Mystery shopping in the year of
the back sheep
Is your company not selling as much as you believe
it should? Do you sometimes get the distinct feeling your sales manager
is not performing to the best of her or his abilities? Maybe you should
be speaking to Anna Maria Darmanin. Julian Manduca did exactly that.
For someone who has made sales her strongest selling point,
Anna Maria Darmanin comes across and a modest, soft spoken, if self
Together with her business partner Darryl Grima, Darmanin has set up
a sales management consultant company that operates under the fascinating
name Santucci & Brown International.
The company is not international in the sense that one might imagine,
but perhaps the directors are thinking ahead and they are already making
inroads in North Africa.
When I walked into their office in Gzira there was an air of newness
about everything looked unused and I thought to myself maybe
they have just moved in, but Santucci & Brown have been around
since January 2002 and Anna Maria Darmanin assured me that much of the
furniture was second-hand.
The spacious and extremely uncluttered office made a welcome change
from what I am used to, and herb tea in hand, Darmanin and I pushed
Anna Maria Darmanin was president of the KSU (the university students
union) many moons ago and, unlike others that occupied that post, she
is one of the few that has not gone into politics.
Human resource management is her forte and in a short, but rapidly moving,
career she has held managerial posts with NSTS, the Gasan Group, Enemalta
and the United Group.
Santucci & Brown are in the consultancy business, being the only
Maltese company that focuses on sales.
The companys selling point is that it offers not only advice on
how to increase sales, but actually sets about seeing that businesses
achieve their targets.
"We ask for a retainer, but often part of our fee is dependent
on us helping our clients achieve agreed targets, and we guarantee that
sales will increase," Darmanin explains.
Santucci & Browns clients have mainly been small and medium
sized businesses, but the company have worked with clients that employ
up to 500 people and, theoretically, any business that wants to sell
more might be interested in its services.
Clients have mostly been in the retail and distribution business; companies
offering a service; manufacturers for the local and export markets;
in the food and beverage industry and also tourism related companies.
"We assist companies by coming up with a sales structure for them,
we analyse their sales process and make recommendations, and often take
up a contract for six months or a year to manage the companies sales.
"We draw up and implement systems related to sales targets, we
do merchandising audits, and advise clients how to attract and exploit
niches and new clients."
"Our competitive advantage is that we can offer very reasonable
prices, in part because our remuneration is dependent on the return
our clients achieve, we guarantee a certain return and are paid a percentage
of actual proceeds.
"We look for opportunities to implement the systems we recommend,
and we are always careful to look not only at sales, but more importantly
"If a company has no sales manager, or has just recruited one we
would train that person, but we could actually do the work ourselves."
I ask Anna Maria why a company might engage, rather than employ a new
"Employing a fully fledged professional sales manager is very costly.
The company would have to pay a wage that will always increase for an
indefinite period. What we offer is expertise. We work for a set and
agreed period of time and work for a fee that turns out to be cheaper
than employing someone.
"What we do is agree on the project, for example the launch of
a brand. We would take care of the launch, ensure that the product is
established in the market and then train the people to be able to sustain
the products position.
"We have introduced companies to a particularly successful system
called face to face whereby we appraise sales people and
on a monthly basis, get them to agree on targets and make sure the targets
"This is a tool which offers a win-win situation for both employee
and company. We employ appraisal techniques, motivating skills and negotiation
"We offer a variety of services depending on the clients needs.
Organisational audits, brand management we come with ideas to
promote a brand; and also price audits.
"We do not substitute the work of an adverting agent we
identify what goes into the branding concept, and look at how a brand
competes with others and what makes a brand more successful than another.
"We also carry out surveys using a variety of processes, either
with focus groups or contacting people at random and asking questions."
Santucci & Brown often, but not always, work from its clients offices
and usually spend anything between 1 hour per week to 10 hours per week,
training and building up the sales potential of their clients.
"We offer market intelligence, we have been commissioned to do
market research on new products, on established services, brands, any
kind of product really, to identify market trends, market attitudes.
