Perhaps the most fundamental skill for people in sales is the dexterity to get their foot in the door. But when that door belongs to the CEO of a corporation, they really better know their stuff. Such was the task of Jeanne Smyth Roof, vice president at First Union Wachovia Corp., whose role since late 2000 has been to drive the training for a major strategic initiative at the Charlotte, N.C.-based financial institution that would help sales mangers bend the ear of the bigwigs.
Roof was assigned the Regional Corporate Bank in the five-state Legacy Wachovia chain. The training consisted of a three-tiered approach, with the unified goal of expanding the breadth of knowledge and credibility of the company's senior relationship managers and sales team managers. With such high-level priming, Roof says, the managers would be better equipped to sell the company's range of services where it matters most—at the top. "We wanted our managers to take a much more tactical approach to the conversations they were having with these companies," says Roof. "And the best person to talk to about the strategic needs of that company and where Wachovia's capabilities match up is the CEO."
A vital decree of the training required the participating managers to make a specific number of "CEO-relevant" calls per month—to both potential and current clients.
The proving ground for the first stage consisted of application workshops, initiated by Roof, called "Strategic Advisor Application Workshops." The workshops put the senior relationship managers in a simulated environment in which corporate finance specialists played the role of CEOs. A PowerPoint document contained the script that the managers could follow to keep the conversation at what Roof calls "a very high level."
Now that you have the CEO on the line, how do you keep the conversation going? That was covered in tier two—a case-driven seminar in which the managers applied their corporate finance knowledge in a manner relevant to their clients. "We needed to arm them with how to sustain the dialogue and present alternatives on the fly," says Roof.
Tier three enlisted the help of The Richardson Co., a sales training provider in Philadelphia. The goal? Closing the deal. Roof worked with Richardson to infuse the last leg of the training with negotiation skills that were customized for Wachovia's objectives.
Throughout the process, Roof stayed connected to the line-of-business executives. In fact, in a clever bit of ROI assessment, Roof asked the senior executives who participated in the sales training to call or send a letter that told her how much business the training generated. An e-mail that Roof received from a frontline executive said it all. He wrote: "Rarely can a manager connect training with immediate results, but the training programs that you pulled together for us last year provided us with significant lift throughout 2001." —J.B.