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Pitching Coach

Meet J. Sheldon Snodgrass — He Can Help with Your Delivery

J. Sheldon Snodgrass worked in sales and marketing for many years and was, by all accounts, quite good at it. He took that expertise, and some long-undeveloped entrepreneurial drive, and created the Steady Sales Group, a venture that helps clients of all types and sizes effectively market and sell what they do well. There are many aspects to this all-important business function, he says, but it all boils down to finding a good fit between what one is selling and what the potential client needs.

It was early fall 2001. J. Sheldon Snodgrass was an account executive for the local satellite office of a technology consulting company — and stressing about his quarterly numbers. Again.

So much so that, this time, a friend got in his face and prompted a reality check that would change the course of his career track in a seismic way.

“He asked me, ‘do you own this company?’” Snodgrass recalled. “I said, ‘no.’” He then asked if I was going to own the company soon, or if there was any chance that I would ever own it. And I kept saying ‘no.’

“Then he said, ‘Sheldon, why are you carrying so much anxiety when you have so little stake in the company?’” he continued, adding that his friend made it clear that if one is to get so worked up about sales numbers, they might as well do so for a company they own.

And that, to make a long story somewhat short, is how the Steady Sales Group was started. It’s a venture Snodgrass launched out of his Williamsburg home that focuses on how people and companies can improve their sales. Actually, there are several facets to this entrepreneurial gambit; Snodgrass is a sales coach, guerilla marketing expert, and sales consultant.

He has appeared at a number of seminars and networking events locally, telling people how to improve their bottom line, while making impressions that will hopefully boost his own.

His client list has been growing slowly but surely, and now includes everything from a financial services company to a sporting goods distributor to the local nonprofit Human Resources Unlimited. In most, but not all, cases, including that of HRU, which places clients with physical and mental disabilities in employment situations, the product or service being sold is somewhat non-traditional and often quite challenging, said Snodgrass.

“That’s a hard sell,” he said of HRU’s service, but added quickly that, to some, all sales are difficult. His work, in a nutshell, is to simplify the process and help people get a message across.

His own message? That selling isn’t an art and it isn’t a science. It’s a skill that, like all other skills, must be learned and continually honed. This thought process is reflected in a quote from Aristotle that Snodgrass includes in all of his own marketing materials: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit.”

Beyond habits, there are nuances in sales, many of them small but all of them important, he said before offering a small sampling of what he imparts.

“When I teach phone-scripting, I say that some the first words out of your mouth should be, ‘if I’ve caught you at an opportune time, can we take a moment now or perhaps schedule a phone appointment to explore a fit between what I do and what you need,” he explained. “But most salespeople will ask, ‘have I caught you at a good time?’ What’s the inevitable answer to that? ‘No.’

“So now, you’re either forced to hang up or essentially ignore what you’ve just heard and proceed anyway,” he continued, “which isn’t a good way to start toward a successful conclusion.”

In a wide-ranging interview, Snodgrass talks about nuances, sales and how to improve them, and why he believes he’s found a unique, potentially lucrative business niche.

A Quick Hook

When asked about his own sales goals and whether he was meeting them, Snodgrass was direct, honest, and said, simply, “no.”

He then clarified and expanded upon that statement, noting that there can in fact be good reasons for being slightly behind (three months or so, in his case) on one’s projections. And he thinks he has one — specifically devotion of time and energy to other aspects of the business, including those that should eventually drive better sales numbers.

That’s how Snodgrass described his efforts to ramp up his Web site,, a time-consuming initiative that is starting to yield some real results. Those who visit that site will find a breakdown of his products and services, a quick rundown of his credentials, and some testimonials for obviously satisfied clients. And these success stories are arguably his best sales pitch, because they get right to the heart of the matter — the bottom line.

“I don’t want or need people saying, ‘Sheldon Snodgrass was a pleasure to work with,’” he explained. “I want them to say I got results.”

Helping clients identify their best method of approach is at the heart of the Steady Sales Group, a venture that has evolved since Snodgrass’s friend held up a mirror and compelled the entrepreneur-in-waiting to take a good look at himself.

The path to that moment was certainly a circuitous one, said Snodgrass, noting that before taking a succession of jobs in sales, sales training, or both, he spent three years in the Army Transportation Corps, worked for several non-profit groups, and did a stint at a resort in Mexico.

His introduction to the world of sales came after he answered a small want ad for a commission-only sales job at a Boston-area-based corporate travel company called Uniglobe.

