Proficiency Profile

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WB Mason – Motivational excellence

Contributed by Peter Frost, CEO of Proficiency Group.

In October last year I was privileged to attend the third annual sales conference of WB Mason, the US mega dealer based in the north-east of the country in Brockton, Massachusetts.

As the 600 salespeople assembled for the event, the sense of anticipation was electric. This was the first time I had attended the annual convention of the US #1 independent dealer and I was excited.

I have been following the fortunes of WB Mason since 1995, when sales were around the $50 million mark. Soon after I met with the company’s legendary leader Leo Meehan, and have been a staunch admirer of Meehan himself and the company in general ever since.

Meehan is one of the OP industry’s true leaders, in my opinion rivalling Ron Sargent at Staples for top spot. He is an inspiration. Since 1995, Mason has grown over twelve times to reach $622 million in annual sales in 2007, up a gigantic 27 percent on the previous year.

The majority of the company’s growth has been organic as the ‘Masonville’ sales territory has expanded from its roots in Brockton, through the state capital Boston and then New England to New York and finally Philadelphia in 2005.

Feel the buzz
As the three-day convention was about to get underway, the buzz was phenomenal. As a prelude 220 rookie sales recruits were pictured in the baseball gear of their home territories Boston Red Sox, NY Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies and roundly welcomed to the company with a background of the latest Springsteen rock anthem.

Next, Meehan arrived on stage to the sound of the Sergeant Pepper anthem. The welcome he received from the audience was quite moving. He began by congratulating "the greatest salesforce in the industry" and proceeded to run through a specially commissioned research report on consumer attitudes organised in conjunction with leading vendors.

Meehan highlighted areas in Masonville of high and low penetration versus business market potential – useful information as far as directing the future efforts of salespeople is concerned. The same comparisons were reported by industry code.

Mason’s strong coverage of the small to medium-sized business sector was emphasised by an analysis of customer penetration by business size, and highlighted the company as the pre-eminent market force in sub-100 employee businesses.

Finally, Meehan gave an insightful analysis of the service comparisons between the big box players Staples, Office Depot and OfficeMax and independent dealers in the Masonville region. Criteria that customers were asked to judge were in the two categories of ‘operational excellence’ and ‘customer intimacy’.

Independents were judged to be best on customer satisfaction and competency in the customer intimacy category. In the operational excellence category, meanwhile, Staples came out on top. Mason finished second in both categories, and as a result in overall first position.

The opportunities highlighted from analysing market strengths and weaknesses will prove invaluable to Mason over the coming years, as it aims to drive sales towards the $1 billion barrier.

Following this insightful analysis yours truly followed Meehan onto the podium to the highly relevant tune of Springsteen’s Living in the future. My own presentation focused on the six megatrends that are impacting the OP industry worldwide at present. I then explored how the whole Mason team can take advantage of the current trends in office productivity, personalisation, marketing to women, Web 2.0 applications, eco-friendly processes and creating engaging experiences.

Extraordinary gentlemen
"The office business is about relationships…people, people, people" is a much quoted phrase. I agree, but there are ordinary people and there are extraordinary people. To my mind, Mason employs ordinary people and turns them into extraordinary people through clear vision, dynamic leadership and teamwork.

The second day of this sales meeting was a revelation. I’ve not witnessed such collective super-charged energy since the rise of some super-dealers in the US and UK in the 1980s. Meehan gave the most motivating address I’ve witnessed in my long history in this industry. He congratulated his salespeople on their amazing accomplishment of taking sales from $488 million in 2006 to $622 last year, a greater increase than the total sales of the company’s nearest rival!

Indeed, the morning session was all about sales performance recognition. To begin with, all the top branches were highlighted, followed by the top 25 salespeople, the rising stars and rookies of the year. The session was interlaced with video clips of interviews with customers, asking them about what the ‘I want my WB’ slogan meant to them. The answers were roundly positive and typified by one customer’s response: "The best delivery guys, clean as can be, with an awesome attitude."

The afternoon was dedicated to the company’s 2007 performance as well as some future gazing for the next five years, all supported by plenty of analysis. Proceedings were interspersed with a variety of with sporting and musical phrases, and anecdotes typical of an aggressive and determined winning culture. Meehan took the sales representatives through the new marketing programmes and outlined the company’s ‘champions’ reward schemes.

Mason model
The Mason model of customer intimacy was exemplified throughout the final sessions. At a time of some uncertainty among the big box players which have focused typically on their operational excellence models, Mason’s customer-orientated approach has clearly been a huge success in the marketplace.

One of the prerequisites of customer intimacy success is a decentralised approach and Mason appears completely committed to this ownership strategy of developing business leaders.

The event closed with a fervent and supercharged Meehan championing the way forward to $1 billion in sales by 2010. With ‘This is MASONVILLE’ emblazoned across the screens, 600 salespeople were ready to walk through walls and scale the highest mountains.

The rise and rise of Leo Meehan and the WB Mason team was acknowledged last December when they were awarded Proficiency Person and Company of 2007 – a truly inspirational success story.