Springboard for success: how a leading chemical manufacturer grew its average contribution margin of sales by 84%

The Client: Valtris Specialty Chemicals

Valtris Specialty Chemicals (“Valtris”) is a leading global provider of specialty chemicals. Headquartered in Independence, OH, with facilities across the globe, Valtris services a diverse range of markets and industries, including flooring, building and construction, packaging and consumer goods, transportation, paints and coatings, flavour and fragrance and more. 

With a rich history dating back to 1919, Valtris as it is known today was born in 2014, when Ferro Corporation sold its polymer additives division to H.I.G Capital, and Valtris gained its name in the process. 

From there, Valtris quickly expanded. In 2016, Valtris acquired Akcros Chemicals Ltd., an industry juggernaut with a strong foothold in Europe and South Asia, which itself had made a significant acquisition the year previous. In 2018, Valtris added INEOS ChloroToluenes And INEOS Baleycourt to its family of businesses. 

With five businesses coming together in four years, Valtris quickly arrived at an inflection point. A natural opportunity arose to establish more strategic, intentional and professional company governance. As a complex organization with more opportunities and a larger sales team, Valtris needed to improve the visibility, control and management of its opportunities in order to drive progressions and increase its number of wins. 

Valtris engaged Mensana for an exploratory assessment to discover more and propose a plan.

The Challenge

Mensana spent three weeks onsite with the Valtris team, tracing the sales process from beginning to end. The challenge as initially presented was an issue of sales progression: only 18% of technical sale technical-sale opportunities progressed one stage or more. But stagnating sales were only a symptom of the deeper challenges at hand. Mensana identified several opportunities that would lead to greater success at Valtris. 

Undefined business development strategy

Without a clear, unifying strategic plan at the company level, accounts and business units continued to function in siloes, with no way to identify and grow accounts with aggregate potential. There was no bigger picture to connect sales execution to, and no global strategy to dictate how the sales approach could or should be shaped. 

Lack of empowerment

Without a defined strategy clearly delineating roles and responsibilities, the technical, marketing, product and sales teams could not collaborate effectively. The directors of the four business units and the VP Sales each had differing strategies and priorities, resulting in multiple sets of instructions being given to the sales reps with no order of priority. This resulted in frustration and confusion for the sales team, and prevented them from staying focused. 

No comprehensive sales excellence program

The sales team at Valtris had no formal sales methodology in place, little formal training and few metrics to measure sales success and aid in continued growth. Sales were left in the hands of individual reps. Approach and timing varied according to each individual, and the connections they had weren’t necessarily the ones with buying influence. The sales team took an unfocused, scattershot approach to sales. Accordingly, much of the reps’ time was spent on low-priority activities driven by operational process breakdowns, including fulfilling sample requests, following up with clients and following up internally. 

Limited tools and technology

The spreadsheets used to track and assess wins and opportunities were manually updated and suffered from version control issues. The technology also did not tie into the financial data, making it challenging to see tangible results and develop the key performance indicators necessary to assess progress. 

The Goals

Following the initial assessment, Valtris and Mensana together committed to transforming sales from its ad hoc approach into a professional, commercial sales program, with the following markers of success: 

1. $2.2M in validated new growth within 12 months 

2. Double win rate and Increase project pipeline progression 

3. Create and implement a sales program to organically grow sales 

4. Align sales team to strategically-defined markets, customers and products

5. Establish clear, meaningful metrics to accurately track performance 

6. Tie performance to financial outcomes to support data-driven adjustments to strategy

7. Manage CRM implementation to provide real-time visibility into sales performance

8. Clarify roles and responsibilities; establish communication channels necessary for success 

9. Coach and train leadership to drive Valtris’ journey towards a best-in-class sales environment

10. Empower and support staff during transition

11. Engender a new culture of excellence and rigour, transparency, and continuous improvement 

The Approach

Mensana approaches strategy and implementation by examining a framework composed of four key pillars of an organization: system, process, actions and beliefs.

System

Refers to the tools and technologies being used to manage, plan, execute, control and measure key data and steps throughout the transformation. 

Process

Describes the step-by-step activities that are taken to execute a plan. 

Actions

Must support the success of the process by addressing variances and course-correcting as needed.

Beliefs

Describe the guiding views of leadership and the cultural environment of the company. 

An organization needs all four of these elements to work together in tandem to reinforce the success of the company. The pillars work together by necessity: beliefs inform actions, actions feed processes, systems measure the success of processes, the success of the process further shapes beliefs and so on. If even one piece is out of alignment, the entire structure is affected. 

