As a successful remodeling business grows from a one- or two-person operation to a company that warrants a dedicated sales staff, the owner must often assume the role of sales manager. But managing people who sell requires a different set of skills from selling itself. Though entrepreneurs tend to be good sales-people, sales managers also need to be teachers and mentors. The transition can be a tough one.

Hopkins & Porter Construction in Potomac, Md., provides a good example of how this transition can take place smoothly. Mike Porter Denker and Guy Hopkins Semmes started the business in 1977, and as is the case with most startups, the partners did everything at first, from estimating and selling to production. Neither had any formal business training, but as the company grew they found themselves having to hire and train a sales staff. That meant they could no longer rely solely on their own instincts.

“You have to write job descriptions together, codify all the things that you do, and be able to explain how and why you do them,” says Denker, who is now general manager. “You also begin running your business more by the numbers, looking at things like volume per salesperson and leads in versus sales made. These things really came to the fore when we started managing other salespeople.”

Managers like Denker who have walked the growth path say that the best way to get through it with your company and your sanity intact is to create good growth “maps.” Like a solid accounting system, it's best to have the maps in place before you grow. Creating those maps means thinking through whom to hire, how to train them, what jobs to give them, and how to evaluate their performance. Getting this right can be the difference between smooth growth and chaotic collapse.

Raw Material The traits that make someone good at selling remodeling jobs are the same as those needed to sell anything. “The most important qualities, and the hardest to find, are a good attitude, passion, and the ability to accept rejection and get back up,” says Gary Marrokal, president of Marrokal Construction, a San Diego remodeler with more than $15 million in sales this year. He also checks references and tries to determine whether a candidate will fit the company's customer-focused culture. “Clients are a lot more difficult to work with than they used to be. They're working too hard, and they're stressed,” he says. “We want to make sure we have a team of people that respects that and doesn't add to their stress.”

Despite the fact that personality traits top the list of requirements, most remodelers tend to look for salespeople who combine these traits with some industry experience. That includes Marrokal. His salespeople are referred to as “design consultants” or DCs, because they help customers design their remodels. His hires range from former designers, to a framing contractor, to an electrician. He describes his DCs as “top performers,” with four of them averaging $3.5 million each in sales per year. He attributes much of that success to good training.

Back to School Training may be the most important part of sales management, but in a growing company it can be complicated by the fact that the sales manager is still learning how to do his job, while at the same time trying to train new salespeople. The advice from remodelers who have been through this process is to get all the help you can.

When Tom Gilday and his brother Kevin started Gilday Renovations in Silver Spring, Md., they relied on their combined knowledge to sell and manage jobs. As they grew to a $7 million company with 40 employees, they recognized the need for formal training. They now put all new salespeople through the Sandler Sales Institute program, a nationwide sales training franchise. Sandler training teaches salespeople how to deal with the emotions that buyers go through. “It reminds them of who they are and what their role is. It also teaches them to look at potential negative elements and how they might impact sales,” Gilday says.

Hopkins & Porter also puts its salespeople through Sandler. According to Joe Leonard, the company's vice president of sales, Sandler's system also teaches people to compartmentalize the sales process (design, product choice, construction contract, etc.) and to have specific strategies for each phase. He believes that putting all salespeople through the same training has made everyone better because it provides a common language that lets salespeople help one another work through problems.

But training classes are just the beginning: managers must also plan for ongoing coaching, something that can happen at weekly sales meetings. The sales manager uses this time to encourage salespeople to air problems and ask questions so that they can learn from one another's experiences.