How Nick Fortine expanded his sales force while cutting back in operations to set up long-term growth Featured

7:00pm EDT February 29, 2012
How Nick Fortine expanded his sales force while cutting back in operations to set up long-term growth

Nick Fortine had to face a 40 percent drop in business as the retail sector put on its capital expenditure brakes in 2009.

Fortine, the president of CSC Worldwide’s Retail Specialty Group, which makes fixtures such as fitting rooms, display walls and cash register stands, was startled, but he knew he had to act soon.

“I was particularly surprised by the level at which capital expenditures stopped in the specialty retail sector,” Fortine says. “We had to create a strategy rather quickly based upon our new reality.”

Once Fortine examined the landscape, he made a bold decision to downsize personnel but to invest ? by adding people ? to the sales team. The company hired a handful of sales associates at the time it was laying off an equal number on the operations side.

“At the beginning of ’09, we knew the future was far from certain,” he says.

“We also knew that if we took our foot off the gas on our selling efforts, our pipeline would quickly dry up.”

Fortine knew that in many businesses, including fixture manufacturing, relationships with prospects and opportunities to sell usually take from several quarters to years to develop.

“So when spending picks back up, you need to have new opportunities queued up,” Fortine says.

In the meantime, when the dust is settling, it’s time to get started with your new strategy.

“As a leader during periods like these, first of all, your team needs to know you have a plan,” Fortine says. “Then they need to understand the plan, believe in the plan and buy in to the plan. They need to know that you are a part of a plan. You are there to support and assist them and to successfully execute that plan.

“A natural result of adversarial times in a workforce is tension, fear, doubt and uncertainty about the future,” he says. “During periods like those, open and frequent communication about the state of the business, the strategy, the goals and measurements against those goals is really critical. In fact, it’s always critical in a business, in good times or bad.”

A key factor is to make sure that everyone understands the steps you are taking to move the business forward given the environment.

“People are much more effective at doing their jobs when they know that they are aligned with the overall goals of the company,” Fortine says. “People perform much more effectively when they are not running scared but rather when they feel like they are empowered to go make a difference in the business. That is the biggest challenge and how you overcome it is by making sure that the people left truly understand what their role is in turning this situation around.”

You need to be positioned to find and win new opportunities all the time.

“While the economic environment is still unpredictable, you have to keep selling throughout,” he says. “You need to be positioned to find and win new opportunities all the time. When the market experiences the inevitable upswing that will come in the future, and those levels of spending return, you will be very confident in your position to take advantage of that.”

While the new sales representatives were getting their feet wet, Fortine was coaching the remaining employees on the new strategy to keep selling and to do more with less. It was critical for them to understand their new roles.

“We needed to explain that if we wanted to sustain our business long term, you don’t do that by laying off sales people,” he says. “You’ve got to always be selling.”

While this wasn’t a company culture makeover, Fortine felt it added a new dimension to the culture.

“I really believe it changed us culturally,” he says. “Your associates should really learn to think creatively about new approaches to managing the business. You have to continually ask yourselves and challenge each other, ‘What can we do to make this better?’ and ‘What can we do to make this easier, more economical, take less time?’”

How to reach: CSC Worldwide, (614) 850-1460 or www.cscww.com

Recreate success

Recreating positive sales and service experiences is an effective way to add to your bottom line ? once you know your strengths and weaknesses.

“You grow by continuously finding ways to do what you do more effectively,” says Nick Fortine, president of CSC Worldwide’s Retail Specialty Group. “You become more honed in doing what you do best.”

The best way for you to hone your business performance is to review the customer satisfaction level.

“Your clients will be very clear about how they believe you are doing,” Fortine says. “Continually ask them. If you are growing, if you’re profitable, and if your clients are happy, you know you are doing the right things.”

You should also believe also that your strength is your domain knowledge in the market.

“Knowing what it takes to pull off a world-class product rollout and translating that knowledge into exceptional service and program results ? that’s your differentiation in market,” Fortine says. “Believe that you do that as well as anyone in market.

“Spend all your time trying to recreate those success patterns by finding opportunities and serving more of them. Become really focused at what it is you do well and knowing what it is you don’t do well. Spend your time concentrating on just getting better and better at what you do really well.”