Magazine article Management Review

A Model Sell: Even in the Utility Industry, You Can't Just Turn on Salesmanship

Magazine article Management Review

A Model Sell: Even in the Utility Industry, You Can't Just Turn on Salesmanship

Article excerpt

Putting the right people in the right positions is the secret to success for many companies, but especially for firms in industries where either dramatic changes in technology are fairly commonplace or the level of competition is intense.

Take the utility industry. Over the past few years, deregulation has radically transformed the way utilities conduct business. Though the deregulation is not complete, utilities are finding themselves knee-deep in fierce competition, for which many of their employees have been ill-prepared and, consequently, ill-equipped to combat.

Entergy, an electric utility serving the middle south of the United States, felt the change as much as anyone in the industry. It already has a lot of competition from independent power producers and gas companies. But when deregulation is finally completed, it will also have to deal with direct competition from other electric utilities, which will be crossing state lines in pursuit of large commercial and industrial accounts. These competitors will be hungry for acquisitions.

"I'm sure a lot of the people in our industry felt like they were blindsided by deregulation," says Mike Maulden, a director of economic development for Entergy. "It just wasn't supposed to be this way."

You Mean We Have To `Sell' Electricity?

Entergy's salesforce was not considered important before this competitive new world. Until recently, everything was nice and predictable. After all, everyone needs to turn the lights on. If sales were not measuring up to projections, all Entergy had to do was raise its rates and all would be well again.

But in this new cutthroat atmosphere, the utility's salesforce had now become vital to the company's success. If Entergy was to survive deregulation, its sales staff would actually have to sell its products and services. Unbelievably, few people in sales knew how to do that.

"We had people in sales who had no real sense of how to influence," says Mike Russ, marketing director. "When we talked to them about it, it seemed like we were speaking a foreign language. Traits like competitive drive just weren't there for some people. And that's not something that can be easily trained. Obviously, there were some who were just in the wrong jobs. Something had to change. And soon."

Management surmised that the key to turning around the utility's tenuous situation and, ultimately, positioning Entergy strongly for the future would be its people. To help find the right people with the right stuff, it turned to Bryan Associates Inc. (BAI), a management and organization-development consulting company based in Providence, R.I.

BAI has expertise not only in building customer relationships, but also in developing competency models, which would define the attributes required for success in key positions and assist Entergy in placing the right people in the right positions. "We needed to de fine performance standards in sales, both for the present and the future," says Russ. "We felt that knowing these would lead to success."

Entergy, with assistance from Bryan Associates, developed highly customized competency models. Using a multipronged attack, it collected information through focus groups with the utility's salespeople, management and customers. It also interviewed its top sales performers as well as sales managers and representatives from top performing salesforces of other companies.

But the interview process needed to get the heart of what makes good salesmanship. and the Bryan Associates approach, data-based interviewing (DBI) was designed to do just that. DBI is a data-collection process that provides concrete and meaningful performance data rather than generalities, speculations or hypotheses, as in traditional interviewing techniques. What emerges from this process are the precise attributes of superior performance against which Entergy's salespeople could be measured and developed. …

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