Sales Superstars of the Year
By Jennifer Vishnevsky
This year, we went on our second annual search for the Advantages Sales Rep of the Year. We also decided to shine a light on the Advantages first-ever Sales Support Person of the Year, that person behind the scenes who is also vital to a company’s bottom line. Learn about each powerhouse performer and meet our runners-up here.
SALES REP OF THE YEAR: Mark McCormack
As if more than doubling his sales and winning two international requests for proposals (RFPs) last year wasn’t impressive enough, Mark McCormack also spent 2010 taking a new approach with clients and prospects.
The super-selling owner of Proforma Identity Marketing Group (asi/300094), who is responsible for 80% of the sales, has transitioned to selling complete programs which incorporate e-commerce, technology and multimedia into the mix. “It’s been phenomenally successful. We’ve taken all of the elements and put them into one program. When someone asks me if I’m a promo guy, I tell them that I work at a comprehensive branding and deployment agency,” he says.
McCormack points out the importance of starting up the right conversation the first meeting. “Instead of pitching an item, we explain that we do more. If they look at me as the guy who sells hats once a year, they won’t think of us as the total resource,” he says.
Positioning his company as that total resource has paid off. In 2009, total sales were $1.6 million and the company was slated to reach $3.3 million in 2010. In a nutshell, that’s our winner.
Where It All Started
Hailing from Omaha, NE, McCormack ventured out of state to Northwest Missouri State University, where he majored in fine arts. “When I was getting out of school, my dad had a friend who bought a promo products company. All of his employees quit and he didn’t have anyone, so he asked me to do some artwork. Then, I went on a sales call,” he says.
What happened next was eye-opening. McCormack went out to sell pens and wound up getting a $20,000 order. When he came home to tell his girlfriend Jennifer, who is now his wife and does the billing and runs the office, she asked him if he was going to get paid commission. He asked his boss, who told him that he would. He realized that his commission from two hours was more than he had made in the last two months. “I was doing 94% of their sales and nobody else was really selling,” he says. Starting his own business was enticing. “But, it was like the video game Frogger. I didn’t want to jump off the curb and get hit by the bus. I didn’t have the cash flow to put into a new business and I wasn’t ready to mortgage my house,” he says.
However, McCormack met up with a Proforma recruiter at a trade show and left that first promo products company almost seven years ago. He began his business by searching the phone book and calling all of the places that had big ads, which translated to a big budget.
Fast-Forward to Today
He’s come a long way since then. Now, McCormack has two support people who manage accounts and two full-time graphic artists that help with the creative part. And while he handles the bulk of the sales (in December alone, he had about 300 orders), the other 20% is handled by his mother, a retired schoolteacher who has an in and does a great job with the educational market.
Having a background in design helps McCormack stay at the top of creativity, both product-wise and in regard to tools he creates for his clients. “I can present 20 products in 20 minutes. This allows me to float ideas to see what sticks and resonates with a client. Out of the 20 items, I know the products that will work and I can guide the client to the right ones through dialogue with them on rollout, budget and lead times,” he says.
“I’m a gadget guy, so rather than go play basketball, I check and see what I can create. I’ll end up creating a tool that I can pitch across different industries, which translates into sales,” McCormack adds.
One example is his creation of an inventory-less company store for a client to help them save money and speed up the ordering process. “Most company stores start as a way to liquidate trade-show inventory. But if an item has been in a store for three months and it’s not getting any traffic, it shouldn’t be there,” he says.
McCormack decided that the inventory-less store was a great way to manage the pipeline. “The inventory is a huge burden, either for the client or for the distributor,” he says. “I had a client last year that wanted about nine pages of inventory on items. The cost for carrying one of every size in every color the client desired would have been over $500,000 in inventory. And that is for only one of each color in each size.”
While this would have been a huge sale, the client usage would have never equaled the volume to justify it and, “I would look like a crook,” McCormack says. “I presented the inventory-less solution and we were awarded a long-term deal that will be much more profitable in the long run.”
Best advice: “Clients want to know how to use the items you sell. You can charge for this education. Show it can be done, and done right, and the client will value your proposition. If you just pitch price you become the commodity,” he says. “Also, ditch bad clients. You can find two great clients for the time one bad one takes up. And you will get paid much better.”
It took two major moves and a huge career shift for Cody Sanderson to land at Overture, but the result has been plentiful. Born in Montana, he moved with his family to the San Francisco Bay Area as a kid. When he was a senior in high school, they moved to Illinois, his current home.
Sanderson attended the College of Lake County in Waukegan, IL, and right out of school, went to work at a credit union in the member services department. Then, he broke into the mortgage industry as a loan officer. After figuring out the business, he decided to go on his own and opened a brokerage branch, which he ran for over two years, until he noticed a decline in the mortgage industry. He was ready for a change.