"We also do mystery shopping. A kind of research that involves
engaging a group of shoppers, they could be people from the street or
regular customers of our clients. We train them to identify specific
criteria which we value as being important in the sales and customer
The idea sounds like it should be called mystery selling rather than
mystery shopping. But Darmanin explains:
"A company may want to approach us to verify the standard of its
sales personnel. We train our selected group to use the companys
service or purchase its products. Based on the criteria we would have
set, the standard is established.
"The members of our team would have been trained to be able to
identify whether the salesperson they dealt with has the tendency to
up sell, cross sell, hard sell or do none of these."
For those less acquainted with the sphere, such as myself, Darmanin
explains: "Up selling involves selling a customer something of
a higher quality and price than they had intended, and cross selling
is selling not only the product a customer wanted, but also another
product the company happens to sell. Hard sell, which is very rarely
recommended, involves trying to put the customer in a position where
they feel forced to buy, or buy more. There is a very fine line between
effective hard sell and putting a customer off."
Once the exercise is complete: "We draw up a report to advise our
client on the standard achieved and we then offer our recommendations.
"From our experience we have found that many sales people lose
out on opportunities to up sell and cross sell."
Santucci & Brown also train staff, primarily sales staff, but also
others, always with the focus on selling.
"We train people in soft skills, those related to human resources,
customer care, presentation skills and also such specific things as
"A sale is not closed until the money is collected, and what we
do, as opposed to many other companies, is ensure that debt collection
procedures start the day after the sale and not when the credit period
"We also produce a bi-weekly newspaper called The Manager
which goes out free to anyone that asks for it. We have 5,000 subscribers
and the paper features very short articles related to sales. The articles
are just enough to focus on one subject and not longer as they are likely
to be ignored. In two minutes the articles can be read and filed away
into a newsletter inbox."
"In The Manager we advise our readers of the training
activities or special offers that we have planned. Anyone interested
can write to firstname.lastname@example.org."
On Santucci & Browns website I read an article about black
sheep. The article reads: "No one has yearlong luck in the black
sheep year, and everyone has at least two months of luck. Furthermore
we need to push our luck to the limit during the lucky months."
That sounds bad enough, but some advice is given as to how the black
sheep can be defeated in 2003:
Face your fears. Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, "The only thing
we have to fear is fear itself!" Its normal to be afraid.
Just dont become paranoid and give up because of your fears. Your
mind should focus on the final outcome and not at the process of arriving
A Chinese Proverb says, "Even the longest journey begins with the
first step." No matter how big the task is, you can divide it in
small steps, and now is the time to take the first one.
Make your opportunities
Milton Berle stated, "If opportunity doesnt knock, build
a door." Dont wait for the apple to fall in your hands, climb
the tree and eat all the apples you want.
A Japanese proverb says, "Fall seven times, stand up eight."
It all about persistence and not about giving up after every no
Walt Disney once said, "If you can dream it, you can do it."
Keep dreaming, dream big, and lead yourself to fulfill your dreams.
Henry Ford said, "If you think you can, or you think you cant,
youre right!" It is up to you to choose whether to think
or not to think. You have a brain, so use it!
Yiddish proverb says "If you want your dreams to come true, dont
sleep." So if you want to make things happen
From all the things you do, one might go through."
I ask Darmanin whether this was a black sheep year.
"This is a nightmare of a year." The referendum and elections
have not helped, but sometimes I think people use that as an excuse.
Business owners always tend grumble, but realistically it has not been
"The EU will change matters, not necessarily for the better much
will be more depend on the public and our business communitys
attitude towards the EU and its impacts."
"Maltese people have always been resourceful, so I think we can
take advantage of the situation should we join."
I tried to avoid mentioning the EU, but there it is, finding its way
under everyones skin."
I ask Darmanin whether the long term advise Santucci and Brown offer
is better than a quick, shock treatment, job.
"It is and definitely more value for money for the client. Working
with a client for longer periods of time ensures that the advice we
give sinks in and we develop relationships with our clients which allows
us to offer a more comprehensive and in-depth service."