Sales Lessons from the World’s Greatest Sales Force

From Darrell Zahorsky, former About.com Guide

They are an unseasoned sales force moving 200 million units a year . Their products are not available in stores and are sold only during the spring yet sales revenue exceeds $700 million. Who is this incredible sales organization?

It’s the Girl Scouts, of course.

Before you dismiss this pint-sized sales force as irrelevant, it pays to know this is not the Girl Scouts of yesteryear. Kathy Cloninger has revitalized the organization since her appointment to CEO in 2003.

The organization has morphed from door-to-door direct sales to a savvy sales team being modernized for the 21st century. Behind this small and mighty sales force are several successful sales lessons:

Create Gap Teams: In 2004, Cloninger gathered the organization to develop five strategic priorities. This resulted in the creation of gap teams—a variety of members from all levels of the organization focused on finding gaps between how things are done now to what needs to be done to reach future goals.

Gap teams are divided into six groups. Five groups focus on the five strategic priorities and one is dedicated to the culture of the organization. Each gap team holds Strategy Cafes to foster open communication among the large and diverse organization.

Sweet Sales Tip: Any business today would benefit from taking this play from the Girl Scout “playbook.” Identifying performance gaps is essential for success.

Teach Them Well: The Girl Scouts organization isn’t all about fund raising but building life skills of leadership, team work and communication. The Girl Scouts provide entrepreneurial programs at Cookie College for scouts to develop business acumen including presentation, marketing and money management skills.

Sweet Sales Tip: The “eat-them-up and spit-them-out” mentality of high turnover sales teams does nothing to build the self-worth of a sales person. Taking a personal stake in advancing the lives of your sales force has a direct effect on the bottom line.

Go From Box to Bulk: One of the selling tools of the organization—for much of it’s existence—has been the door-to-door sales approach along with standing outside of grocery stores. With the majority of members living the busy life, the old one-box-at-a-time approach has been tossed for the bulk sales strategy. Older girls are bulk selling to large organizations and local businesses. Boxes of cookies are offered as sales incentives or corporate gift baskets.

Sweet Sales Tip: Boost your sales by looking for large order opportunities. Look for areas where great numbers of prospects gather to maximize your sales time.

Modernize to Change: For an organization with such a long and rich history, it’s difficult to change. But Cloninger knows change is necessary to appeal to the current generation of girls distracted by the popularity of instant messaging, computer games and FaceBook.

To make the Scouts more in tune with today’s fickle youth, the organization has added more compelling activities such as web design, white water rafting and survival camps. The company has employed social marketing using tools such as YouTube to highlight vintage cookie ads and maintains a blog.

Sweet Sales Tip: Take the pulse of your sales organization to find out what motivates them as well as discovering what new sales channels customers are using.

The late father of modern management, Peter Drucker, once suggested businesses can learn from the non-profit sector. Taking a few lessoning from this cookie juggernaut could spell sweet success for your business.