He found an opportunity that was all in the family. His mother, Heather, is the CEO of Overture, so Sanderson came onboard and went after Fortune 500 companies. At age 26, he is the youngest sales rep at the company, not to mention, a single dad to Ashton, who is 7.
“The transition from mortgages to promotional products was a huge learning curve. As far as the sales side, I had done a lot of cold calling and networking, so I had to learn more about products and industry terms,” he says.
As a prior entrepreneur, Sanderson has learned to build relationships and secure multi-million dollar sales. When he came to Overture, he took part in the mentoring program, working with industry leaders. He secured well over $1 million in sales for 2010 after being in the industry for only three years. “I really like going into large corporations and working with them on their marketing initiatives. My favorite things are both the creative side and then closing a big sale,” he says.
He educates his clients about smart buying and planning out a promotion. “I’m constantly striving to change our customers’ image of the promotional products industry. I’m providing them with solutions that tie into the brand initiative,” he says.
One such project is finalizing a contract with a major beverage and bottling company. “I reached out to them for almost a year and a half making contacts. We finally got an opportunity to do a request for proposal,” he says. Overture flew the potential client in to take a tour of the facility. Sanderson made a presentation that blew them away: “They went back home and selected us as the vendor to work on custom projects and national programs,” he says.
And while it might sound like Sanderson is all work, he takes time out for concerts, cooking and adventures with Ashton. Most recently, the father-son duo wrapped Christmas presents for needy children. “I told Ashton that I received a top-secret letter from Santa Claus and that Santa needed his help,” he says.
Best advice: “Selling is listening. Don’t assume that all of your customers are always just looking for the new ‘hot’ items. Engage your customers with calculated questions that reveal their true goals and objectives,” Sanderson says. “Gather as much information as you can and then deliver creative solutions that best fit their needs.”
When it comes to fresh, creative ideas, look no further than Nina Shatz. In May 2010, Shatz joined Red Ball Promotions (a division of Triad Advertising) as head of sales. With just about a year under her belt, her sales volume in 2010 was at least $500,000.
Her path to Red Ball is definitely non-traditional. In college, Shatz worked for the New York State Senate as a legislative assistant. After school, she planned to go to law school. “My car was packed and ready to go. I pulled out of the driveway and changed my mind. I had no clue what I wanted to do,” she says. She worked for a year at a camp, doing special events, and was referred to a program at Brandeis University, where she earned her Master’s in nonprofit management.
During her program, Shatz had a few internships, one of which was working with the special-needs department of the Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Greater Boston. She went on to become the youth director at Striar JCC and moved her way up the chain to become Jewish family educator.
Shatz did a lot of programming and fundraising within the building and partnered with other nonprofit organizations, which led to a natural progression to promotional products. She broke into the industry in 2005, and later found the Red Ball opportunity through social media. “A partner at Triad reached out to me on LinkedIn,” she says.
So how did Shatz get her sales off the ground so quickly? A few unique projects didn’t hurt. Think: condoms. She wrote an order for 100,000 condoms for The AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod, co-sponsored by the Massachusetts Board of Health. “My favorite slogan that they used was, ‘This is Just Between You and Me,’” she says.
In addition, each summer, the same group orders fashion-forward T-shirts to give out. If someone fills out an anonymous survey for the Board of Health, they get a package with the T-shirt and some condoms. “I’ve been doing that order every year now. It’s very amusing when you see my files and it says water bottles, robes, condoms, shirts,” she says.
Shatz is also currently working on an internal training program for a high-end hotel chain, where she put together a “party in a box” for each hotel to bring together all employees to kick off the program. She came up with the idea of a Girl Scout-type pin that everyone receives. The managers can give employees other pins that they earn through acts of professionalism, passion and kindness at the workplace.
Being a foodie helped her land one of her favorite clients. Before Guy Fieri was the host of Minute to Win It, Shatz noticed that Fieri always wore a terrycloth wristband. So she sent an e-mail to his website, telling them that she’d love to send a pink wristband for him to wear in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and got a response from his manager asking for wristbands with Guy’s logo on it. She wound up doing bobbleheads and plenty more for the account, too.
A day at Red Ball looks perfectly busy. Shatz gets at least 10 orders a day, which gives her a chance to be creative. “It’s a lot like being a personal shopper on a very different level. You’re able to create long-lasting relationships. That’s not something you get in every job,” she says.
