Sales training seminars rarely made sense to Randy Illig back in the late 1990s, when he tried to grow his IT services business in suburban Philadelphia.
The sessions were entertaining, and rah-rah, but nothing stuck with the staff in any long-term measurable way. Illig began to think the accepted sales-improvement model — information overload with the expectation that a few choice nuggets would stick — was flawed. “People would go to a training and they would have a good time,” says Illig. “But they didn't get any better.”
Illig's solution, in conjunction with a few business partners, was to launch a company that treats sales improvement as a constant work-in-progress. Something that requires practice and diligence to a system, much like learning the violin or losing weight.
“We took the idea of deliberate practice and applied it to sales,” Illig says. “We broke away from the idea to do training and just hope people get something out of it.”
The concept, which now includes consulting, live and virtual training, clearly resonates: The 22-employee company, Lakewood Ranch-based Ninety Five 5, has grown significantly since it was founded in 2007. Revenues increased 822% from 2008 to 2011, from $1.5 million to $13.7 million. Ninety Five 5 also made the Inc. 500 list of the fastest-growing companies in the country this year. The company placed 466th on the list, one of eight Gulf Coast-based companies to make the top 500.
Clients are diverse, from powerhouse brands, like Dell and Microsoft Partner Channel, to five-employee IT companies. Clients are also worldwide, and the Ninety Five 5 training materials have been translated in seven languages. The name of the company is an enhanced version of the 80/20 business theory, where 80% of the results are derived from 20% of the work. Illig says the firm believes 95% of the results should come from 5% of the work.
Ninety Five 5 partner Judy Mimeault says one of the key selling points to potential clients is the company guarantee: Ninety Five 5 will provide a refund if a client doesn't generate a return from its products. Says Mimeault: “That takes away some of the barriers of 'will this pay off?'”
Illig, 50, runs Ninety Five 5 from a home office in east Manatee County. The other employees are scattered across the country. Illig has run his own businesses since he was in his late 20s. The IT services firm he owned in West Chester, Pa., outside Philadelphia, grew from $23 million in annual sales to $45 million in two years, after he met sales consultant Mahan Khalsa. One of Khalsa's themes: Practice, not birthright, makes a top salesperson.
Illig left the IT company and semi-retired to the Sarasota-Bradenton area with his family in 2002, when the business had about $50 million in annual sales and 450 employees. Five years later Illig, Khalsa and Craig Christensen, a onetime executive with training and consulting firm FranklinCovey, co-founded Ninety Five 5.
Illig would like to see the company continue its torrid growth pace, and even hit $50 million in annual sales within five years. But he doesn't want to hit a number for the sake of hitting a number. “Our business will grow in a good economy or a bad economy,” Illig says, “because we are focusing on helping people do something they care about.”
Randy Illig, co-founder of Ninety Five 5, a fast-growing sales consulting firm, offers the following tips to anyone who seeks to boost sales results.
• Truth works: Be up front with the product or service, and its benefits. Don't exaggerate. “Get clear proof of how you can help people,” says Illig. “Document it.”
• Get known: Seek more customers through a consistently growing referral network. Says Illig: “There is no better salesman than your last happy customer.”
• Practice process: Illig says a repeatable system is a big key to long-term sales success. “Anybody can learn to sell, regardless of IQ or how good they look,” Illig says. “But you have to have a system.”