Sales Concepts, Inc., Grows Its Sales Training Business with Help from Birol Growth Consulting

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Where does a company specializing in sales training go for help to grow its own business? This was the question facing Al and Keith Strauss, the father-son owners of Sales Concepts, Inc., a sales and sales management-training firm located in Westlake, Ohio. A successful franchisee of the Sandler Selling System, Sales Concepts was heading into a new phase of its fifteen-year history and needed to establish an identity that was distinct from its founder’s reputation. Furthermore, the company wasn’t experiencing the kind of dynamic growth its products deserved. Like the cobbler whose children has no shoes, Sales Concepts simply wasn’t being as good to itself as it was to its customers.


After studying under David Sandler in 1986, Al Strauss was awarded a master franchise of the Sandler Selling System (a dynamic approach that empowers salespeople) one year later. Strauss founded Sales Concepts, Inc., and began offering customized training solutions based on the Sandler System. He ran the business full-time until 1993, when son Keith came on board. At the time, the company was very much a transactional business, in need of new customers "almost on a daily basis," as Keith Strauss noted. Those customers kept coming, attracted to the company’s ability to customize training solutions to the needs of a particular sales force. By 2002, the company had grown to seven employees and seemed to be thriving. Al Strauss had built a sterling reputation in his region, as Sales Concepts became the oldest Sandler franchise still operating west of Connecticut. Yet, the company still felt more like an entrepreneurial venture than an established and organized business. "The company wasn’t broken by any means," said Vice-President Keith Strauss, "but we weren’t seeing the kind of significant growth we wanted." Moreover, the company’s identity was so embedded in Al Strauss’s reputation that it didn’t really have a brand all its own. "The question was," said Keith Strauss, "how do you turn two personalities into a growing business that can flourish with those people’s involvement without keying only on those people?" Although his company’s specialty is to help other businesses grow, Keith Strauss felt he and his father were "too close" to understand what was really going on with Sales Concepts. But where does a surgeon go when he needs surgery? He calls someone with experience and expertise. On the recommendation of a client, the Strausses called Andy Birol.

Andy began by going right to the heart of the Strauss’s business: their customers. By interviewing a broad cross-section of past and present clients, Andy nailed down the company’s Best and Highest Use (helping sales people excel) and designed more effective strategies to find, keep, and grow customers. Over a ten-month period, Andy identified and helped Keith and Al Strauss implement changes in five crucial areas:

  • Selling. One of the first things Andy learned from Sales Concepts’ customers was that they wanted more individualized attention from the experts. Rather than delegating customer contact to a sales staff, Al Strauss re-dedicated himself to selling his prospects and training his customers. With Andy’s help, the company changed its selling model to target business owners. Keith Strauss, honoring his personal Best and Highest Use, assumed control of the daily operations of the company. Sales Concepts also instituted a system to hold its salespeople accountable for both results and activities, ensuring a relationship between the two.
  • Profiling. Andy observed that the people who did best in the Sales Concepts program possessed certain innate core abilities and attitudes such as confidence, achievement, and self-motivation. Based on this observation, he developed a profile of the company’s best customer to serve as a guide for more focused marketing campaigns.
  • Marketing. Andy oversaw a complete re-engineering of Sales Concepts’ marketing materials. He brought in Crawford Design, another successful BGC client, to manage the development of a new identity system. Sales Concepts gained a fresh new look and feel for its messages, copy, and images, and launched a new e-mail newsletter system.
  • Teaching. One consistent request Andy heard from clients was that they needed more feedback and "one-on-one" time with trainers, as well as more opportunities to practice what they were learning. Seeing an opportunity for a good curriculum to get even better, Andy helped Keith and Al Strauss revamp their training courses and workshops to include live practice sessions and "real-world" examples.
  • Gaining Referrals. Andy realized that Sales Concepts wasn’t capitalizing on its biggest strength: the success of its graduates! To help the company turn customers into champions, he developed a customer advisory council, which invites graduates of the training programs to participate in a system of feedback, networking, and referrals through regular quarterly meetings. Clients who attend the meetings have become a regular source of new business for Sales Concepts.

In the 18 months since Keith Strauss began working with Andy, he has seen major changes in his business. Trainees have enthusiastically greeted the new curriculum, which combines lecture with exercises and examples to reinforce learning and encourage feedback.

"It happened almost immediately," Keith Strauss noted, adding that "new clients are learning at a much faster rate than we’ve ever seen before." The result is a more satisfied customer, which often leads to more customers. As Strauss remarked, "There are people who come into our training, and within the first month they are giving us 2 to 3 referrals...That didn’t happen before."

The customer advisory council is also a big hit. In December 2002, the council was featured in a favorable article in Fortune Small Business. Not only has the council provided a steady source of quality referrals, but it also has created a bond between the company and its former clients.

"Our core product is how we train people," said Strauss, "but before the council came about, we hardly ever heard back from them. Now that we’re reaching out, we get consistent feedback and a lot of new business."

Also encouraging new business is the fresh identity system, with a succinct logo--"Sell More"--that clearly conveys the company’s Best and Highest Use. The total result? A 20-25% increase in inquiries and a boost of about 20% in new business in just one year. And, because Strauss was able to streamline his staff, the company is operating more cost-effectively. More importantly, perhaps, is the confidence he now has in his business.

"Too many companies try to do too many things and end up not doing anything very well," Strauss said. "Andy’s got an uncanny knack for taking a look at a business and figuring out what makes sense and what doesn’t ...We had been looking at adding products and services, trying to grow the business, but now we know our Best and Highest Use. We’re really good at helping sales people sell more," he said, "and that’s where our focus is."

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