The challenges identified at Valtris were symptoms of gaps and disruptions present in the framework. By tracing the origins of the challenges at Valtris back to these pillars, Mensana was able to develop a strategy that addressed the weaknesses in its current framework.

The Transformation

Developing and executing a sales excellence program

Unlike many traditional consulting firms, whose projects take months of planning before any changes (and provable benefits) can be seen, Mensana takes an agile approach that blends rapid improvement with permanent long-term transformation.  At Valtris, creating and implementing a rigorous, commercialized sales excellence program was a massive undertaking. Sales representatives already felt short on time and reluctant to take on even more work. To create immediate relief and free up room for the broader sales program, Mensana quickly addressed one of the team’s biggest pain points: the sample fulfillment process. 

A quick win 

Sales reps were spending 37% of their time — over a third of their hours — on sample fulfillment and troubleshooting. Of this lost time, 29% of it was over delayed samples. Nearly 40% of samples were taking longer than seven business days to fulfill, by which time most prospects had cooled. Using the same core framework — system, process, actions — being applied to the sales excellence program at large, Mensana got to work to address this bottleneck right away. A new system allowed the team to track late samples, identify root causes, and showcase weekly fulfillment to identify any concerning trends. The sample process was standardized according to best practices to reduce variance and improve quality. Stakeholders were managed: in particular, the operations team, which had felt disconnected and unmotivated from a lack of visible strategy, was now given assurance and insight into how its work was supporting strategic leads likely to result in new business. 

The average lead time for samples dropped significantly: on average, commonly-ordered make-to-stock samples were fulfilled in two days, and make-to-order samples in five. This victory proved the success of the Mensana consulting framework and generated excitement for the evolution to come. 

The long horizon

To guide Valtris from an ad hoc selling approach into a professional sales organization, Mensana developed a sales playbook. 

The program was developed in collaboration with leadership, who would be charged with training, supporting, reinforcing and mentoring staff throughout the transition. 

A sales excellence process with six distinct steps replaced the haphazard outreach of old:

1. Portfolio planning. Customers are prioritized based on existing or potential business; account actions are accordingly assigned.

2. Account planning. Account strategies, objectives and action plans to defend or capture business are defined; key account information and contacts with buying influence are identified. 

3. Activity planning. Outreach is defined in terms of touchpoint frequency, regional clustering, and planned opportunity progressions.

4. Pre-call planning. Meeting objectives are set and aligned with account plans; past performance data is reviewed and steps defined to enhance relationships, deepen customer knowledge and progress opportunities. 

5. Execution. Actions are taken to advance account, outreach and call plans. 

6. Follow through. Outcomes are documented. Schedules are adjusted and next steps revisited at the next identified progression point.

The result? Sales managers’ days were restructured to include four times as much active selling as previously, most of it focused on proactive sales efforts—a massive increase. 

Training was deployed across the board and continually reinforced until the new actions became fully inculcated in sales managers’ behaviors.

Sales reps showed strong adoption to the program. The number of sales calls per rep increased by an average of 43% per week over base. Average win size also jumped, with average win size increasing by 2.3 times. 

To mitigate the risk of slippage, several steps were taken: a sustainability audit was installed to review compliance regularly, and a portion of variable compensation tied to operational metrics. 

A new system to support data-driven performance

As the new sales program developed, an enterprise-grade CRM was installed to replace the manually administered spreadsheets. 

Mensana worked closely alongside the software rollout consultant to assist with transferring the data, setting up customer information in the new system, and validating and scrubbing the existing data into something clean, accurate and understandable. Mensana also created a process to link the CRM to the financial database to yield more meaningful insight into sales transactions—the two had previously operated independently of each other.

Valtris could now accurately capture KPIs and track metrics and performance. Previously, 60% of opportunities in the pipeline were being listed as ‘won’, but without the accountability of hard data the true health of the pipeline was unclear. New criteria were developed requiring that deals marked as closed-won in the CRM system be supported with financial statements. Detailed insight into actual performance emerged. 

Following real-time trends in the data, Mensana and Valtris together continued to iterate and improve on both sales strategy and execution. The results spoke for themselves. Enthusiasm continued to build as numbers improved and the benefits of the program became clear. 

Empowering growth through new actions and beliefs 

As a natural consequence to the changes in process and system, the actions and beliefs at Valtris also shifted. The new culture became defined by several tenets: 

1. Collaboration and trust. Trust in the strategy, trust in the process, trust in the data, and trust in leadership to provide guidance. Working together to ensure results. 

2. Transparency and accountability. Embracing accountability and accepting the responsibility of each role in the Valtris universe. 

