As Dave Brady pondered his company's need for a full-time salesperson besides himself, an ex-employee named Steve Gruszka walked in the door. "I was thinking about it, but not actively looking," Brady says. "His timing was good." Gruszka had worked for Brady's company, Oak Design amp; Construction in Oak Park, Ill., for 14 years as a lead carpenter, but he left in 1997 to start his own company. When he closed his company and contacted his old employer, Brady immediately saw the potential for his first salesperson. He had realized that his company could not grow without additional sales help. "I thought it was a good idea because of his experience in selling and keeping crews busy," Brady says. Also, Gruszka was familiar with complicated design/build work. Brady says salespeople who come from the field side have a working knowledge that is necessary for design work. "Without that knowledge behind them they can't facilitate a good project," Brady says.
Brady was right about Gruszka. He was indeed an ideal candidate for the job, which requires a wide range of skills. Salespeople meet customers, develop design concepts, draw up estimates, and work with production managers. "It's a big job to ask any one person to do," says Kerry Bramon, owner of Kerry Bramon Remodeling amp; Design in Columbia, Mo. Though his salesperson, Angela Holloway, has the necessary skills, Bramon prefers to use a team approach. He wears the primary sales hat, while Holloway is the designer and customer contact.
For Brady, communication skills and an even temperament are key. Although he does not want a clone of himself, Brady says he does look for people with similar organizational skills. Sales veteran Dave Bowyer says sellers act as interpreters. "People might know what they want, but they don't know how to ask for it using remodeling language," he explains. A salesperson has to translate homeowner wishes into a concrete plan.
Peter Schrader's top priority is integrity. "If someone is going to represent our company and support our client base, we have to have full confidence in their integrity," says the president of Schrader amp; Co., Burnt Hills, N.Y. In addition, Schrader says the reputation of their previous employer will tell him about their skill level.
There are two schools of thought on hiring for sales. The first is to hire someone with sales experience and teach them about remodeling. Most remodelers, however, lean toward a second option, which is to teach sales to someone from the industry. "Remodeling is so complicated that having practical experience makes a difference," Schrader says. He found that a candidate for an administrative position had construction knowledge that made her better suited for sales. During the interview, Schrader asked her to describe a cross section of an addition, from the earth to the rafters. "She did an exemplary job -- better than some carpenters," he says.
Bowyer agrees that sales staff need a basic background in construction principles. "It would be unbelievably difficult and dangerous to hire someone who did not have a background in simple residential practices," he says.
On the other hand, Kerry Bramon hired Holloway fresh out of school with an interior design degree. He says she's a great listener and understands people's personalities. Combined with his industry know-how, they form a solid remodeling sales team.
Brady says hiring from outside the industry might work for new homes or single-line companies. For his high-end design/build business, though, remodeling skills are a must, and someone familiar with his company's specific work is even better. After hiring Gruszka, he moved one of his lead carpenters into sales. During the sear that person. "You have to grow into more complicated design/build jobs," he says. Gruszka and his former lead carpenter were already familiar with Oak rch for this second sales position, he interviewed a candidate who ran his own small company, but Brady felt he'd have to cull through projects to find simpler jobs foConstruction's work.
Schrader has found salespeople through suppliers, distributors, manufacturers, other contractors, and advertising. "It's a lot of work, but once you start an ad campaign, it gets easier," he says. In his ads, Schrader refers to the position as a "project planner," which he thinks is more descriptive of the actual job.
In 1997, Peter Schrader brought in a sales consultant to train his staff. The consultant reminded them about the subtle points that influence sales -- points like when meeting with a couple, hand out a card to each of them. Having the salesperson's name in front of both people leads to a conversation on a first-name basis, which makes for a warm, comfortable dialog.
"They learn how to respond in a timely manner and handle follow-up calls," he says, "None of these make or break a sale, but they offer advantages." He noticed a sales increase, as well as an improvement in attitude, as the staff began to view themselves as professionals.
Instead of sending Steve Gruszka to training classes, Dave Brady gave him tapes and books and accompanied him on sales calls. "While they are under your watch, you have to make sure they are representing the company properly," Brady says. "You have to coach your salespeople."
Paul Eldrenkamp, president of Byggmeister in Newton, Mass., believes sales training can benefit everyone on staff and even sent his architect to classes to improve his design communication. "You're always selling something to someone, whether it's a change order to a sub or a call back to a field person," he says.
Give it your all
Owners may find it difficult to let go of sales, but once they realize the benefits, they don't look back. Schrader now handles less than $50,000 worth of work. "I pulled away from sales to concentrate on guiding the company," he says. He stays away from involved projects because his clients would suffer due to his lack of time.
Brady knew it was time for a change when he had more leads than he could convert to a close. He says his marketing and reputation were bringing in good leads and he knew investing in a salesperson would increase his sales volume. "You know if you hire someone it will go to the bottom line," Brady says.
Most talented salespeople know this, too, and expect to be well compensated. Prior to 1997, Schrader's salespeople were paid on salary. After the formal training, he changed to full commission. In 1999, he decided salary plus "incentives" was more fair and competitive. He bases the incentives on quantity, with the volume of sales, and on quality, with the gross profit margin. "You can't reward one without the other," Schrader says.