She’s no slacker in her “free time,” either. She’s mom to a 10-year old daughter and 22-year-old stepdaughter. Two nights a week, she taps back into her JCC roots and teaches seventh-grade Hebrew. And if you’re headed to The ASI Show Orlando, stop by and meet Shatz for yourself. She’s presenting “Secrets to Penetrate the Billion-Dollar Education Market.”
Best advice: Be bold. Don’t be afraid of the ‘no.’ Just take it as a challenge and keep trying,” she says. “And always carry business cards; you never know when an opportunity arises for you to find a new client. Don’t be afraid to send e-mails to clients with new ideas. Even if they don’t like them, they will remember you are there, and finally put through that order they had been too busy to think about.”
SALES SUPPORT PERSON OF THE YEAR
When you talk to Diane Plourde, you can’t help but notice that she is a genuinely nice, helpful person. It comes as no surprise that we were flooded with nominations for her work at Geiger (asi/202900). Here’s a sample: “Diane Plourde is a winner, as she keeps her 12 high-flying Geiger reps on the straight and narrow and primed with ideas she sees pass by her desk,” says Henry Shepherd, a 30-year Geiger rep.
Born and raised in Lewiston, ME, Plourde is the middle child among three sisters. She has been happily married for 32 years, is the mother of two daughters and grandmother of two boys. “I had very specific sights. I wanted to be an artist, who wanted to be a politician. I was going to school for art history. My then-fiancée asked me what I was going to do with that, but I didn’t know. I took some political science classes, but it just didn’t make much sense,” she recalls.
A “Jill” of All Trades
Plourde’s first job was as a bookkeeper for an office of five lawyers. From there, she went to work as a typist in the fabricational steel business. “We sold to contractors and different mills in Maine and New Hampshire,” she says. Plourde worked there for 25 years. “When I left, I was basically running the office. I did inside and outside sales. At the time, I was the only female salesperson selling steel in the state of Maine,” she says. After steel service, she went to a company where she was able to learn great selling skills, but after a big layoff, she found Geiger. She has been a sales service specialist for over three years now.
A Rep’s Best Friend
After 25 years in the foreground of sales, she’s now in the background supporting 12 sales partners throughout the United States. She attends vendor presentations, looks for new ideas, makes e-mail presentations, quotes clients, places orders, works with production partners and more. “As a salesperson for so long, I needed someone on the inside to depend on when I was on the road. I wanted to become that person,” she says. Plourde supports a total of $2 million and a few dozen orders per day among the sales partners.
When it comes to her reps, Plourde says they are the best part of the job. The feeling is mutual, since her reps have nothing but praise for her. “Diane Plourde at Geiger is the most incredible sales support person anyone could ever dream of having. She is reliable, creative, kind, and she somehow just gets what I need, no matter how large or how small the project or request. I know everyone else she takes care of feels the same way. No one does it like Diane,” says AJ O’Connor, a rep with Corporate Incentive Consultants on behalf of Geiger.
Plourde and O’Connor recall a memorable experience working on an order for Ohio State University. O’Connor’s customer had an event at OSU involving cheerleaders and football players. The customer kept adding quantities and changing sizes. “It started out being a total mess. I grouped each category together to stay organized,” says Plourde.
The rep was also getting calls about different art, changing which shirts would have the art and then adding referee shirts. “Diane was calling the suppliers with shortage amounts, back orders, etc. It was a nightmare. But she always remained pleasant, positive and got the job done,” says O’Connor.
Another time Plourde really came through with a $10,000 order for O’Connor. While attending an end-user trade show, she spoke with a wearables supplier. “He told me about all of these closeouts he had. After the show, I came back to the office and remembered that AJ was telling me she needed jackets,” Plourde says. So she put together jackets from the company with sizing and colors available and helped O’Connor book that major order.
Ready, Willing and Able
It could be the sheer number of “saves” that makes her a winner, but Plourde just thinks it’s her willingness to work. “I’m not afraid to do a bit of digging to find something. I’m able to look at an order and say that if we do it one way, it’s going to be better. One of my best qualities is that I was in outside sales. I know what the people need out there,” she says.
Even though she skipped the artist career path, she still paints. She has sold some of her work and continues to go to a class every Monday night. In her free time, she also knits, gardens and takes care of her parents. And if you ever catch Plourde when she’s out of the office, you might notice a quote at the end of her e-mail’s “away” message: “Never look down on someone unless you are helping them up!” That’s been her motto for years. “You have to treat people the way you want to be treated. It’s so important to do that,” she says.
As a Syracuse, NY native, Corinn Boyla didn’t expect to wind up working in Charlotte, NC. But when a friend begged her to go to college in North Carolina, she headed to Barton College to study social work. She worked in a nursing home for more than three years after school. Then, she was ready for a break.