“It was a job knocking on doors or, as they say, dialing for dollars, and I was so naïve about what it took,” he recalled. “The ad said, ‘love travel? … $100,000 commission potential … come to this seminar.’

“So I went and listened to this spiel to recruit people to sell for the agencies that are part of this regional franchise,” he continued. “And I raised my hand and said, ‘does this involve cold-calling?’ She just chuckled and said, ‘yes.’”

Despite that awkward start, he did well with the company, and was eventually promoted to sales trainer. After relocating to Western Mass., he took a job as marketing coordinator for Northeast Utilities’ Corporate Challenge Program, where he developed and spearheaded a sales and marketing strategy to provide leadership development and team-training programs to corporate clients, among other assignments. Later, he was a marketing and sales associate with REMI (Regional Economic Models Inc.) in Amherst, and then an account executive with Convansys, where, after two years of selling, he got his wake-up call.

Since launching the Steady Sales Group only two months after 9/11, Snodgrass has assembled a lengthy and somewhat eclectic client list. It includes Epstein Financial Services and Camfour, the Westfield-based distributor of sporting arms and other products, but also a molecular biologist who approached him recently about helping her sell one of her services — three-dimensional renderings of molecules.

The list also includes several non-profits, a neurosurgeon who wants to gain work as a consultant to health care providers, and several technology companies created by and staffed with individuals who may know how to design software but probably don’t know how to sell or market it.

Getting the Calls

Each case, and each assignment, is different, said Snodgrass, noting that for some clients he works to develop sales techniques and specific pitches for banks of telemarketers, while for others, including the many sole proprietors he’s helped, the mission is simply to get them on whatever radar screen they want to get on.

There are some common denominators with each project, he said, adding that these include identification of clearly defined markets, crafting a message and devising strategies to deliver it, and, in broad terms, finding ways to “flush the game,” as he called it, borrowing a hunting metaphor, and then, more importantly, plucking that game.

Helping clients do so is a fairly unique niche, said Snodgrass, adding that, while there are a number of ventures focused on helping clients market themselves effectively, there are few that specialize in sales. This adds up to what could be a lucrative market, because every company, regardless of what it makes or does, has to sell those products and services.

And there is another constant in the business world: no matter how good sales are, business owners want them to be better.

This simple fact has brought many people to Snodgrass’ door, his Web site, or the seminars he delivers. The messages differ, but there are some basic thoughts that he imparts.

First and foremost, he says sales are all about creating a good fit. If there isn’t one, he continued, there can’t be, or shouldn’t be, a sale.

“I have a very clear methodology for teaching sales, but it’s about finding a fit with someone and then finding good, concise, precise questions to ask in order to explore that fit,” he explained. “And when you ask for that fit, you ask for a close, and here’s a big mistake people make.

“When you close, you’re not always closing for the check, or the transaction,” he continued. “You’re agreeing to some next step in the process.”

Other, more specific forms of instruction include everything from tips on crafting an effective voice mail message to leave with prospective customers to steps to take when that person doesn’t call back — which is most of the time.

“It starts with the message; that’s marketing 101,” he explained. “It tells people why you’re different, what makes you special, and why people should give you money.

“But after you’ve left that perfect message, whose job is it call back?” he continued. “The client’s? No, it’s your job.”

Returning, again, to his own business and its sales volume, Snodgrass said many people are calling him back, or not waiting for him to call, because of the obvious importance of sales.

“It’s almost easier to write an ad campaign or come up with some clever marketing scheme than it is to think about how to have a sales conversation and follow up, follow up, follow up until it comes to some conclusion,” he said. “And that conclusion may be only an agreement to a phone appointment or permission to continue the conversation.”

Closing the Deal

When asked how he was enjoying life as an entrepreneur, Snodgrass said, in not so many words, that he wonders why he waited so long.

“I only experienced anxiety when I was trying to meet quotas for other people,” he explained, adding quickly that he is still driven to succeed, but doesn’t lose sleep at night worrying about numbers.

That’s because, generally speaking, he practices what he preaches — about identifying a specific audience, shaping a message to deliver to that constituency, and then delivering for those clients. In short, making a good fit. When anyone, or any business, can do that, he told BusinessWest, the numbers should take care of themselves.

But they can always be better, so Snodgrass should see his own sales numbers continue to climb.

George O’Brien can be reached at[email protected]