The Secret to Sales Success? Teenage, Minimum-Wage Employees

Last Updated Jun 15, 2011 5:32 PM EDT

By Alex Coppola
Joy Gendusa founded PostcardMania, a direct-mail marketing company in 1998. In addition to postcard advertising, the Clearwater, Fla.-based company does web development and email marketing for their clients. Gendusa employs 192 staff members and forecasts the company's sales will break $21 million this year.

The Problem
PostcardMania managed to increase revenue with each successive year it was in business -- from its very first year through 2008. But the recession put an abrupt end to the growth. Plummeting sales, coupled with a move into newly built offices, depleted the company's finances. By 2009, Gendusa's once burgeoning business was facing an unexpected reality: Her company was broke.

The Background
In 2007, PostcardMania recorded its highest sales numbers to date: $18.8 million. A year later, the figure plateaued, stuck at the $18.6 million mark. In 2009, things got worse. Not only did sales decline by $2 million, but the company had just completed construction on new corporate headquarters, which pushed it further into the red. "We had never experienced being broke before," recalls Gendusa. She was forced to cut executive pay as well as freeze employee pay and hiring.

The company's initial efforts to reignite sales were aimed at improving marketing, such as redesigning landing pages. Rather than asking potential customers who came to the website for their phone number and address, Gendusa now asked only for their email. "This made folks more willing to give us information," she says. "Then we could stay in communication with them and we were far more successful soliciting additional contact information later on." While adjustments like these were helpful, they did not increase sales to the degree the company needed.

Gendusa is the first to admit she is big on metrics -- "from day one I insisted on tracking the efficacy of all our efforts," she says -- and so she started looking at the numbers. In particular, she focused on the time her employees spent selling to each client. In 2007, her consultants averaged 1.8 conversations per client to close a deal. Two years later, it was taking twice as long. Part of that increase was due to time wasted on tepid customers. "We realized, that our marketing consultants needed to spend more time speaking with an interested party than trying to get in contact with one," explains Gendusa.

The Solution
Looking for a way to drive more hot prospects to her sales team, Gendusa created an in- house, "lead-activation" unit. Over its years of operation, PostcardMania had compiled a database of over 200,000 customers and prospects -- most of whom were small business owners. She decided to hire 10 employees -- all teenagers -- to simply dial out to the members of that database, she says.

The teenagers made minimum wage, but members of the unit received 20% of the commission on any sale they helped closed. "None of the team members had any sales experience, but that was the point," says Gendusa. "They didn't need it."

The young team reached out to the nearly 140,000 customers in the database. With the help of scripts, they screened out the tepid clients and passed along the most promising prospects to the sales team. It worked: After losing $2 million in 2009, sales soared back in 2010 to top $19 million -- $200,000 more than their pre-recession record.

The Aftermath
"The most stable datum we've always had," explains Gendusa, "is that outflow creates inflow." By increasing their outflow with the help of the new team, PostcardMania was able to significantly increase their sales. The lead unit, which is still comprised of roughly 10 teenagers, makes about 7,000 calls a week. The strategy works because it not only drives better prospects to the sales team, but it allows the sales team to focus solely on closing sales.

Gendusa sees it as a matter of managing time more effectively. "The business has grown more complicated," she says. "With so many marketing options -- from Facebook and Pay-per-click, to email -- business owners often need a great deal of information in order to make a decision." While the decision-making process might require more conversations with a sales representative, Gendusa's new system ensures those conversations don't eat up the time of her valuable sales team. All in the service of helping to close another client.

Read more: