05 MARCH 2003

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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 assured person.
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 off.
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 company’s 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 & Brown’s 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 at profitability.
"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 sales manager.
"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 product’s 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 are reached.
"This is a tool which offers a win-win situation for both employee and company. We employ appraisal techniques, motivating skills and negotiation techniques.
"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 service process."
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 company’s 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 debt collecting.
"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 has expired."
"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 info@santuccibrown.com."
On Santucci & Brown’s 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!" It’s normal to be afraid. Just don’t become paranoid and give up because of your fears. Your mind should focus on the final outcome and not at the process of arriving there.
Go ahead
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 doesn’t knock, build a door." Don’t 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’ you receive.
Keep dreaming
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 can’t, you’re right!" It is up to you to choose whether to think or not to think. You have a brain, so use it!
Don’t sleep.
Yiddish proverb says "If you want your dreams to come true, don’t sleep." So if you want to make things happen… take action! 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 very good."
"The EU will change matters, not necessarily for the better much will be more depend on the public and our business community’s 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 everyone’s 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."

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
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