Electrical manufacturers' representatives are no longer the sole beneficiaries of an intensive four-day sales training program to improve sales skills. Thanks to an agreement between the Manufacturers Representatives Educational Research Foundation (MRERF), Arvada, Colo., and the National Association of Electrical Distributors (NAED), St. Louis, Mo., electrical distributors' salespeople can take the same certified sales professional (CSP) training MRERF provides for independent manufacturers' reps.

This sales training is the result of a partnership established between MRERF and the Canadian Professional Sales Association, Toronto, Ontario, to bring the CSP sales designation, established in Canada in 1994, to the United States.

To become certified, salespeople must complete an intensive four-day program, have two years of practical sales experience, abide by the CSP code of ethics, and pass written and oral examinations. The three-day seminar and one day of certification testing costs $1,395. MRERF conducts the training at hotels across North America or at rep or distributor facilities if companies want to hold training on-site to defray travel costs.

The first three electrical distributors to send salespeople to CSP training were Minnesota Electric Supply, Willmar, Minn.; Border States Electric Supply, Fargo, N.D.; and Dakota Supply Group, also located in Fargo.

“I've already let NAED and MRERF know how impressed I was with the program,” said Steve Peterson, Minnesota Electric Supply's president and CEO. “Our company is more than 60 years old, and we are facing the prospect of some of our older salespeople retiring in the future. As a result, we have some fairly young people who are going to have to fill some pretty big shoes. From what I saw, the CSP training is going to provide them with the skill sets to be successful.”

Three of Dakota Supply Group's account managers who took part in the program unanimously praised the CSP program. Dic Chiolis, inside sales, electrical quotations, who works out of the company's Rapid City, S.D., branch, said the most important thing he learned in CSP training was how to listen and react to what a customer is saying. “It's something I have put to use already,” he says. “You can't get anything accomplished in the sales process if you don't understand what the customer's needs and wants are.” He says he has already become more organized when making sales calls by employing the eight-step process that's part of CSP training.

CSP's emphasis on the selling process interested Scott Lundberg, outside sales, Dakota Supply Group, Fargo. “Like so many other people in outside sales, we attend many seminars that concentrate on the conceptual aspects of selling,” he says. “However, this was the first time we were provided with a process for selling that was really practical. It has helped me in my goal setting. I've had professional goals in the past, but now for the first time I'm putting those goals in writing. As a result, I feel my performance is more measurable and my goals are more attainable.” He added that the CSP experience was so positive he's already recommended to his sales manager that other account managers participate in the program.

Brandon Messer, a salesperson in Dakota Supply Group's Brooklyn Park, Minn., location, says he is fairly new to outside sales and didn't know if the program would be too advanced. That wasn't the case, and he has changed his sales approach because of CSP training. “I'm looking to emphasize features and benefits much more readily than before,” he says. “At the same time, I'm not so quick to talk about price.”

Many electrical manufacturers' reps have already completed MRERF's certified professional manufacturers representative (CPMR) program, and some were excited when additional sales certification became available. Kurt Nelson, Nelson & Associates, Sante Fe Springs, Calif., said CSP training was the logical next step toward multi-accreditation for his company's sales staff.

“After completing CPMR, it occurred to us that there ought to be some sort of professional training available for salespeople in the street,” he said. “CSP fit the bill in meeting that need. We saw that accreditation as another means whereby we could differentiate our company from the competition.” Nelson & Associates has hosted two CSP training programs on site; all 25 of the company's outside salespeople have completed the program.

Completion of the CSP program marks a sales professional as possessing expert sales competencies and a thorough commitment to professional development and self-improvement. Companies with CSP-certified sales personnel say they enjoy a measurable performance benchmark, set a hiring standard for new staff, increase credibility with customers and principals, differentiate themselves from competition and decrease sales staff turnover.

Although pulling his salespeople out of the field for four days was quite an investment for his company, Nelson says it was worth it. “The true cost was pulling them out of the field and away from the customers, not the cost of the tuition. But looking at what was accomplished, it worked for the customer and for the salespeople.”

Some distributors and reps might think CSP training is expensive, but Nelson says it costs about the same as taking a customer out to 10 lunches. “In order to improve yourself and your ability to perform for a customer, it's well worth the investment,” he said.

Achieving accreditations such as CSP is part of what Nelson & Associates does to “maintain bragging rights.” “When our principals and distributors speak about us, we want them always to consider us the best,” said Nelson.

“When we interview for new lines, we want our prospective principals to know how much we have done and how hard we have worked to have a third party acknowledge our level of professionalism. So, too, when our competitors refer to us — we want them to recognize how hard we worked to become what we are.”

Gary Brusacoram, principal, Andrews-Johnson-Brusacoram, Minneapolis, is CPMR-certified and is MRERF's president. He says if manufacturers' representatives have any hope of keeping up with their good principals and distributors, they must invest in the training and education of their salespeople.

“If you want to continue to be the best at what you do, it's imperative that you make the investment in your people,” he said. “That's what Kurt and Todd Nelson and others have done.”

Kelly Boyd, president, Electrorep Inc., Sausalito, Calif., took advantage of the Nelson-hosted CSP session in Southern California. Boyd, who is also CPMR certified, says his company sent three salespeople through the program.

“They brought varied levels of sales experience with them, and as a group they said it was the best training they had received in their careers. All of them agreed the sessions helped them overcome their weaknesses and re-evaluate how they approached customers,” said Brusacoram. “It's really a very simple concept. Someone trained in the CSP program knows how to deliver the principal's and the rep's message professionally in front of the customer.” He says it makes sense to invest in the training upfront, rather than have a salesperson out in the field not utilizing the proper selling skills and missing sales opportunities.

Frank Foster, Frank Foster & Associates, Toronto, conducts the CSP sessions. He credits Nelson & Associates with allowing their salespeople to be recognized for professional achievements and for their drive to create sales professionals.

“You wouldn't go out and hire an accountant or a plumber who wasn't certified, would you?” he asked. “So, too, with sales professionals. The Nelsons recognize the importance of professionals, and they've done everything in their power to create an environment of professionalism.”

Certified Sales Excellence

Basics: The $1,395 cost covers tuition, all teaching materials, certification registration including oral exam, lunch and certificate of course completion. Classes run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day with breaks and lunch. Individual oral exams are given the day following the three-day course. The next session is scheduled for Sept. 26-29 in Austin, Texas.

Contact information: Manufacturers' Representatives Educational Research Foundation (MRERF), Arvada, Colo. Phone: (303) 463-1801; E-mail: infor@mrerf.org; Web site: www.mrerf.org.