After looking in the paper, Boyla saw a job advertisement for Bluegrass, a then-small company. “I told my husband I’d give it a year and see where it goes. Last month was my 12-year anniversary,” she says. She started as a receptionist and then moved up to become a sales assistant.
Coming from her background in social work, Boyla didn’t even realize that promotional marketing existed. “I worked with sales reps, attended vendor meetings and learned what the business was about,” she says. Today, Boyla supports 10 reps. Through October 31, 2010, she has supported sales of more than $3.5 million. Her order volume is more than 9,200 total line items.
Boyla’s main responsibilities are processing/transmitting sales reps’ orders to vendors, following up with suppliers, confirming receipt of orders nd ship dates for proofs and for orders, e-mailing proofs to customers, responding to their inquiries and maintaining order notes. When reps aren’t available, Boyla is the first point of contact for customers. “In addition to her extremely good organization, Corinn’s strength is her willingness to go way beyond what her job asks for her to do. She doesn’t leave the office because her eight-hour shift is up. She makes sure that every order has been followed up and everyone has gotten the information they are waiting for before her day ends,” says Dave Claunch, executive vice president of sales at Bluegrass.
Claunch recalls a recent order that could have gone poorly. After 5 p.m. on a Friday, Boyla received a call from a vendor telling her that they were unable to meet their production commitment and make a shipment overnight for an event on Saturday. She called the local Leed’s rep on his cell phone. He contacted the factory and conferenced Boyla in to select the items that could be produced in 12 hours and shipped to make the event the next day. This is only one of many jobs well done.
What makes Boyla a winner? “I work hard and I take it very seriously. I’ve always had the mentality to give 110% when people are counting on you. Sometimes it takes a little bit of extra work, but I have no problem with that,” she says.
Meet Megan Geudeker, the go-to girl. “I value TAG! as a company and I value my role in the company. I try to treat it like it’s my own to help it grow, succeed and prosper,” she says. “People always want me in the trenches with them. It’s kind of nice to know that you’re valued in that way.”
Geudeker started at TAG! more than 10 years ago, through a referral of a friend working next door. She was moving back to Camarillo, CA, after being out of the area for a few years “My family is here; I just couldn’t stay away,” she says.
As Geudeker recalls, she just fell into the job. She started mostly as a bookkeeper and then became cross-trained in most of the business. “This industry can be very demanding, but it’s a learning process along the way,” she says.
She supports upwards of $1 million in revenue to the company on her own. “She, along with two other people, works specifically with key accounts only, and so technically, she primarily supports my personal sales efforts, but she does step in and help other salespeople when necessary,” says Tonia Allen Gould, CEO. “Throughout the years, I have received legions of client testimonials pertaining to Megan’s involvement in high-visibility projects with our Fortune 500 clients.”
According to Gould, Geudeker lives, eats and breathes TAG!, working all hours of the day and night. She touches every project that comes through TAG!, through her supplier involvement or working directly with the client or the team on the projects from concept to completion. Add to this the fact that she’s the mother of three with plenty of extracurricular activities to attend to, as well.
“There aren’t many employees that can do everything, but Megan is truly one of those people with a can-do spirit and a never-say-die attitude,” Gould says.
Spotlight on a Sales Team
Sometimes, you just can’t pick one. That’s the issue that Rachel Levin ran into. The marketing/sales manager at Motivators Inc. (asi/277780), was struggling to choose one member to spotlight from the 10-person sales team. So, she nominated everyone.
Levin did so with good reason. In the past six years, Motivators has had an increase in sales of more than 375%. It’s been voted a top place to work and among the fastest-growing small businesses in the U.S. Each member of the sales team strives to reach more than $100,000 in sales each month. The team averages more than 1,000 orders per month.
They also have a wide range of experience levels, ranging from employees who have been there since the near beginning, like Greg Hill, to newbies like Ali Derkatch.
Hill started with Motivators more than six years ago. In the beginning, he did everything from order entry to customer service. Three years ago, he moved to Massachusetts with his wife and began working remotely. Even though he’s not in the office, he feels like he’s in the thick of it all. “The rest of the sales team has been super-helpful and does some legwork for me,” he says.
That all-for-one mentality makes all the difference. Everyone brings something special to the table, and they are all working toward the same objective: success for everyone.
“We come from different backgrounds, but our personalities mesh very well together,” says Derkatch, who’s been with the company for a little over a year. She’s a recent college grad from the University of Miami, where she studied advertising and marketing. “My favorite thing is that I’m always busy and I get to be creative,” she says. As for the team she says, “We have the same goal in mind, but everyone has their own specialty.”
Jennifer Vishnevsky is a staff writer for Advantages.