By REMODELING Magazine Staff. Learn as you go

My company has eight salespeople, including me, and our top producers have no formal sales training. I'm a firm believer in continuous education for the sales staff, but I think that education is best when it comes on the job, through first-hand experience. This is especially true in the remodeling industry, where we need to know so much about so many trades to sell a profitable job.

Unless you have that experience -- working one-on-one on the job with an expert in the same field -- you can't fully understand what it takes to sell the job right. We are all selling ourselves first to the client, and then we sell the project. There's no set of steps anyone can follow that will lead to earning that needed trust. You have to know what to say and when to say it. You have to know how to be a good listener and be able to develop a relationship with any type of client in any environment. Working closely with another more experienced salesperson, especially if they're good, is the best way to develop these skills.

Time and practice

Keep in mind, you can't develop your staff into good salespeople this way after one or two sales calls. In any industry, the best of the best did not get there overnight. It takes time and practice, but I couldn't be happier with the results of that investment for my company. After 20-plus years of selling remodeling projects and being involved in industry associations, I know I have some of the best salespeople around.

--Bill Feinberg, CR, Allied Kitchen and Bath, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Big 50 1994

Formal training requested

Before we took advantage of professional sales training, our sales process was pretty much a seat-of-the-pants approach. I can't even count the number of hours I wasted chasing down leads that I never really had a chance of getting in the first place. With professional training, I've been able to establish a standardized, repeatable sales system that's drastically improved our closing rate and made us more efficient and professional.

Even remodelers who have systems in place for other aspects of their business often don't have one for sales, especially the ones who don't think of themselves as salespeople. But these remodelers can adapt to the salesperson role better if they have a set procedure to follow. Far from depersonalizing the process, a good sales system helps you develop the rapport you need with prospects.

Systematize the process

When someone calls our office, our sales staff has a list of questions they need to get answered before we move forward, but the point is to get those answers through a conversational approach. By following the system, we show clients we're primarily interested in determining what their needs are, not in telling them whatever they want to hear, and that's vital in developing trust.

There are many different kinds of professional sales training available, and I think the important thing is to learn what's out there and then adapt it to your own needs. Every interaction with a client is related to sales, and being trained to manage that interaction effectively can only improve your image in the eyes of your market.

--Bill Simone, Custom Design and Construction, Los Angeles, Big 50 2001