Team Cheer fired up with sales force

Geneseo, NY-based cheerleading and dance team supplies cataloger Team Cheer has reason to cheer itself: In just eight months, the company’s new sales force has considerably boosted Team Cheer’s average order size. The $500 average order “is virtually double what it was last year,” says marketing director Cindy Sobieraj.

Until last fall, the company relied solely on sales generated by its catalog, mailed twice a year to about 80,000 house file and prospect names, and its Website. The problem was that its competitors, such as Plano, TX-based TeamLeader, were doing more. “Our market has been changing,” says Sobieraj. “Our largest competitors use an outside sales rep model. They’ve got people in the market across the country, and the market has shifted, becoming very much a relationship-driven industry.”

Team Cheer’s six-employee inside sales team, created in November, contacts cheerleading league managers, resulting in sales to as many as 10 teams at one time. Previously the company focused on selling its uniforms and shoes to one squad — about 20 girls — at a time via its catalog. Products range from a few dollars for a pair of socks to $50-$150 for uniforms; shoes sell for $30-$60. “We’re now going after larger chunks of business, which has just, by default, boosted the average order. Before we had no way of being proactive about it,” Sobieraj says.

Inside vs. outside sales

Team Cheer knew it wanted a sales force, but the cataloger wasn’t sure that the outside sales model suited its needs and budget. Outside sales emphasizes face-to-face contact, so one outside sales rep can’t make as many contacts as an inside sales rep, who works largely via phone and does only a small amount of in-person selling by traveling every few months to trade shows or to visit large-account customers, says Sobieraj. Also, live exchanges are not as critical to Team Cheer’s product line as they might be in an industry with higher-ticket merchandise.

The company, which hired an outside consultant to help it structure its sales force, decided that it would be more economical to hire fewer reps who could cover more ground. “The territory size can be larger simply because they have more time,” Sobieraj says, “whereas an outside sales force spends a lot of time traveling, trying to cover their territory.”

Each rep is assigned a territory consisting of “primary” and “secondary” states. States considered primary to sales are those with the densest concentration of cheer and dance teams, such as Maryland and New Jersey; those deemed secondary would include sparsely populated Midwest states such as North Dakota or Nebraska.

To assemble its sales force, Team Cheer promoted two employees with telemarketing experience and hired four outsiders. The company plans to hire another four or five sales reps before the year is over.

In putting together the sales force, “we specifically wanted to recruit people who had sold something somewhere before — it didn’t matter in which industry,” Sobieraj says. “We wanted them to be able to hit the ground running as much as possible.” The company’s inside sales reps focus exclusively on sales; Team Cheer’s three full-time and five part-time customer service reps handle order-taking and questions from customers. There’s little overlap between the two teams, says Sobieraj, except for the referrals customer service reps are sometimes able to generate through conversations with customers.

Catalog here to stay

Already the company derives a third of its sales from the inside sales force, and that percentage could move up to 50% before the year is over. But Team Cheer has no plans to replace its catalog with sales reps.

Reps send the 96-page book to prospects they’ve contacted. Before the prospects receive a catalog, though, they’ll likely have received press releases and sell sheets describing the company, its loyalty program, and product lines that might be relevant to the specific prospect. “It’s a good way to get their interest while the catalog is on the way,” Sobieraj says.

“Our production of the catalog remains very much the same,” Sobieraj continues. “We still need it as a sales tool and rely on putting it out there along with other marketing materials, and taking inbound orders.” Moreover, the oversize, glossy catalogs put out by Team Cheer and its competitors are an industry standard. “It’s a piece that’s expected by our customers,” she says. “They look for it, they’re excited about it.”

That doesn’t mean, though, that the Team Cheer catalog won’t continue to evolve. Based on what the sales reps are hearing from customers, the company may decide to eliminate pages from the catalog, “which is more about cleaning up our product line, putting out what’s relevant and what’s selling,” Sobieraj notes. “By having a sales force out there, we’re better able to know our customers.”

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