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COVER STORY

DIRECT CONNECTIONS

Volunteer Salespeople Learn Invaluable Skills, Benefit Their Companies’ Bottom Line

September 2012

By David Zaslawsky

Photography by Robert Fouts

The owner of two travel-related companies was trying to convince an executive to use travel for incentives, but he wasn’t interested.

Later, that business owner – Liz Sutton, president of both Alabama World Travel and Sutton & Associates – talked to that company’s CEO about sponsoring an event/product as part of the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce’s Total Resource Campaign (TRC).

As a volunteer salesperson for the TRC, Sutton was sitting across the table from the CEO and discussing the Chamber’s events, products and publications that his company could sponsor.

“I was able to get into that door,” Sutton recalled, “and I was there just for the Chamber. On the way out, I commented that … the VP of sales wasn’t invested in the idea of travel incentives.”

The CEO said, “ ‘Let’s have lunch – you, me and my VP of sales,’ ” Sutton said. “I just think that would not have happened had I not been sitting across the table from him (the company CEO) about a Chamber sponsorship.”

She made the sale.

Getting that door open and sitting across from a CEO is one of the many benefits for the TRC’s volunteer sales force.

“Banking is a large sell whereas other types of products and services are sold on a very short sale cycle,” said Andy Huggins, a senior vice president of BankTrust. “Unless there is a sense of urgency on the part of the business owner to make a change you may or may not be able to get in the door. But when I have my Chamber hat on and I make that phone call and say, ‘I need to speak to you regarding the Chamber’s TRC,’ it opens doors and sort of takes down that wall between me and a business owner. It allows us to communicate about something that is not about me and it’s not about them – it’s about the Chamber.”

Arlinda Knight, director of continuing education division and Title III-B program for H. Councill Trenholm State Technical College, met some Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama executives while she was a volunteer salesperson for the TRC.

“We have developed a relationship with Hyundai and provided training for them,” Knight said. “They are now serving on some of our advisory boards.”

That relationship resulted in Trenholm offering courses in automotive manufacturing, which brings more students to the college and more qualified workers to the Hyundai plant in Montgomery.

It was an important connection that was made between a TRC salesperson’s company and another company that benefited both of them.

“Relationships forged in the TRC have allowed me to expand the portfolio of loans and deposits that I have to manage – some of it directly and some of it indirectly,” Huggins said.

All three – Sutton, Knight and Huggins – have sold sponsorships in every TRC and are involved in the Chamber’s seventh and current campaign.

They talked about dealing with people who they probably would not come across in their day-to-day work activities and those people are decision-makers. It opens doors that previously were not open to them.

When the TRC volunteer salespeople call on prospective clients, they not only represent the Chamber, but their company as well.

“My job calls for me to develop relationships with a lot of different segments as it relates to centers of influence,” Huggins said. “The TRC has been one of the best experiences for developing centers of influence.”

He said the centers of influence are individuals or companies that can refer business to you, and that is incredibly valuable to a banker. He said, “It allows me to use a different tactic to get in front of a business that I might not have a relationship with.”

The three learned to hone their selling skills by being on the TRC volunteer staff and they learned not to take it personally when someone rejects their proposal.

“Because I’m in sales and I am the sole salesperson for Sutton & Associates, I get very discouraged when somebody says no,” Sutton said. “I learned that it’s OK. If we’re not a good match for people then it’s all right. I learned that from the TRC.

“It doesn’t mean that I’m not a good salesperson. It doesn’t mean that they don’t like me or my company. It just means that we’re not a good fit and that’s OK.”

Knight said that she has learned to adjust when people say no. At first, she said she became so discouraged that she did not want to call the next person “because the last person said no.” She said she outgrew that.

As a banker, Huggins said he is accustomed to hearing no, but selling sponsorships in the TRC has made him a better listener – an important sales skill.

For Sutton, it’s also matter of credibility. “I am a woman-owned business and working in a man’s world,” she said. “I think it (TRC) gives me and our company some great visibility and credibility. I feel like when they get to know me they understand who I am and the values that are important to me.

“It has helped us grow our business. It has afforded us opportunities to get into the doors of companies that we may not have in the past. It has allowed us to expand our leads and our business. I also think it has helped me get on more boards and task forces and that has given me another group of contacts of business leaders.

“It has increased our bottom line. People in the Montgomery community have referred me to their regional offices in other parts of the country that have opened doors for me. And those are priceless referrals and connections.”


For more information on the Total Resource Campaign, CLICK HERE.