SIGMA Marketing Case Study
Rapid Turnaround with Changing Talent
Case study completed during Kenyon Blunt's tenure as CEO, 2007-2012. Company was then sold, and the name has changed.
SIGMA Marketing Group was a multi-channel marketing company with a national client base of Fortune 1000 companies. SIGMA assisted clients in creating more profitable customer relationships through analytics, strategic one-to-one communication programs, and marketing technology. The company designed and managed complex campaigns in an efficient, automated manner and recommended media that would provide optimal results for clients' marketing campaigns. At the time of this case study, the company’s annual sales were $12 million.
When Kenyon Blunt was brought on as CEO, his job was to turn the company around. Says Blunt, “We had just hemorrhaged $800k, and my immersion quickly convinced that while some systems needed improvement, those improvements were not going to take place without a major improvement in talent.”
Blunt quickly concluded that about 55% of employees were chronic underperformers. SIGMA had a ‘debating society’ culture that needed to be transformed to a client- and sales-focused culture.
"We went from 45% A Players in our company to 90%. After a disastrous year, our new and Topgraded talent helped us achieve 6 solid years of steady revenue growth and almost $2 million profit in the last year."
- Kenyon Blunt, CEO
After reading Topgrading and attending a Topgrading workshop, Blunt rolled out the Topgrading disciplines at SIGMA. “Topgrading went a lot smoother when I hired Gidgett Ingalls as Vice President of Strategic Planning and Human Resources,” says Blunt.
“She took responsibility for achieving high talent goals. As CEO, I set high performance standards, but she and her team did the heavy lifting.” If managers balked at using the new methods and standards, Blunt occasionally came in to back up HR.
By the third year, Topgrading had been fully implemented throughout the company, and everyone knew that the methods would be used for all jobs going forward.
"Topgrading went a lot smoother when I hired Gidgett Ingalls, Vice President of Strategic Planning and Human Resources."
- Kenyon Blunt, CEO
Hiring goals raised. SIGMA gradually reached a point where 90% A Players were hired at all levels of the company. At the entry level, high performers were hired using a simplified version of the Topgrading hiring methods.
Emphasis on hiring from internal referrals. 35% of hires came from internal referrals; bounties of $2-5k were awarded.
Faster and better applicant screening. According to Blunt, “The Topgrading Snapshot is an excellent way to streamline the candidate pool and more efficiently focus on those that meet all the requirements.”
Coaching new hires improved onboarding. The SIGMA team built a robust and comprehensive onboarding program where the employee was introduced to the position, team, department, and company. At each level they shared what makes the team successful and how they measure and track accountability against key metrics.
After Blunt implemented Topgrading, the other necessary improvements were made in operations and systems, and SIGMA became profitable in year two and achieved almost $2 million profit after a few more years.
"To be successful in all aspects of business, you must get the people right – first and foremost! From the leadership to the general employee population, A Players create and require an entirely different culture which correlates with higher engagement and positive results. Having used many recruiting processes and methodologies in the past, I can honestly say that Topgrading is the best investment for ensuring that your company hires A Player talent."
- Gidgett Ingalls, Vice President Human Resources and Strategic Planning
Advice to New Topgraders from Blunt and Ingalls
- Do not let urgent needs to hire someone result in lowering the bar to B Player. Stick with the Topgrading methods and standards.
- Stick with the process through any initial apprehension or pushback. Let the process speak for itself.
- C Players need to be removed, even if they have expert or historical knowledge. The opportunity costs of keeping them on board are exponential to morale and newly hired A Player talent.
Kenyon Blunt on Selling the Company
"In the late 1990s, I was on top of the world. The database marketing company I founded had grown profitably, but then I got stuck. My business plateaued and I dreaded going to work every day. So, I made a career change. What I loved most in the SIGMA turnaround was improving marketing. I found that my efforts to learn about how to become “unstuck” applied perfectly to marketing. I launched my consultancy using the 3-page Lean Marketing Plan to draw clients.”