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Business Observer Friday, Dec. 6, 2013 4 years ago

Sales refocus

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Now that Tampa-based Creative Sign Designs dragged itself out of the downturn and continues to post consistent year-over-year growth, Kelly Crandall looks to ramp up her sales team.
by: Traci McMillan Correspondent

Kelly Crandall has never viewed herself as a salesperson. She likes to think of herself more as an educator.

Whatever her title, Creative Signs Design's 45-year-old director of sales is heading up a company with consistent year-over-year double-digit revenue growth since its low point in 2008. The company is on track to surpass $14 million in revenue this year, 17% higher than its $12 million goal. The figure is about a 25% increase from the $11.16 million in sales it logged in 2012. With a goal to reach $25 million in annual revenue within three years, the company is on a mission to continue its aggressive growth.

Several large contracts closed in September, allowing the company to reach an all-time high for monthly sales at $1.47 million. “There's no special sauce, just a lot of hard work,” Crandall says.

The company, which makes signs for education campuses, health care facilities, residential real estate, hotels, and more, has grown from 75 employees in 2012 to more than 110 in 2013. Now Crandall is looking to build her 10-person sales team to 15 over the next 12 months.

Crandall isn't interested in hiring salespeople in the traditional sense. She wants to find other people who are good at educating clients. “I've never looked at it as selling. I have a product or service that could benefit someone. I'm going to see if I can help them,” Crandall says.

Signage is often an undervalued part of the design and architecture process, Crandall says. “Clients don't realize the importance until after people complain.” Silence is golden in an industry where “good signage you won't hear anything; bad signage you'll hear complaints,” she adds.

An experience visiting a college campus or going to a hospital can be greatly impacted by how easy or difficult it is to find your way around. That's why education plays a major role in the sales process. “When you're doing that, you're not selling,” she says. “You're consulting and providing solutions.”

She says most sales managers make the mistake of focusing on the numbers, rather than focusing on the people. “If you focus on the people, the numbers will come,” Crandall says.

Around 80% of the company's business is in Florida, according to Crandall. New prospects are often identified through newspaper articles like the Business Observer's Top 30 Construction Projects, she says.

The team is now focused on building its portfolio with companies that also have an aggressive national growth strategy. Recent clients that fit the bill include World of Beer, Buddy's Home Furnishings, and WellCare, which has used the Creative Sign Designs for more than 20 locations nationwide.

Crandall's story with Creative Sign Designs has not always been one of growth. In 2005, it only took a week to persuad Crandall to leave her position of managing 40 Bank of America retail locations to, with a colleague, co-manage a new business venture, at the time Creative Mailbox and Sign Designs. Within 90 days, Crandall's confidence was so high she decided to buy into partial ownership. “I had no idea what I was going into. We thought we were brilliant. Little did we know, the residential real estate market was going to collapse.”

The firm repositioned itself, concentrating heavily on commercial signs, and Crandall transitioned to a role completely focused on sales. Now around 30% of the company's business is mailboxes, the firm's former specialty.

Because Crandall was forced to learn the business from scratch, and figure out the best sales process for commercial clients by working in the field, she says she “understands what it takes to learn the business and not take any excuses” for lack of performance.

Her team's performance is a result of management setting clear expectations, Crandall says. Each team member has a monthly goal, and she meets with team members one on one every other week to discuss challenges, opportunities and areas where they need help. Team members also have quarterly and annual reviews. “You have to tell people what to expect, coach along way, celebrate successes, and put back on the correct path when they are going astray,” Crandall says.

Crandall requires that each of her sales team members go to at least one networking event each month. “If at the very least, you just put a good name out there for Creative Sign Design, that's OK for me,” she says. Crandall herself is active in the YMCA, serving on both the finance and philanthropy committees, attending at least four networking events a month.

Sales Tips
Desperation in a salesperson is an ugly quality: Don't worry about making the sale, just try to listen to a person, analyze the situation and propose a solution, Crandall tells her sales team. “Talk about our expertise and wow them in the process.”

Take a genuine interest in people: Get to know your clients so you understand what it is that they need and what motivates them to make a sales decision, Crandall says. The same goes for building a sales team. “If you understand what motivates the people who work for you, you'll be able to coach them to make them more successful,” she says.

Be consistent in providing feedback: Crandall says managers should remain focused on improving the quality of their people. Top performers need you just as much as bottom performers. Make difficult decisions sooner rather than later and stick to the process. “Hope is not a strategy,” she says. If people are not achieving expectations, create a 90-day performance plan and assess quickly if they capable and willing to make changes to improve.

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