Andrew Shore did all the selling for his company, Sea Pointe Construction, for the first decade or so that it was open for business. That changed, the Irvine, Calif., remodeler says, when “I realized that the size of the company was dependent on me doing sales forever — and that there's a finite amount of sales that any one person can do.”
The concept of having a dedicated salesperson — never mind an entire team of them — is a foreign one to most remodeling contractors. Like Shore, they alone comprise the sales departments for their companies, and are reluctant to hand those duties off. Ultimately, though, their plans for growth dictate that they must. There's no magic number at which a company's annual volume is too large for the owner to sell by himself, but most start thinking about hiring a salesperson around the $3 million mark.
“It really becomes a struggle to wear as many hats as you need to,” says Jon Vogel, owner of New Outlooks Construction Group, in Robbinsville, N.J. Shore agrees. “As our company started to grow, I needed to spend more time running the company, and less time doing sales.”
LAY THE GROUNDWORK Building a sales team is a gradual process, and one that requires considerable planning to be done properly. The first step is to develop a model for your company. “Planning for growth is critical,” says Andrew Wells, vice president and general manager of Normandy Builders, in Hinsdale, Ill. Set short- and long-term goals for company revenue and owner's compensation. If you plan to compensate your salespeople on commission, you'll need to restructure your pricing.
Clearly defining the salesperson's role — before you hire — is also important. At many high-end remodeling companies, salespeople have design or estimating responsibilities, or both. Deciding this before beginning your search will not only dictate the skill set you look for in potential employees, but will also help you realize what additional staff you might need to support the new hire.
ONE BY ONE “The first salesperson you hire is the most critical,” Wells says. The good news is that once you hire and train a salesperson who sticks, you can use them to help train the second, and the third, and so on.
The hiring process for salespeople presents some unique challenges. For one, Shore says, “Good salespeople can sell you on anything” — including themselves. Shore went through several hires who convinced him they were a good fit for the company, but ultimately weren't.
He eventually turned to a consultant for help with personality profiling, and one episode solidified the decision to do so. Shore planned to hire a saleswoman against the advice of the consultant, who said she was too demanding to be a fit with the company. The morning he was set to make the hire, Shore found an envelope on his desk, the contents of which were the prospect's demands. Needless to say, he changed his mind, and he hasn't gone against the consultant's recommendation since.
Wells says that your competition is one place to find potential salespeople. “You know who you're going up against, and it's nice to hire someone who knows what they're doing.” Shore says that the first salesman who really stuck with his company had previously worked for a competitor.
On the other hand, Jim Mirando Jr., president of Excel Interior Concepts & Construction, in Lemoyne, Pa., has hired people with remodeling sales experience and those without it, and says the ones who stuck have been the newbies. “We'd rather train them our way,” he says.
Mirando's salespeople double as designers, so he looks for a design degree in addition to a work ethic and a personality that is an overall fit with the company culture.
Once you find the right person, there's the matter of figuring out what to teach them. Full-line remodeling and design/build sales processes are rather abstract, relative to other business systems, and, chances are, reside solely in the head of the company principal. “You must have written procedures and policies,” Shore says.
Sea Pointe's training manual includes everything from dress codes and how to handle yourself in front of a client, to what forms are used and in what order everything is done. “It covers all the highlights of how things work, and why we do them,” Shore says.
David Callahan, owner of Callahan & Peters, in Glenview, Ill., took a novel approach to putting his sales process down on paper. He has charged his recent sales hire — his first — with writing the company's sales manual. “He has experience in remodeling sales for companies larger than ours,” Callahan says of his new employee. “I invited him to bring that experience to the process.” Once a first draft is finished, Callahan says, “I review it with my slant toward who we are.”
The training process at most companies involves the new hire tagging along on sales calls for some length of time. For example, new salespeople at Excel apprentice under Mirando as design assistants, going out on sales calls with him and gradually doing more and more of the work until they are able to do everything on their own. Going from assistant to full-on designer/salesperson takes about a year.
But the very nature of sales can make it difficult to impart what's been successful for you onto a new hire. “Really good salespeople know how to drift outside the lines,” says Mark Richardson, president of Bethesda, Md.–based Case Design/Remodeling and national franchisor Case Handyman Services. “But as a coach, you have to walk your talk. You have to go overboard following the rules.” Once the new hire has spent ample time at the side of an experienced salesperson, it's common practice to have them switch roles, with the veteran shadowing the rookie.
