Sales College offers long-term training, changes lives

Sales College offers long-term training, changes lives

Ford, Susan

Callers who ask for Gary Brown’s voice mail are greeted with this message in Brown’s cozy West Virginia drawl: “Have a great day and do your very best and everybody you come into contact with, build ’em up just a little bit.”

One of his friends used to tell him that in every encounter, you either build a person up or you tear them down a little. And so what Brown tries to do, and trains his people to do, is to build the other person up. “If you can and do,” he says, “people enjoy seeing you and being with you.”

That’s especially important for salespeople, who are trying to build longterm relationships.

Gary Brown opened the Sales College of Northwest Ohio in 1996. It operates from a suite of offices on West South Boundary in Perrysburg. Sales College is a franchisee of the Baltimore-based Sandier Sales Institute. Working with Brown as trainers are Kim Biggins and Pattie Hamons. Biggins has six years of experience in telecommunications sales; Hamons is a specialist in assessment.

Brown worked in sales and sales management in the insurance industry for 30 years before starting Sales College. “I made lots and lots of mistakes,” he says, and was always looking for ways to improve. He had been through most of the selling systems around when, he says, “I really fell in love with the Sandler program.”

Brown tells Sandler’s story. When he first started, Sandler’s goal was to create a seminar program. He became one of the leading seminar providers in the nation. But he was discouraged. He did a seminar in Chicago every year where he asked participants: “What’s your problem?” They said: “Here’s my problem.” The following year when he returned he heard the same list of concerns from the same salespeople. They weren’t changing.

Sandier expressed his frustration to a psychologist. “The folks aren’t learning anything from it,” the psychologist told him. “You’re not really teaching them anything. You’re there entertaining them.” If you really want people to change, he explained, you have to get them to sign on for the long term.

So Sandier developed a selling system, a long-term incremental training program. The theory underlying the program maintains that in the roles they play, people never rise above the level they see as their identity. To beef up their performance, therefore, you have to change how they perceive themselves.

“When I fell in love with the Sandler program was when I realized [it] not only deals with the roles but deals with the identity,” says Brown. “If we can get [people] to break outside that comfort zone, then all of a sudden they’re working on identity. Once we build that identity, then we start into the selling system itself.”

Although participants see growth right away, according to Brown the biggest changes in people come after 16 months of training. “And gosh, it’s hard to get people to be patient with that,” he admits.

Committing to the system clearly involves considerable cost in both time and money. But, says Brown, “it’s the only way I have found to have people really grow.

The sales training foundational program is the backbone of the Sandler system. It consists of a weekly four-hour module delivered over 15 weeks. Participants take home another four hours of work to do before the next session. All lessons are available online and Brown has created a library of print, audio, and video titles to recommend on every subject. “We try to work real, real hard to adapt to their learning style,” he says.

Participants spend another 90 minutes a week applying their new knowledge at the President’s Club, a setting for coaching, networking, problem solving, and roleplaying. Once a person has finished the foundational program they can continue coming to the President’s Club for as long as they get benefit out of it.

“When they hire in here, they actually buy a lifetime membership,” explains Brown. “We’ll have students who we won’t have seen for a year. and they’ll show up for a couple of hours and they’ll get whatever they need.”

The lifetime membership costs $6,905. Monthly payment plans are available. Brown’s rule of thumb is to give back two dollars of benefit for every dollar he charges. “If somebody is happy where they are, then we’re the wrong people to talk to,” he says. “If, however, they are interested in growth, in going to a different level, then that’s what we help people do.”

Brown uses the analogy of Tiger Woods. Two or three years ago, he says, Woods was probably the best golfer in the world. But he wasn’t satisfied. He wanted to get better. So he hired a coach and spent a year breaking down his swing and building it back at a superior level. “That’s exactly what we do,” says Brown, “except that instead of doing it in the golf world, we do it… in the sales world.”

In addition to the classes held at the Sales College, corporate training and development programs can be adapted to the needs of any company and delivered on-site. Sales management training is also offered. And in June of this year the college implemented a computer-based sales activity management system designed to track critical weekly activities of sales personnel.

Roughly 60 percent of Brown’s business comes from companies who sponsor their salespeople. The college has ongoing relationships with firms in construction, graphics, media, financial services, and IT. The remaining 40 percent consists of individuals.

Other sales seminars actually help Sales College get business. A salesperson attends one or two but isn’t satisfied – as happened to Brown himself. A poor economy also makes salespeople realize they need a reliable selling system.

“When business is good “‘ Brown explains, customers “are knocking on your door, wanting your product. Skills have a tendency to go down.” The salesman assumes his volume increases are due to his ability when in fact he’s simply operating as an order-taker. When the economy weakens, he realizes he has nothing in the pipeline. Brown says those of his clients who have great prospecting systems really haven’t suffered much in this down economy.

Brown clearly finds his work satisfying. He apologizes for getting too dramatic but can’t resist relating an anecdote.

He was at a client’s wedding not long ago. A core of people from the groom’s Sales College class had also been invited. “I had probably eight or ten wives come up to me and say, ‘Thank you for what you did for my husband. You don’t know how much it’s helped us at home.’ And I had two or three kids come up and say to me, ‘Thanks for what you’ve done for my Dad. You don’t know how our relationship has changed at home.”‘

“And that’s one of the things that’s really fun for me,” Brown concludes. “Whenever we improve somebody’s identity, it goes into all aspects of their life.”

Copyright Telex Communications, Inc. Aug 01, 2002

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