest budget, good management from the top and a top effort by the employees and you have yourself a winner.

I have found that to be successful you have to think that way.  Just because you are a smaller company doesn’t mean that you don’t do things the right way.  Your marketing, product, approach all have to be first class.  The difference might be that you don’t do as much as the AT&T’s of the world.  Cut back on quantity, not quality.  That goes from the product, to the packaging, to how we interact with our customers.

How do you interact with your current and potential customers?  I don’t mean your top 10 customers, but all of the others.   Do you interact with them as much as you should?  The Pfizer Pharmaceuticals of the world have two sales forces that call on the same doctor, just to get that much more selling time with the physicians.  I don’t know too many companies that can do that.

If your sales force is you, if it is small, if it is too busy to meet new clients, if you don’t really know what your sales people are doing, you may need a little assistance in getting in front of your customers and potential clients as often as you should.  Many companies are now outsourcing in a number of departments.  You can outsource your HR department.  I know of companies that don’t even touch the product they sell.  The manufacturing, packaging and shipping are all outsourced.  That goes for your sales efforts as well.  At Randolph Sterling, we can be the added sales force, interacting with your potential customers that you don’t have the time to see.  We can relieve you of the stress of doing lead generation.  We will report to you exactly what we do each week so you would know exactly what is going on.

If you have sales people with little guidance, we offer our sales management services as well.

You may not be Kentucky, or Duke or Kansas.  Few of us are.  However, if your goal is to become a Cornell or St. Mary’s, we can certainly assist your company in reaching that level.

The Light Is Getting Brighter…What Will You Do?
March 9, 2010

While talking with a large number of manufacturing companies the last few weeks, I have noticed a positive change in attitude. Most companies were optimistic about their business as we started the new year.  The feeling seemed to be that things were getting better and 2010 would certainly show productivity to be on an increase.

These last few weeks however, it seems that they are going to be busier than even they expected. I hear more companies tell me they are currently at their manufacturing capacity. The next step will have to be adding another shift. Before they do anything with Randolph Sterling, they have to gear up for more production.

Companies are investing in their future as new websites and marketing campaigns are in the works. The number of companies who have new websites in the process of being built is growing. Likewise, marketing campaigns are flourishing. And that includes all forms of marketing: email campaigns, social media, and yes, even through the mail. It seems that we are so tired of getting all of these emails, that we delete them without even opening them up. However, with so little mail through the post office, some marketing people are suggesting a return to the mailings.  The rationale being that we get so little mail that there is a better chance of our customers looking at a mailing from us. So, we might be back to depending on the U.S. Post Office again. Not necessarily a good thing.

Former customers who decided to buy their goods from China are starting to return. The cost of goods seems to be about the same, so the big difference is, of course, labor. However, it seems, at least in some areas, that most of those savings are offset by the freight charges from China. Whatever the reason, it seems that some companies are returning to products manufactured here in the good ole USA.

Now, I don’t have any statistics to back up what I’ve said. You might have to go to the Commerce Department or one of a hundred different agencies to get the statistics on all of this. There is a saying about liars and statistics.  And one that says you can make statistics say whatever you want.

All I know is what I see and hear.  For the last five months, temporary staffing agencies are placing more workers as companies are slowly increasing their work force. Budgets have been approved for marketing, which normally is one of the first expenditures taken out of a budget when times are bad.  No longer is reputation or word of mouth enough to acquire new business.  Companies are actively searching for new customers instead of just maintaining what they have.  They are looking at outsourced sales and marketing organizations of all types to assist them with these sales efforts.

Some companies are more interested in a manufacture’s rep firm, where their outside sales people will carry the banner for their company. Others will rely on a solid marketing program, waiting and hoping for the new customers to call.  Others are looking at someone like us, Randolph Sterling, with our inside sales organization, where we can make an impact.  All have their value and place in the sales effort.  Always remember though, you can’t make a sale if you’re not in front of the right people.  That is what we do, and we do it well.

A Night at Marcello’s with the Midwest Society of Professional Consultants
March 9, 2010

Last Wednesday I attended Rich’s talk at the Midwest Society of Professional Consultants’ monthly meeting at Marcello’s in Chicago, titled “The Last Day of the Project Is the First Day of Unemployment.” Rich initiated a conversation, gave his audience a few questions to related to the topic to think about, then moderated a highly interactive group discussion before dinner, followed by smaller peer advisory sessions in groups of three or four afterwards.

The topic for the evening officially was “What do you do once you reach the end of a big project?” If you planned ahead, and your circumstances allowed it, you should either be continuing work on a different project because you make a point of working on multiple projects at one time, or you should be starting a new project because as you neared the end of your previous project, you were carving out an hour each day to search for new business. However, if time or other circumstances did not permit you to work on multiple projects or take steps to find a new one before the old one was complete, this is when you would need to begin searching for new business.

But what do you do to find that business, before or after that big project is finished up?

This is what much of the discussion Wednesday focused on because most consultants, unless they’re like Rich, did not go into business to be salespeople, but are forced to fill that role anyway to sell their expertise. Sometimes they welcome this added challenge. Other times though, they find that they are uncomfortable with the task, not good at it, or left feeling that their time would be better spent elsewhere.

Now, if you choose to handle the sales aspect of your business on your own, how do you do this? Well, if you are familiar with this blog, or know Rich, there should be many obvious answers: you can join professional organizations, sit on boards, give lectures, do trade shows, write articles, implement the social media, or partner with other professionals, among any number of other things. Essentially, you show people how good you are rather than just telling them.

It also helps to ask yourself basic sales questions such as do you want to take a scattershot approach or a more targeted one (or a combination of the two). Are you comfortable building a long term relationship with a prospect’s voicemail? Can you afford to turn clients away if they cannot offer the kind of project you are looking for? Who is your perceived competition? Who is your actual competition?

The questions that were focused on at the meeting on Wednesday when the audience broke up into smaller peer groups included things such as “What do you do?” “Who needs you?” and “Who can introduce you to those who need you?”

Now even with this guidance, some people will still not feel comfortable handling the sales end of their business, or still find it personally difficult, or simply feel their time would be better used elsewhere, and this may be a good time for them to consider hiring an outsourced sales team.