The bell outside Michael Goldberg's office rang, and the OmniSource Marketing executive exchanged a knowing glance with part-timer Rob MacDonald.
One of the company's 17 sales representatives had just closed a deal.
And MacDonald deserved some of the credit, since he has managed OmniSource's sales force for about a year-working four hours a day twice a week.
It's a concept MacDonald developed as part of his full-time job at Sales Team, an Indianapolis-based consulting firm. The aptly named Part-Time Sales Manager Program was designed for small businesses, giving them an affordable way to fill the sales manager's job without diverting resources from other areas.
Sales Team believes it's the first program of its kind in the country.
"The concept is a solid one," said Dick Canada, executive director of the Center for Global Sales Leadership at Indiana University. "You are outsourcing the function to help a company better manage its [bottom] line."
"It's been a fantastic benefit," the OmniSource vice president said, crediting the program for increasing sales by 25 percent this April over the same period last year. "It's freed me up to do the higher- level projects I need to do for my company. And it gives me the ability to grow faster."
OmniSource needed someone on staff whose sole responsibility was to manage sales, Goldberg said, but the company often struggled to fit the position into its budget. The family-owned firm makes hats, shirts and other promotional products, posting annual sales of more than $8 million.
The part-time program aims to change that.
MacDonald hatched the idea after fielding an inquiry from a customer not long after joining the eight-person Sales Team as a vice president in 2003. He identified the need for part-time management help, but couldn't find anyone else in the country offering it.
So Sales Team stepped in.
"We target companies where the owner is acting as the sales manager, where there is no sales manager or where through attrition the top salesperson has taken the position of sales manager," said MacDonald, who manages the program.
Such scenarios have drawbacks, causing the owner to lose sight of the big picture, sidelining a productive salesperson or allowing sales efforts to drift without direction.
Small businesses are particularly vulnerable, IU's Canada said.
"Inside a small company, that [sales manager] expertise often doesn't exist or time doesn't permit someone filling the role," he said.
That was the case at OmniSource. Before MacDonald began his part-time stint, Goldberg managed the sales force himself. But hiring a full-time sales manager would have cost at least $100,000 a year, he said.
MacDonald's services are available for eight hours a week for as little as $2,000 a month. And he doesn't accept sales commissions. MacDonald is in OmniSource's office twice a week, running the company's weekly sales meeting on Tuesday mornings.
"I have the flexibility of not having to hire someone full-time but still have the ability to grow," OmniSource's Goldberg said. "And I feel he is available anytime I need him."
When he's working with a client, Mac-Donald does what he calls sales mapping: detailing what made past deals successful.
"You would be amazed at how many business owners can tell you their top 10 clients but who can't tell you how they got their business," MacDonald said. "How can their sales reps re-create this if it's unknown? That's what sales mapping shows them."
He also develops a customer-relationship-management program to ensure that salesmen "are asking the right questions and talking to the right people," MacDonald said. "The best ones are and the others aren't."
MacDonald now handles the sales manager function for five companies. In addition to providing direction for the sales staffs, he sometimes has the authority to hire and fire, freeing company managers from being the "bad guy."
He has plenty of variety in his workdays, since his clients typically aren't necessarily in the same business-although he isn't precluded from working for competitors.
"I'm learning different industries but I'm not selling their products," MacDonald said. "I'm managing their sales teams. I don't get into the car and do ride-alongs."
That's just fine with Chris Capshaw, a system sales engineer for Warehouse Equipment Inc., which sells racks and conveyors to distribution companies and has been working with MacDonald six months. Though it's still too early to determine the financial impact of the program, it has provided some needed focus, Capshaw said.
"Our sales people kind of worked on their own or had an engineer managing them," Capshaw said. With the part-time sales manager "we have forecasts and he keeps our sales force focused on what they need to be doing."
MacDonald, the only Sales Team employee currently assigned to the part-time program, has the capacity to handle six clients at a time. So far, he has attracted clients mostly through word-of-mouth referrals, but MacDonald said Sales Team is looking to introduce the concept in other nearby cities, such as Louisville, St. Louis or Chicago.
"I doubt that this idea would work in Crawfordsville. It needs to be where big industries are," MacDonald said.
Canada, who also heads the Indianapolis-based salestraining firm Dartmouth Group, said the program's success could come at a cost-to the program. If a part-time sales manager is successful in improving sales, he said clients might find the money to hire someone full time.
"The biggest challenge is to create sufficient value," he said. "I believe on an ongoing basis, he will have to build [client] turnover into his business model."
That's not news to MacDonald-or OmniSource's Goldberg.
"If it's not working for me-or if it's working too well-I can suspend it," Goldberg said.