Imagine you’re a boutique firm with a unique mission and 90-year track record of client service (no, that’s not a typo).

Grizzard-Gradient-Ignite-Action-Tag-squareYou’ve decided it’s time to raise the bar … again. The virtual world has changed the game for most of your clients and you need to help them make the most of it. You’ve also just set some aggressive growth targets and your company won’t get where it needs to unless your leaders boost their selling and influence skills. But can you do that in a way that’s consistent with who you are and what you believe in? Yes, you can.

It started with a phone call and a bagel

Sometimes the best relationships begin in unexpected ways. That was certainly the case for Grizzard Communications and The Get Real Project’s Andrea Howe. Gary Jones, Grizzard’s Chief Human Resources Officer, tells it this way:

“We were looking into sales training options for our firm. I called one vendor the Monday before the Thanksgiving holiday and left a message. By Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, I still hadn’t heard back. Our leadership team had read The Trusted Advisor, which Charlie Green co-wrote with David Maister, and we knew its principles were consistent with ours. So on a whim, I thought, ‘Let’s call Charlie and see what he might be able to do for us.’

“Charlie answered the phone himself from a New York deli. He said, ‘If you give me just a minute to finish buying my bagel and coffee I’d love to speak with you.” We talked for about thirty minutes. Charlie recommended I talk to Andrea.

“That was more than three years ago. Andrea has now led multiple learning programs for us—each building on the one prior. Obviously, we’re pleased with the results.”

Gary adds a side note about the vendor he first called:

“They were a big sales training firm. I was impressed with their reputation and marketing materials. But they took three weeks to call me back. There’s something ironic about that when the topic of conversation is sales training. By contrast, every contact with Andrea and Charlie proves they are always striving to walk their talk.”

A unique company demands a unique approach

Grizzard employees are as devoted to their clients’ missions as their clients are.

Grizzard Communications, part of the Omnicom family, is a direct marketing agency. It’s a unique company in several ways:

  • Grizzard’s target market is not-for-profits. They’ve raised billions of dollars for some of North America’s most beloved charities over the years, including the Salvation Army and American Red Cross. They also do work for animal shelters, healthcare, and rescue missions.
  • Grizzard employees are as devoted to their clients’ missions as their clients are. You get a real sense of purpose and passion when you talk with them. They know they’re making the world a better place.
  • Grizzard is a fourth-generation, family-run operation that is over 90 years old. They’ve got staying power. And they’re big enough to have the resources to get the job done, while still small enough to care about building real relationships with their clients.

An effective sales training program would have to be consistent with Grizzard’s culture, philosophy, and approach to client service.

When you’re committed to excellence, “really good” isn’t good enough

There’s never been a doubt that Grizzard is a company built on solid relationships—inside and outside the firm. The Salvation Army, for example, has been a Grizzard client for over 65 years. (That’s not a typo either.) One of the ways you get this kind of track record is by recognizing that the bar can always be raised—and then consistently raising it.

Grizzard wanted a sales training program that was, first and foremost, consistent with its values and principles.

In 2011, Grizzard took a hard look at its sales capabilities. They had always been really good at finding prospects and developing key long-standing accounts. What was missing was a more consultative sales approach to help them (1) take it to the next level and (2) meet some pretty daunting growth goals. Here’s Gary’s perspective:

“Obviously every marketing agency has clients come and go on an annual basis—that’s the nature of the business. But we pride ourselves in long-term relationships and not just trying to sell people something. Everyone here is focused on giving clients the best consultation and advice, and then products and services, that we can.”

So the Grizzard leadership team identified a special kind of sales training as an essential part of its strategic plan. They wanted to:

      • Engender loyalty with more clients, more consistently
      • Build solutions with clients that truly solve the problems they’re trying to solve, in creative and sustainable ways
      • Be more influential with clients facing today’s unique challenges, such as the uncomfortable reality of the virtual fundraising world.

Getting the leaders aligned is a critical first step

Grizzard wanted a sales training program that was, first and foremost, consistent with its values and principles. According to Gary:

“We didn’t want to start with your typical soup-to-nuts sales training, from prospect development to closing techniques. We wanted something principles-based that emphasized a foundation of trust with clients—something that would mirror our beliefs about the right and best way to do business.”

We agreed on a two-day Trust-Based Selling program for the top 35 leaders in the firm, including Grizzard’s CEO and President.

What began with one immersion workshop has evolved into a four-year partnership (and counting).

Gary says:

“We took an off-the-shelf approach with Andrea the first time, because when I looked at the baseline curriculum I liked it a lot. For an introduction it was exactly what we needed. Andrea tailored the examples, the illustrations, and the stories so that they were really relevant to us.”

The results far exceeded expectations and generated a real buzz across the firm.

“Already using the skills!!!”—Participant

Here’s Gary’s take on that first session:

“Andrea’s skills and knowledge around trust-based selling and being a trusted advisor are clearly in her DNA, and her facilitation of our group was masterful. I saw so many people who had light bulbs going off over their heads, even those with dozens of years of experience who are already very good at what they do.”

To help make the learning stick, we asked eight key leaders to serve as internal coaches for 90 days after the session.

A bigger reach deepens the learning and more than doubles the impact

What began with one immersion workshop has evolved into a four-year partnership (and counting). During that time, we’ve continued to challenge the top 35 leaders to walk the talk, and crafted ways to share the trust-based selling mindsets and skill sets with Grizzard’s next level of leadership. Gary elaborates:

“I’m a big believer in repetition. Anyone can put on a program, anyone can stand up and deliver assuming they have basic skills, but if you want to ingrain something into the culture of your organization you’ve got to reinforce it again and again and again. So the following year we developed a one-day Trust-Based Selling program designed to reach more people.

