Hitting the Ground Running – Stephanie Covall-Pinnix of SGS Net
In August of 2002, Stephanie Covall-Pinnix was appointed as Director of Business Development at SGS Net. Despite the tough economic times and new position, she chose to hit-the-ground-running in energizing the revenue generation engine of SGS Net. Starting with a team evaluation and a small change in staff, she immediately initiated a strategy to drive revenue and profits.
In an interview with Ms. Covall-Pinnix, we were able to examine the key issue of: What is SGS Net’s future strategy to drive revenue?
SGS Net is primarily a professional service firm integrating the internet, business applications and business strategy. Their goal is to improve their client’s competitive position through business intelligence, customer knowledge, or brand value demonstration. Their clients are primarily mid-tier companies such as Gatorade Sport Science Institute, Nicor Energy, and Ty Beanie Babies. For these clients, SGS Net creates web sites and micro-sites to drive customer loyalty and drive consumers to retailers.
As an example of the type of web sites SGS Net produces, their customer’s site might include a coupon that a consumer would take to the local grocer. Once the consumer redeems the coupon, the consumer product firm has a demonstrable proof of their brand value to the grocer. Demonstrating the draw of a consumer product good to a grocery chain enables the company to negotiate better shelf space or lower stocking fees. Overall, it shifts the power relationship between the firm and their retail outlets. To make this strategy work, the web site must be integrated with other business applications as well as providing compelling consumers interaction.
While the current client base of SGS Net has enabled them to maintain somewhat steady revenues over the past few years, Ms. Covall-Pinnix knows that SGS Net’s future growth will require penetrating new accounts and developing new lines of business. To accomplish these goals, SGS Net needed to clarify its target market, sales approach, and sales objectives. Ms. Covall-Pinnix shared her work in progress.
For a target market, Ms. Covall-Pinnix has profiled her ideal clients to be consumer products firms in the Midwest with revenues between $200 and $500 M in revenue. These firms are in mature, slow growth industries and typically use retailers to distribute their goods to consumers. She elected to focus on the Midwest because of the high number of consumer product firms in and around Chicago and the proximity of the client to SGS Net. In selecting mid-tier firms, Ms. Covall-Pinnix is hoping to avoid entrenched competitors and the difficulties associated with the bureaucracies of tier 1 firms. As to selecting consumer product firms, this selection coincides with the track record of SGS Net and their higher demand to taking a strategic approach to the internet. Her next step is to create a list of 30 top prospects and charge her team to penetrate these accounts. For clients not meeting the revenue cut-off of SGS Net, Ms. Covall-Pinnix is driving the firm to productize some of their offerings to be sold at lower price points.
To bring in the new accounts, Ms. Covall-Pinnix defined a six step sales process. (1) Identify the Chief Marketing Officer and key influencers. (2) Hold an appointment with the Chief Marketing Officer. (3) Investigate the opportunity to identify a problem, budget time line, project scope, and the customers approach to vendors. (4) Conduct a Project Assessment meeting to determine the best approach to a single sales opportunity. (5) Tender a proposal. And, (6) Receive verbal approval of the proposal. The expected price of the first sold opportunity to a new client is set low, between $50 k and $100 k. This sales approach matches that of many authors of sales and marketing books.
In support of existing customer relationships, Ms. Covall-Pinnix is driving a relationship building effort. Soon, SGS Net will host a Customer Appreciation Open House to mark their 8th anniversary of service. This open house will provide an opportunity for SGS Net’s clients to meet the team and see the office. Also, Ms. Covall-Pinnix has placed herself on several steering committees of business association. She plans to use her role in business associations to invite SGS Net’s clients to present their initiatives at different events. Along with these two efforts directed at existing accounts, Ms. Covall-Pinnix intends to send newsletters to their accounts and request referrals.
As to sales objectives, Ms. Covall-Pinnix had stated her goal was to bring in 6 new accounts over the next year. Her expected revenue increase is a low of 2% and she wouldn’t share her high.
Other tactics that Ms. Covall-Pinnix is implementing include resource allocation, customer data collection, and team coordination. SGS Net is a small company with only 13 employees with 4 of them participating in the sales and marketing effort. She has allocated efforts at 50% of for new accounts, 20% for existing accounts, 10 % for referrals and networking, and 20% for productized services to lower revenue clients. As a management tool Ms. Covall-Pinnix is demanding that all customer information be captured in ACT and that the sales and marketing team meets on a weekly basis. This will help coordinate efforts and place sales and marketing into a process oriented effort rather than upon the luck of a single salesperson’s rolodex.
Overall, she has taken a strong process approach towards generating revenue. This should reduce the effects of random luck brining in a single sale aperiodically, and produce a somewhat more predictable revenue stream. Given the few resources available at SGS Net, Ms. Covall-Pinnix has appropriately chosen to tightly define her efforts in areas most likely to produce results.
The strategy is similar to that suggested by other sales and marketing individuals that have been interviewed: Define realistic goals, Define the process, Motivate the team, and Get to Work. It can be anticipated that the plan will be further refined over time and that hiccups will occur, yet it is a good starting point. The success of her plan will be determined by the market, but her approach to managing the strategy, tactics, and resources provide some positive predictors.
In her own words, “Why not be excited and aggressive. People are in the dumps right now, but work should at least be fun.”