No One Sells Like the Owner

Owners should sell. How much they actually sell depends on their company's makeup. For small companies, the owner has to do it. Once you hit $1 million, the owner has to decide between hiring a salesperson or a production person? The owner can't do both and do $2 million.

The owner must ask, If I add personnel, should I stay in sales or stay in production? He needs to figure out if he likes sales. Some owners don't. I do, but I know I can't do it full-time because of other responsibilities.

For companies like mine, doing $3.5 million in remodeling and $2 million to $3 million in custom homes, the issue is more a choice than a necessity. We have sales personnel already, so it's up to me to decide whether I want to keep selling.

Stay in the Game

No one can sell the company like the owner can. No salesperson has the passion and inner feelings of the one who worries about paying bills and keeping everyone busy. Still, the owner must free up time to take on other responsibilities so the company can grow.

I sold $800,000 this year, mostly to people I know. I leave the bulk of leads to our sales staff of three. I keep my hands in sales to handle important clients, but I owe it to my salespeople to give them most of the leads.

I enjoy sales because I like solving problems. Some are easy; some are more complex. When we tweak the plan again and again and come up with a solution we haven't thought of before — that's very exciting.

Terry Bennett, CR, CGR, CAPS

Terry Bennett Builders & Remodelers

Westlake, Ohio

Big50 1991

Sales Hats Off

It's good for owners to create opportunities, but they should hand off prospects to salespeople to write specs, estimate, and close the deals. Owners sharpen pencils too sharp. We're out of touch on pricing. We make policies but are the first to break them.

On a recent lead — an old buddy — I went on the call and then handed it off to one of our project coordinators. Why? Because as soon as challenges arrive, I want to be the guy in the white hat, riding up, meeting the client halfway — and there are always conflicts, particularly on large jobs. I can't be put in the bad-guy position, and I would be if I sold jobs.

Staying in Touch

If you're selling, how are you working on the business? You should perpetuate the company, create opportunities, network, learn to become a better leader. We didn't grow until my partner, Rick Filo, and I took off our salesman hats. We did $2 million that year (1997), and this past year, we did $8.5 million.

There are better ways of staying in touch than selling. We visit jobs at the beginning and at the end. If problems arise, we're better positioned to mediate. Salespeople aren't a dime a dozen, but good ones exist, and they've made a career of it. They're patient and are experts in reading personality types and buying trends. I'd rather be an expert in running the company.

As a salesman, an owner is worth about $150,000 to his company. As a CEO, the owner can be worth half a million dollars to the organization, working on bigger issues and building a viable business.

Rick Bartelt, CGR

Bartelt-Filo Design-Build-Remodel

Menomonee Falls, Wis.

Big50 1998