That tactic brings its own challenge. “It can be very difficult to keep your mouth shut, but you have to,” Wells says. “They are probably going to ruin some leads you could have sold, but you have to let them earn their wings.”
Indeed, many remodelers are reticent to entrust sales responsibilities to their employees. “Your clients are your clients, your friends, and your relationships,” says Mark Franko, CEO of Franko-LaFratta Construction, in Richmond, Va. “But you have to be able to let go. The worst thing you can do is to sabotage your salespeople by not letting them do what you hired them to do.”
A thorough hiring process will also help alleviate some of those fears. Callahan went through a six-week interview process with his recent sales hire. “Am I going to have a hard time letting go?” asks Callahan, who had handled sales for the company since he started it. “No, I'm not. I realize that it absolutely has to happen for us to grow, and I spent enough time interviewing him that I feel he's a really good fit.”
KEEP WATCH Once you hire your first salesperson, you'll find yourself in need of someone to fill another new role in your company: that of sales manager. Shore hired his when he had five salespeople on staff; Wells says he thinks eight is the threshold. Richardson suggests that you consider a full-time sales manager for every five to 10 salespeople you have on your team. Any fewer than that, and the solution is to have someone in your company wearing multiple hats, managing sales in addition to other duties.
That person is most likely to be the company owner. Wells cautions against having a salesperson also acting as sales manager because of the possible conflict of interest. “The potential is there for that person to cherry-pick leads,” he says. Or, you might end up with a commissioned employee spending more time managing than selling, which is unfair to them.
It's unusual for owners to completely remove themselves from sales, at least right away. “Life is not so nice that you go from black to white,” Richardson says. “There has to be some gray.” As you develop your first salesperson, you'll likely remain in a sales role.
Whether you ultimately decide to leave that part of the business completely goes back to your strategic plan. Mirando says he enjoys his role as sales manager and design director, and will delegate other responsibilities to remain in it. Vogel, on the other hand, says, “Although selling is the part of the business I like the best, as we hire more sales staff, I'm just going to back away.” Already, with three salespeople on the payroll, Vogel works almost exclusively with existing clients, stepping in with new customers only on the most complicated jobs.
If your sales staff grows to the size where you can justify a full-time sales manager, the benefits are bountiful. Shore says his salespeople are more efficient now that he's not the only one keeping an eye on them. “In the past, we were a bit lax on how we controlled their time and what they were doing,” he says, “in part because I didn't have time to do it.” Now, he says, the sales manager is focused on making the team more productive — increasing volume that way rather than by adding additional staff. “We want to have a strong salesforce, not just a large one,” he adds.
GREAT EXPECTATIONS Richardson says that he expects a “first-string” remodeling salesperson to sell at least $1 million annually; someone who sells more than $2 million is an “all-star”; and anything more than $3 million indicates a “hall of fame” performer. Wells says that anything above $1.5 million is a successful year at Normandy Builders. Additional responsibilities of salespeople and the size and type of job your company does will affect what constitutes a reasonable expectation.
It's important, however, to be realistic with your sales goals, particularly for new employees. “A big mistake people make is asking the person how much they'd like to sell,” Richardson says. If you budget for them to sell $1 million of business and they sell just $800,000, you'll end up with a headache. “It's much better to be conservative when they don't have the history,” Richardson adds.
Wells warns against getting complacent with established salespeople. “Don't ever assume that someone has ‘made it,'” he says. “No one is ever done learning.” Companies with larger sales teams hold regular sales meetings to review progress toward sales goals, continue training, and discuss any changes in the sales presentation or showroom.
TOO GOOD TO PASS UP Wells says that sales positions are the hardest ones to fill on a remodeling staff. A salesperson may need knowledge of design, construction, and estimating, in addition to a natural talent for selling and a willingness to work on commission. That combination isn't easy to come by, and there are some who believe that, while it's best to plan for a new salesperson, sometimes you just can't let one go.
“I'm always interested in bringing someone in if they're the right person,” Mirando says. If your company is financially healthy, you can make an unexpected hire without endangering your profitability. Callahan's salesman inquired about working for him before the company had finalized plans for hiring one, and when the prospective employee proved too good to pass up, they were thankful they had the cash reserve to bring him on.
Vogel, for one, would love to find himself in the same situation. “If I could hire another qualified salesperson tomorrow,” he says, “I'd do it.”