Warehouse and distribution centers and major retail chains were growing larger, material handling issues were becoming more complex, and solutions were increasingly technology-driven and software-based. Raymond found that there were more people influencing purchasing decisions at each company, and the chain of influence was moving higher up the corporate ladder.
“We needed to develop our consultative selling skills,” explained Kathy Adams, manager of information and training services for Raymond. “Our salespeople are highly regarded in the industry for their product knowledge, but we wanted them to be able to look at our customers’ needs from a broader business perspective, not just a technological perspective.”
By 1999, Raymond’s senior management had signed on to an initiative that changed the company’s sales training strategy and included an educational focus on basic business finance.
“Raymond wanted to change the sales discussion,” said Peter Pisarri, president of Alliance Performance Systems, who consulted on Raymond’s new sales training curriculum. “In addition to talking in terms of money and time saved due to product features, Raymond wanted to develop everyone’s financial literacy so each sales rep could have meaningful discussions with business executives and help address critical business issues.”
Together, Adams and Pisarri selected a business training simulation called Apples & Oranges, created by Sweden-based learning design firm, Celemi. The premise is simple: Participants work in teams to manage and track cash flow on a game board, or “work mat,” beginning with the delivery of raw materials through production, inventory, sales, distribution and billing. But the impact is significant: After just a few hours, participants understand how their customers’ businesses work—how cash moves through the business, how the company generates profits and how ineffective operations affect results. Participants have the opportunity to complete a balance sheet for several cycles or “years,” which helps them connect operations and financial performance.
Raymond took close to 400 participants through Apples & Oranges during its annual sales meeting in 2001 and generated positive response. “I love the course because you can actually see how a pile-up in inventory impacts receivables and everything else along the way,” said Richard Mattern, a Raymond dealer principal in Los Angeles.
According to Adams, Apples & Oranges also had the ability to convert skeptics at Raymond. “One of our sales executives had never experienced a training simulation and was looking for a more traditional way to present the information,” she said. “But Apples & Oranges won him over. He said that the hands-on experience, the level of fun and the opportunity to relate the concepts directly to Raymond’s business strategy was powerful.”
The benefits of matching the sales training approach to the sales training business strategy are now apparent at Raymond. “I think we successfully turned a sales monologue into a dialogue,” Pisarri said. “It was part of Raymond’s sales strategy, which I believe helped the company maintain its leadership position even after the market dropped in late 2001.”
Adams added that Apples & Oranges gave the sales team the skills to weather the economic storm. “As a result, I believe we experienced less turnover in our sales force than we would have otherwise.” She added, “Historically, when there are downturns in the economy, the Raymond Corporation, like most, experiences high turnover in our sales force. In the past, we have had as much as 50 percent turnover in a three- to five-year period, which adds to our recruitment and training expenses. Since 2001, we’ve experienced a dramatic drop in turnover—well under 30 percent. I believe our overall sales-force development effort, including the Apples & Oranges simulation, is partially responsible for this decrease.”
Michael DiGiovanni directs all North and South American sales activity for Celemi Learning Business. Michael joined Celemi in 1999, with more than 30 years of experience in the training and consulting industry. Michael works with major companies to help develop workforce knowledge, skills and understanding required to improve business performance. For more information, e-mail Michael at email@example.com.