“Once we discovered the problem, the solution was easy: Re-invest in the sales force.”

Business situation

A Fortune 100 company was a distant third in sales in a $5 billion category. The primary focus for our client was highly-engineered medical devices with extremely high profit margins. Even a 1 percent increase in marketshare would mean millions of dollars in new profits. The customer had conducted extensive research and seemed to have a solid strategy but was still losing marketshare at every turn.


From my meeting with the customer, I knew they had a highly-experienced sales and marketing team and seemed to be doing everything right. They had spent millions on research and knew its market inside and out. This was an extremely difficult problem. Since they were executing well on their strategy, I started from the beginning and had to assume there was something wrong about the fundamental strategy.

I went back to their research data and started over. In fact, I spent three straight days poring over numbers, sales trends, and competitive information.

The breakthrough came when I pinpointed where the company was losing sales. In nearly every area where competitors were adding sales people they had increased sales. This seemed strange because the research showed that the medical customers were not making their purchasing decision based on personal sales relationships. It showed they were buying the devices based on expensive research that showed efficacy and customer health improvement. In fact, “sales relationships” were at the bottom of the list!

Why was the competitor spending on personal selling when they probably had the same market data we had? The reason was, our customers were lying! I hypothesized that the medical professionals answered survey questions with what they thought they should say, not how they actually acted. I was able to produce an independent study that confirmed this bias. These personal sales relationships mattered very much. They bought from their buddies.

Like a good data-driven company, my customer had followed the research and cut sales expenses, but that had seemed to be the cause of the negative impact on sales.


Once we discovered the problem, the solution was easy: Re-invest in the sales force. We also embarked on social selling training which we thought could provide competitive advantage.


This market has a long buying cycle so it takes years to detect a change, and there are other confounding forces of course. So it is difficult to precisely say the role of this strategy, but after two years the company had gained 1.5 percent marketshare. We could see that in at least two cities, gains came from increased investment in personal selling.

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