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When the financial crisis hit, Chudleigh’s owner Tom Chudleigh asked staff to come up with creative ideas. Many new products came from its sales force.J.P. MOCZULSKI/The Globe and Mail

Chudleigh's apple farm northwest of Milton, Ont., made its first apple pie in 1973.

Making the sweet dessert, all crumbles and flakey dough, is one thing. Selling it to the world is another.

But Chudleigh's Ltd., which started as a humble family operation, now sells 70 per cent of its product to markets outside Canada. Not only are its lemon lava cakes and its apple crisp sold widely in major supermarkets and restaurants in the United States, but Chudleigh's now has a growing presence in Norway and other European countries, Mexico, Japan and Australia. The company of 100 full-time employees – the numbers swell to 300 during peak season from August to December – is now looking beyond, to Brazil, too.

At a time when experts decry Canada's lack of competitiveness in global markets, Chudleigh's knows how to sell. Never mind that it employs only three sales people – who double as market researchers – but Chudleigh's marches on, having grown from a modest 100-acre apple orchard to dishing desserts to the world from a 120,000 state-of-the art production bakery. Its employees have been known to peel 250 apples per minute, then store them in an oxygen-free room.

"Not to sound corny," says Brent Winterton, vice-president of quality assurance and human resources at Chudleigh's. "But we sell apple pies to Americans."

The farm's trademark product is the apple blossom, a single-portion version of an apple pie with petals of dough wrapping the apple pieces. It's the result of the company's brand of innovation. It doesn't jump on trends. It recasts familiar favourites for market forces.

Can't eat a whole apple pie? That's where a single blossom comes in. Chudleigh's has worked its way up the food chain with its single portion desserts, also creating the panna cotta. This is a version of an Italian dessert, which is a cooked cream that reminds you of ice cream, without the need for a freezer. It comes in different flavours.

Chudleigh's started by running a pick-your-own apple orchard, then noticed that customers were looking for a few treats at the end of the day, such as an apple pie or a cup of cider. During the early 1980s, Chudleigh's started delivering to restaurants and grocery stores. It made major inroads when it began selling to Darden Restaurants (which owns restaurants such as Red Lobster and Olive Garden) in the United States and by 1996, it was making apple crisp for the President's Choice line in Loblaw stores. Loblaws offered a platform for Chudleigh's to explore other avenues in the United States.

Now its products are found in such big chains as Costco and Safeway. And it produces private-label manufacturing for all of the major grocery chains in the United States.

"I believe [Canadians] are extremely competitive," says Ian England, vice-president of operations for ServiceMaster of Canada, which has a network of franchises, such as Merry Maids, in 14 countries, including 180 in Canada. "We're not second class. Canadians are conservative by nature, but sometimes the second guy in the pool is safer. First of all, you find out if there are alligators or not."

Mr. England says Americans may have greater risk behaviour than Canadians, but he doesn't believe Canadians make as many "miscalculations."

Predictive Index: A tool that helps

ServiceMaster and Chudleigh's have something in common; they both use the Predictive Index, PI Worldwide's system, which uses statistical analysis of employees' self-assessments to determine whether they are the right personality type to hire for a particular job, and then to set them on the right career path once inside the company.

According to a recent book by PI Worldwide president and CEO Nancy Martini, Scientific Selling: Creating High Performance Sales Teams through Applied Psychology and Testing, very few people understand what selling is all about; since human behaviours are consistent and measurable, companies can save themselves time and money in staff turnover and training replacements.

"It's not mystery. It's not tea leaves. It's science," Ms. Martini says.

The Predictive Index (PI) measures such characteristics as dominance, extroversion, patience and formality. There are no right or wrong answers. For example, people who score highly in dominance are independent, assertive, and self-confident. People who score low in dominance are agreeable, co-operative and accommodating. Sales people who are independent, confident and assertive, among others, make more sales, according to Ms. Martini.

Why promote a sales representative to sales manager if he or she is not a good fit for the job, wouldn't remain happy, and leave?

"Once you have the right fit, the person has a lot of energy," Ms. Martini says.

David Lahey, president of the Predictive Success Corporation, says about 300 companies in Canada have signed on to the system. Chudleigh's has been using the system since the 1990s.

Chudleigh's seeks employees that understand its culture and know how to be successful in the marketplaces they are entering. "There are a lot of factors working against us, with the [global] economy being the big factor," Mr. Winterton says. "So we have to be incredibly competitive and strategic and PI helps us."

When the economy tightened in 2007 and 2008, the Canadian dollar fell against the American one, and commodities like flour and butter soared. President Tom Chudleigh took the problem to his staff members, told them what the company was up against, and asked for input to solve it.

Salespeople as innovators

Their small but select sales force is constantly on the watch for trends, Mr. Winterton says. They have to be innovative, giving customers solutions to problems or presenting a product with a new twist. The Chudleigh favourites, the pineapple upside-down cakes, the lava cakes, the cookies with a bit of a twist (like Cookie in a Pocket), are all generated from Chudleigh's sales force.

For instance, selling to Norwegians presents different challenges than selling to Californians, Mr. Winterton says. For one thing, Europeans have smaller freezers, and tend to shop for groceries more often. Even within the United States, California buyers are into the organic, health-conscious vibe. People in other states have fewer qualms about biting into a tasty confection.

"If you want to compete, you have to know where you're doing business," he says.

In spite of the slow economy, the 2010 fall season was one of Chudleigh's most productive and efficient in its history. It surpassed its targets in peak season consistently by 7,000 cases and added a further 25,000 square feet to its production facility.

"Everybody has been saying red [ink] was the new black, but we're still in the black," Mr. Winterton says.

Qualities of successful salespeople

The nature of selling has dramatically changed, particularly in the Internet age, according to a recent book by PI Worldwide CEO Nancy Martini, author of Scientific Selling: Creating High Performance Sales Teams through Applied Psychology and Testing:

- Buyers have more information;

- Selling is more demanding;

- Buyers are less willing to part with their money;

- Selling is becoming more professional (sales is a growing component of MBA programs);

- Sales and marketing are merging;

- Selling globally is becoming a vital skill.

Salespeople who were independent, confident, assertive and embracing of change elicited five times more sales than people who did not have those characteristics, according to Ms. Martini.

The customer is more a focus of the top salespeople. Rather than delivering a rigid pitch, they need to have the intelligence and independence to focus on customers' needs and solve their problems, quickly assessing the situation and adapting their pitch accordingly.

With that in mind, the sales force now has to become more agile and attuned to the customer's needs.

They must:

- Possess all the core skills of a top consultant;

- Have the intelligence to assimilate information very quickly;

- Have the behaviourial fit to excel under pressure;

- Have the stamina and resilience needed in the field to adjust to what the customer wants;

- Have the smarts to facilitate a sales process that goes beyond old tactics, such as delivering a preset pitch and writing orders.

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