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Sold on talent Featured

5:55am EDT November 23, 2005
When the digital revolution hit the office, Ben Russert knew that there were plenty of opportunities for his copier company to grow.

“Being a traditional copier company, we recognized with the advent of digital that we were going to be able to take advantage of the technological changes, we were going to be able to go in and start developing document workflow and other processes and help fix a lot of customers’ problems there,” says Russert, president and CEO of ProSource.

Growth wasn’t a problem for ProSource — it was averaging 16 percent a year for the past five years and more than doubling its revenue. The challenge, Russert says, was to find the best people and prepare them for selling to IT people instead of to purchasing agents, and to get them to view themselves as document management problem-solvers rather than simply as copier sales agents.

The key to growth was finding the top talent and preparing those people to keep the growth engine going. Russert’s formula: Find the best people and give them top-notch training and plenty of incentives to perform.

What is the most critical factor in meeting the demands of fast growth at ProSource?
Probably the No. 1 thing is hiring great people. That’s something I’ve focused on forever. We basically look at hiring great people and then hiring great managers to help develop those people and meet our objectives.

First and foremost, we are a sales organization. We’ve never lost sight of that. We look at reinforcing processes. When we originally started ... there was very little in terms of processes. Now, with over 125 people, we have to have a lot of processes to communicate properly.

Has the sales process changed substantially?
It’s not a very complicated sales process, but there’s a lot of activity and it’s tough out there. There’s a lot of competition. It’s very transactional and you’re talking to a lot of people.

People aren’t going to do business with our company, they’re going to do business with our folks, so it’s about developing the right kinds of relationships. So while we’re very assertive and aggressive in our approach, we are not going to go in and try to force a deal. What we will do is try to facilitate that deal to their needs.

So the skills we might develop are how do you get past the gatekeeper, how do you communicate effectively over the phone, how to close a deal.

How do you find and recruit those people?
The best folks are working for somebody else, so recruiting is a big part of what we do. As the leader of the organization, one of my main focuses is recruiting and hiring great people. The best folks we’ve brought on board were referrals.

The thing that’s worked best for us is to bring people into our organization and grow them from within. We have hired a few folks from outside and, as we grow, as we get larger, we’re going to have to embrace that, certainly, because we’re going to need to bring some talent on that we haven’t had before.

We have a very unique process where, when new folks are hired, they come in and interview with key people within the organization. The new hire does the interviewing of us, so they have access to everyone in the company that’s a major influencer, and, of course, me, the owner.

Here’s something I learned a long time ago, and it’s a big part of our culture. Winners and successful people like to be measured ... so doing that allows them to grow. What I found is those winners and successful people generally hang out with other winners and successful people.

So through those relationships and contacts, we find other winners.

How do you motivate the sales support staff?
Probably the biggest thing we do is we have everybody focused on our financial targets. We have quarterly meetings where I update everybody on our financials departmentally as well as overall company objectives.

We keep track all year long on that and we inform everyone about it. They’re all on a compensation plan for their departments but then they also have the ability to earn money above that on an annual basis.

There’s a portion of it that is set that’s based on tenure, but there’s another portion that can be a lot bigger ... based on the manager’s discretion. It’s important as we stay focused on the goals that people are participating, and we’ll pay them for it.

How do you retain those talented people?
There are great rewards systems here. We have a lot of contests, and those go on monthly. We also have annual ones. Twice a year, we have large sales blitzes, sales promotions, and everyone in the company’s involved.

Everyone who is not a direct salesperson is teamed up with one, so that when that salesperson makes a sale and wins part of a contest or whatever promotion that’s going on, the other individual who is teamed with them wins. So we try to create a team atmosphere in all aspects of sales and sales support as well. We take our sales representatives to a nice, sunny spot every February.

How to reach: ProSource, www.totalprosource.com