Case Study: First Data Corporation Gets the Message

Industry: Payment processing

Objective: Reduce the 57 percent turnover rate of sales staff, while also boosting lagging performances

Solution: Bring in outside trainers One to One Leadership to work with staff, while also making internal adjustments in communicating goals and feedback between account executives and leadership

Results: More than 50 percent drop in attrition and a significant improvement in sales, not to mention a more open and engaging work environment

About a year and a half ago, the leadership of First Data Corp., a payment processing company based in Greenwood Village, Colo., knew that improvements needed to be made at the company. For one, the turnover rate among their 800 account executives was at 57 percent, and they wanted it down to 33 percent (slightly below the industry standard). Second, too many of their account executives weren’t hitting their numbers. While a few top sellers kept the overall sales from falling too far, 20 percent of the sales force weren’t even hitting 70 percent of their expected quotas.

“One of the things that we realized as we did a lot of our own research and our own data gathering regarding our organization was that everything else-productivity issues, morale issues, turnover issues-they all circle back to communication and leadership capabilities in the organization,” says James Wilhelm, vice president of human resources at First Data. The company seemed to have everything in place, from a large team of experienced sales personnel to a clear organizational structure. But it was having trouble tapping into that potential and maximizing the plentiful resources it had. Like Ali Baba standing outside the cave, for First Data, accessing the available treasures was a matter of saying the right word.

Communication issues are a funny problem for a company like First Data. As a payment processing organization, much of its aim is to transfer information clearly between organizations. When a customer buys something at a retailer with his or her credit card, First Data processes the information between the store and the financial institution. But with most of its account executives and managers working from home, a focused, company-wide message was difficult to establish.

So First Data reached out to Longboat Key, Fla.-based training company One to One Leadership. The company is a small one: It was run just by Mary Ann O’Neil until a few years ago, when her son Sean, who had been working as a corporate lawyer, decided to give corporate training a try. The two have worked as a duo since.

Before beginning the formal training, Sean and Mary Ann spent almost two months in “fact-finding” mode with the company, joining reps on their sales calls, interviewing managers, conducting focus groups and researching the company. They took the information they learned and modified their standard curriculum to fit specifically with the industry and company and culture.

“It was definitely a program designed for long-term impact, not quick hit,” says Wilhelm.

To begin the formal training, One to One asked managers to take an assessment similar to the Myers-Briggs personality test, with answers to various questions revealing their present style of managing and the implications for their ability to manage.

“You could see lightbulbs going off and people saying, ‘Oh my God, I did that just this morning before I got in here,'” says Mary Ann. After determining their “style,” managers estimated the style of those they managed, discussing the key drivers and motivators that got them to really achieve.

The goal of these assessments was not sensitivity training, but to dislodge the communication barriers between sales staff and managers. “You have to be able to modify your approach and so forth, based on the people around you; that is a key tool in helping them become better leaders,” says Wilhelm.

Blocking and Tackling

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