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Creative Studio Promotions: Developing a killer sales system

“The challenge was getting through the prospect’s doors — and getting to the right perso,” said Ann Vidro.

Based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Creative Studio Promotions (CSP) provides branded merchandise to help clients increase visibility, create value and expand their businesses. Merchandise ranges from traditional swag like mugs and T-shirts to eco-friendly notebooks and branded bicycles. Yet where CSP really shines is its ability to build e-stores and provide warehouse fulfillment services. Co-founders Ann Vidro and Menda Wright launched the company in 2012, and within six years CSP was generating more than $3 million in revenue with 13 employees. To get to the next level, Vidro and Wright entered the System for Integrated Growth® (SIG) program in 2019.

One of the key areas CSP’s owners wanted to strengthen was their sales process. “If we can get in front of potential clients to do a presentation, we can close the deal,” Vidro explained. “But the challenge was getting through the prospect’s doors — and getting to the right person.”

In response, SIG specialist Kelly Hill focused on shoring up CSP’s sales infrastructure. Along with sales management best practices, Hill provided information and insights on sales messaging, forecasting and customer relationship management. Leveraging this knowledge, Vidro and Wright won five new large accounts within a few months, and they expect 2019 revenue to hit $4.5 million, a 40% increase over the previous year.

“Prior to SIG, we had a list of prospects, but were pursuing them in a haphazard manner,” explained Wright. “You can have good data, but if you’re not good at implementation it’s hard to get results. Now we have a very specific attack plan that ensures both persistence and consistency — a 10-step process where every step is logged with a date.”

“By the time we get to the 10th step, we either get a flat-out ‘not interested’ from the prospect, which saves us time — or we get a meeting,” she added. What’s more, the new system addresses accountability for sales reps by building in biweekly meetings to discuss action items and progress toward objectives.

Another aspect of the SIG engagement focused on continuous improvement. SIG specialist Adam Chiasson reviewed CSP’s main processes, including order flow, and shared strategies for achieving efficiencies to help scale the organization. “He was a wealth of knowledge,” Vidro said. “As a result, we spent several weeks looking at our largest accounts, documenting each step in the programs we run for them and clarifying duties. Streamlining has also been a big focus.”

As a follow-up to their SIG engagement, Vidro and Wright attended a retreat with other second-stage business owners at the Edward Lowe Foundation. Among other educational activities, they engaged in a value-chain analysis. “This was critical in helping us realize where our time was best spent,” Wright said. “It became apparent as we filled out the flow chart that we needed to change some things.” This led to two investments: 1) Contracting with an outside agency to step up marketing efforts, and 2) hiring a personal assistant to handle special projects.

“Our customer service reps and salespeople are very busy — and we’re pushing them to be even more productive,” Vidro explained. “Yet we were often handing them special projects that interrupted their regular workload for a couple of hours or even a couple of days. We realized that wasn’t fair or productive.”

Other takeaways from the retreat included:

  • Help with a challenging HR situation. “We were able to talk with other business owners who had been through a similar situation,” Vidro said. “Hearing how they dealt with it was very comforting, and after we went home they sent us additional information. This connection alone was worth going to the retreat.”

  • Recognizing CSP was a differentiator. “Although we sell mugs and pens, we don’t want to be a Walmart of mugs and pens,” said Wright. “We want to focus on what makes us distinct — our online stores. If we’re going to invest time and money in marketing, then it’s going to be about this distinction. That was a real aha moment, because at first we thought we were both (a differentiator and cost focused).”

“In the space we’re in, there are so many paths we could take to keep growing, and it’s not always clear how you step up to the next rung on the ladder,” Vidro said. “Yet SIG helped us gain clarity on what that next rung is. We feel like we hit the jackpot by being part of this program.”