With associates and offices on both coasts of the United States, involving more people was a challenge.

“We included the 35 leaders who had already been through the immersion program, and opened it up to multiple levels to include about 70 in total—account execs, account directors, VPs, and some of the digital media people and researchers who deal directly with clients.”

With associates and offices on both coasts of the United States, involving more people was a challenge, both logistically and financially. Says Gary:

“It was cost-prohibitive to fly dozens of people from Los Angeles to Atlanta, so we got creative. We brought about 45 Atlanta-based people to the Hard Rock Café, plus Andrea.

“Then we had more than 20 people gathered in a conference room in LA, along with a few others in various locations, watching via streaming video and using audio to participate. We also split the day-long session into two afternoons to make it work better, time-wise, for our west coast participants.”

“The toolkit we created is a great reminder that I will keep handy and actually put into practice in my life (both work and personal!)”—Participant

The curriculum for workshop #2 was designed to be part review, part new learning. Gary describes it this way:

“The second year we modified using more Grizzard-specific scenarios, including very practical, tactical discussions about how we could apply trust-based selling best practices within our teams.

“Andrea also introduced some new material to the group. We gave alumni an opportunity to re-take the Trust Quotient self-assessment to see how they’ve improved, and made it available to those who hadn’t taken it before. And we challenged everyone to walk the talk after the session with their own 30-day trust-building experiment.”

“The table discussions and role playing were particularly insightful to observe and learn more about specific team challenges within the agency. I also learned more about my Trust Quotient and areas for development/focus”—Participant

Custom cases and team assignments make it really real

Two and-a-half years from the first immersion workshop, Grizzard had 70 leaders fully skilled in the trust-based selling approach. This made it possible to focus even more on practical applicationwhich is precisely what we did next. Here’s how Gary saw it all unfolding:

“The first year was the equivalent to a 101 course, the second year was a 300-level course, and the third year and beyond is certainly masters-level stuff.”

So one year after the session at the Hard Rock, we reconvened (same place, same format) for workshop #3: another one-day workshop for Trust-Based Selling alumni (as well as those new to the firm in client-facing roles)—this time with a twist.

“I love this approach. After three years, I still consider myself a student. It is core to my beliefs about client service”—Participant

Gary explains:

Having 70 leaders fully skilled in the trust-based selling approach made it possible to focus even more on practical application.

“We wanted to up the ante this time in a big way—and that’s exactly what we did, with remarkable results. We asked each of our account teams to turn in a brief but well-written case study—live stuff that our sales and service teams were working with on a regular basis—to be used during the program. Andrea took those case studies and crafted a totally customized day-long program, centered around people working in teams on these very real issues.

“We divided the 70 people across two coasts into eight pre-assigned teams (mixed up to bring fresh perspectives to each case), and had them each work the case, then share their insights and action plans with the whole group. Andrea added her expert advice to the teams’ work along with way. The session was just perfect because it gave us a way to take a team-based approach to applying all that we had learned so far.”

“I actually used ‘caveats’ the day we learned them!”—Participant

But wait—there’s more

Workshop #3 was in September. January through April is busy season for Grizzard sales teams—in other words, no better time to get real about putting the “practice” in “best practice.”

Working with targeted teams at a critical time took the program to a whole new level.

So we upped the ante even more, as Gary describes:

“We worked with Andrea to set up a virtual coaching program for two teams working some of our biggest accounts. Each team had homework: first, to document and turn in ‘here’s a client issue I’m dealing with right now.’ Secondly, each team member was asked to reflect on key questions about the case, choosing someone outside the team to use as a sounding board.

“Then each team came together with Andrea via 90-minute webinar—using as much video technology as possible to make it feel like a face-to-face meeting—for some very focused and targeted work on how to break through the challenges.”

“Thanks so much for taking the time and energy to do the one-on-one session with us. It’s so helpful to take these skills and actually apply them to our real situations. Especially in a more intimate setting.”

Getting even more laser-focused—by working with targeted teams at a critical time—took the program to a whole new level.

With commitment comes payoff

Client satisfaction. Client retention. Employee engagement. Buzzwords to some, but to Grizzard, these are real outcomes of our work together. Gary elaborates:

“We’ve invested a lot of time and money in this program over the past several years. And when I step back and think about it, it’s been a relatively small investment for some pretty big payoffs.

Client satisfaction. Client retention. Employee engagement. Buzzwords to some, but to Grizzard, these are real outcomes of our work together.

“In both Atlanta and LA, I see and hear people up and down the halls talking about the principles of the training and the real life application. Our client satisfaction scores are very healthy and I expect them to continue to rise. To me, there’s no doubt that increased revenue and client retention is a function of client satisfaction. And client satisfaction has to rise when clients and our associates see the real partnership in what we are doing together.”

The foundation underneath it all is a culture of engagement, which is a critical to Grizzard’s vitality, from Gary’s perspective:

“I’m always looking for impact beyond the account teams who are selling because the trust-based selling principles are so sound for building an engaged culture. For the last four years we have surpassed our holding company’s average scores on every facet of engagement. I know that’s at least in part due to the work we’ve done with Andrea.”

Great partnerships bring unexpected rewards

Gary and Andrea’s partnership has paid off in unexpected ways, too. They’ve become regular co-presenters at the annual Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) mega-conference <link to video>. They got rave reviews from the 600+ people in their breakout session last year. Talk more—with Gary or with us—about the work we’ve done and how it might apply to you.


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