3. Being process- and results-oriented. Using data to make informed decisions and allowing results to guide; moving away from the mentality of security and legacy, and towards growth and innovation.

4. Continuous improvement. Examining current performance; highlighting the gaps and areas of variance; planning ahead to guide future action; adjusting, improving, and iterating. 

For this global evolution to succeed, the entire organization needed to ‘walk the talk’, starting with leadership. With Mensana’s guidance, Valtris developed a new, more active management model, allowing it to proactively manage the organization. Leaders began setting expectations, instilling accountability and coaching performance.

The effects of this new management model cascaded. Initially, sales managers were reluctant to change how they approached customers; tradition was prized. With this new management approach, they became more open to change, maintaining themselves to the objectives and behaviors that support a more rigorous standard of delivery. Collaboration also increased between teams, with Sales, Business Directors and Technical Services coming together to progress strategic opportunities. 

The new management model clearly defined the roles and responsibilities of sales leaders and business leaders. The VP of Sales and the Business Directors now developed strategy in tandem, and the responsibility of providing executional direction to the sales team remanded to the VP of Sales exclusively. This instilled the sales team with greater ownership over the strategy, and provided the consistent and focused direction to empower sales reps’ growth and success. 

Connecting business development strategy to execution

As Valtris’ commercialized selling program expanded and its culture became more established, so too did its business development strategy. With new strategic principles to help shape the execution, the data from the sales program in turn informed adjustments to the global strategy. 

Unlike traditional consulting rollouts, where strategy leads and execution follows, for Valtris, strategy and execution developed in symbiosis. Developing the strategy in tandem with the execution offered the unique opportunity to quickly prove or disprove its soundness. Right away, Valtris could incorporate the strategic principles into the sales process and observe the effects: a rapid in-situ testing. 

This led to several large changes in strategic approach and marketing. 

1. Increased digital marketing efforts. The initial impetus behind the company transformation was to progress leads more quickly into wins. Over the course of the sales program’s development, it became evident that a large number of leads were stagnant or insignificant. This evidence of a shrinking pipeline impelled Valtris to work on developing its digital marketing strategy, investing in its website and advertising efforts, and adding an inside sales role to drive healthy business development. 

2. Sales specialization. At the project outset, Valtris was maintaining its generalist sales approach. Reporting showed that the sales team was favoring easy-sale transactional opportunities and not pursuing more technical sales. To more closely match their strategy, Valtris broke away from its territory-based structure to develop a specialized sales team dedicated to high-value technical opportunities.

3. Account-based marketing. Initially, Valtris had developed strategic initiatives targeting roughly 30 customer segments. Data showed that two-thirds of the initiatives were not succeeding. The initial list was cut down, and engagement shifted to focus on target opportunities that were resonating more strongly in the market. 

4. A permanent shift in company values. The definition of a ‘Valtris employee’ has shifted to align with the values, skill sets and behaviors necessary at the new Valtris. Mensana helped Valtris redefine their job descriptions and target candidate profiles to attract talent that fits the new culture. Mensana was even on hand to observe and support the hiring of new employees. 

Valtris continues to thoughtfully examine its business development initiatives with planned yearly refreshes, including a potential follow-up opportunity with Mensana to more clearly define its prospecting strategy. 

The Results

The results of the 28-week project exceeded expectations. 

1. Within 3 months of project completion, Valtris realized $340k in incremental contribution margin.

2. Within 1 year, this number rose to $2.5M (over the initial commitment of $2.2M).

3. Within 2 years, this number was trending towards $20M on an annualized basis.

4. Progressions per week steadily increased to 45% over base. 

5. High-growth project opportunities were progressed 1.5 times faster

6. Progression sped up by 53%, indicating a more fluid funnel with ‘real’ opportunities.

7. On-time sample delivery increased from 64% to 99%.

8. 5.3 ROI on total investment achieved within 32 weeks post-project.

Valtris achieved a major triumph when, following its new program of sales excellence, it won a bid to act as a primary supplier for a leading global polymer producer within three months. 

These results, however, were just the beginning. 

What Mensana started, enabled and supported with its wealth of industry expertise, Valtris took full ownership of. 

The new Valtris way of life is now fully entrenched within the organization, with leadership continuing to adapt and scale the sales program with new growth. 

Valtris continues to break new ground, explore new markets and evolve into a best-in-class sales organization. Leadership has expressed interest in re-engaging Mensana for future work, citing Mensana’s commitment to results, ability to drive strategy-based execution and spirit of partnership as key ingredients to collaborative success.  

To learn more about how you can unlock your fullest potential and ingrain sales excellence into your organization, get into contact with the team at Mensana.