Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Immunotec: Growth Driven by Alignment

Immunotec: Growth Driven by Alignment
by Barbara Seale


Better. That’s the word that captures how Immunotec created a dramatic growth surge this past year. It got better at a wide variety of actions that drive its business. Collectively, all those improvements resulted in a 47.5 percent increase in 2014 total revenue, reaching CAN$80.8 million (US$72 million).

Sponsoring, which the wellness company defines as the number of new consultants and customers, got better, too. It increased 85.2 percent over 2013 to nearly 64,000 in Mexico, its largest market, while the rest of North America increased 26.7 percent to nearly 20,000. Since then, the numbers have continued to get better, reaching almost 100,000 in total. The company’s growth catapulted it into the 2015 Direct Selling NewsGlobal 100 for the first time in its 19-year history, coming in at No. 97.

Such inspiring growth doesn’t happen randomly. Great products are required, of course, and Immunotec can boast that its flagship product is backed by an ever-increasing number of impressive clinical studies. It’s even listed in the prestigiousPhysician’s Desk Reference, the comprehensive drug reference book used by doctors, nurses and pharmacists. But products don’t tell the whole story. Underlying the numbers is a critical concept: better alignment. CEO Charlie Orr credits the growth surge to the alignment through implementation of the company’s vision, mission and values keystones.

“This isn’t just about a number of years of great growth,” he says. “We already had everything we needed, but we were out of balance. Until we all got aligned in terms of how we thought about the business every single day, growth was destined to be elusive.”


Walking the Talk

Words alone aren’t enough though, and Immunotec threw the weight of a comprehensive program behind the words, creating visible messaging reminders that help to cement the common goal of consultants, employees and the board of directors to grow the business. In the headquarters lobby, a floor-to-ceiling stone wall incorporates all the important words from the VMV for visitors and employees to see. Accompanying the wall are stone portraits of Bounous and his collaborator Patricia Kongshavn, Ph.D., who was a professor and fellow researcher in immunology at McGill University.


Framed copies of the VMV were presented to employees, who now prominently display them in every office and department of Immunotec in Canada, the United States and Mexico. And events—the lifeblood of any direct selling company—always reflect the VMV. Consultants even refer to them during opportunity meetings. And every communications element, including incentives, promotions, the company’s bimonthly electronic newsletter, the website, the Immunotec Facebook page, and email signatures are designed and aligned to “live” the VMV.

“The better alignment that our Vision, Mission and Values created throughout the company has accelerated growth, and it will support reaching $100 million Canadian and beyond.”
—Charlie Orr, CEO

The VMV even inspired the creation of the Immunotec Children’s Fund, the company’s philanthropic flagship. Immunotec launched the fund at last year’s annual barbecue to continue Bounous’ lifelong dream of improving the lives of underserved and underprivileged children. The fund partners with consultants in their local communities to help support children’s academic, nutritional and physical needs.

“The better alignment that our Vision, Mission and Values created throughout the company has already accelerated growth, and it will support reaching $100 million Canadian and beyond,” Orr says. “The next thing that is foundational for us is consistent execution of our business rhythm throughout all of our markets.”

That rhythm pulsates through the power of corporate, regional and local events strategically scheduled throughout the year to reinforce the sponsoring, engagement and development of consultants. From smaller events in January that build excitement for the big sales convention every February, to regional conventions in each market, to the company barbecue in September, to the big sales incentive trip—or trips, depending on the market—something is always happening to deliver excitement, training and recognition.

“Executing against our business rhythm is as important as anything we do,” Orr says. “When you break that business rhythm, you confuse yourself and the field. You take something away that people have come to expect. We may tweak, update or change, but we always partner with the field to make everything we do an improvement over the last event, and always first class. But each event must have a high degree of predictability because our consultants are the folks who drive the business forward.”

Business Builders

Once the events are over, consultants take their knowledge and enthusiasm home. They work their business using recently developed training programs and better communications tools that create message alignment across the company.
“Our products have always been great, but we needed our distributors to open new doors,” says direct selling veteran Jean-Pierre (JP) Trottier, the company’s Vice President, Sales and Marketing. “Over the past two or three years we have provided them with training programs, communications to support the products and the business opportunity, a new field recognition program, and a business presentation template so that the presentation was easily duplicable and everyone spoke the same language. New people came into Immunotec because they wanted to live an active and productive lifestyle. We were able to position the product to attract a large segment of the population, and we supported business-building activities at the same time.”

They recrafted the compensation and incentives program for leaders and paired it with additional leadership-development initiatives, training leaders on their responsibilities at each leadership level. For example, three years ago a senior leader could earn the annual travel incentive trip through personal performance. Today’s incentive qualifications require leaders to demonstrate both the ability to perform personally and to develop members of their teams. Field leaders soon realized that focusing on their teams would bring even more income opportunities and satisfaction. The company also developed field task forces that enable the company’s headquarters staff to partner better with field leaders.

“Those who were given new responsibilities rose to fulfill the new expectations,” Trottier recalls. “People want to feel appreciated, and feel they can contribute. The system we created enabled them to feel better about their role and the impact they were creating. We’re still working on it, but it’s becoming part of the culture.”

Investing in Infrastructure

As sales and sponsoring ramp-up, Immunotec is supporting its field by investing in key infrastructure. Its new $500,000 technology platform will be faster and easier to use, and it will provide better access to information that consultants use to build their business. The online order system will be more user-friendly and will provide the opportunity for immediate product purchases. They expect to launch a program this fall to ramp up monthly orders and auto-ship with an eye toward improving consultant retention. At the same time, they will launch programs that reward auto-purchasers, such as greater discounts.

“Our products have always been great, but we needed our distributors to open new doors.”
—Jean-Pierre (JP) Trottier, Vice President, Sales and Marketing

“We’re developing special loyalty programs that reward users so that they order regularly. For some people it takes weeks or months before they feel the benefit of the products, so we put lots of effort into communicating to users to explain the benefits of the products and of staying on the products. This also benefits the field, as it helps them create long-term customers.”

The new state-of-the-art system will give Immunotec an improved ability to analyze data, as well. This year the company will also deploy new payment processing capabilities in selected markets that will better support commission payments.
Beyond technology, Immunotec opened a new sales office in October 2014, in Commerce, California, customizing it with meeting rooms and computer facilities to support business presentations and sponsoring. Trottier says the facility has been a big help in boosting U.S. sales. Orr notes that the investment in the facility recognized better sales in the U.S., especially in Southern California, which produces about 25 percent of the company’s U.S. sales.

“Our Southern California-based folks demonstrated by their performance that it was time for us to open such a facility,” Orr explains. “Looking ahead, I think that model can be replicated in other parts of the country.”
As Orr looks to the future, he is both optimistic and patient. He envisions the company expanding into more international markets, especially in Central and South America, over time, but he also wants to increase penetration in current markets. He notes that the company has created a robust product development system that will provide ongoing new products and enhancements. Orr also envisions further developing Immunotec’s field leadership and notes that the company has Diamond Leadership, its first major leadership level, in two-thirds of all states in Mexico, its largest market. But as Immunotec approaches its 20th anniversary, he emphasizes that this is a moment in the company’s history that deserves to be saluted.

“Everyone should celebrate the fact that we entered the Direct Selling News Global 100 and the North America 50. But just like there’s a difference between achieving rank and holding rank, our goal is to hold our Top 100 ranking,” he says. “Overall, we could grow as much as 10 percent in 2015. But we’re taking time now to hold rank, to do all the right things and not force things that can’t be forced. I see a vast amount of potential if we follow the model we’ve put in place over the last few months for how we think about this business.”