Dream Job

By Jim Cory
Everyone complains that installers are hard to find, but if you own a home improvement company then all the installers in the world won’t help if you haven’t sold a job. You need salespeople and it’s not like you can order them on Amazon. Plus, many companies have yet to give up the “churn and burn” management philosophy whereby a ton of people are hired, coaching is nonexistent, and double-digit turnover rates are expected.

These days, in many markets, salespeople are hard to find too. A few reasons: One is simply the record low unemployment rate. There’s also the nature of the beast. Installers sign on to stay. Salespeople get restless or discouraged. if you were counting on an endless supply of hungry twenty-somethings, be advised that Millennials are reluctant to work for commission.

Outside And Inside

So, what do you do if you have someone who’s had stellar months, even years, and is now selling just enough to get by? Let’s say closing at a 15 percent rate? With the average cost of an appointment running at about $325, if your average sale is $8,000 and you gave them ten leads a week, you’re spending $13,000 a month to bring in $48,000. Adequate? And someone else could be selling a lot more of those leads.

“We set a benchmark of 25 percent close rate, minimum,” says Charles Gindele, president of Renewal by Andersen of Orange County in California. To find and keep people who can sell $2 million a year, Gindele says, you have to set the expectations in hiring and training. People new to home improvement sales think: I can make a quarter-million dollars a year for driving around talking to people? What they don’t get, he says, is that “you’ve gotta earn it.” For instance, a candidate told Gindele that selling windows was her “dream job.” Then she struggled and before she left, a few months later, they sat down and talked again. “This is hard,” she told him.

Veteran home improvement salespeople call it “a hard way to make an easy living.” Daily rejection. Night and weekend hours. If someone can hack that but happens to be in a slump, do you hand them an ultimatum?

Attitude Vs. Skills

Many owners will not give an ultimatum. Mediocre salespeople almost have to fire themselves. In smaller companies, relationships come to count for a lot. “We’re total and complete softies when it comes to letting go of a sales rep,” says Jeff Moeslein, owner of Legacy Remodeling in Pittsburgh. Behind that reluctance is the awareness that “you’re taking away someone’s livelihood and their ability to provide income for their family.”

There’s that concern and the hope that something will change.

“Sometimes I may not have a great salesperson, but at least he’s doing something for us, and I can hope he’ll turn it around,” says Lee Wegner, Secretary/Treasurer of ABC Seamless, in Fargo, North Dakota. Wegner acknowledges that “hope is not a plan.”

If someone’s not succeeding, that’s “either an attitude slump or a skill set slump,” says popular author, speaker and sales expert Mark Hunter. A good manger helps people succeed. That’s the job, in a nutshell. Though, set some limits. His suggestion: “Give them three chances.” What owners should ask, Hunter says, “am I better off with or without that person?” That might seem like a matter of simple metrics, but if you’re trying to decide whether or not to hold on to someone, metrics only tell you there’s a problem, not what the problem is or what to do about it.

Fix Your Head

“If their attitude is stinking up the place,” Wegner says, they’ll be gone. But attitude versus skills can also be tricky. People rarely blame themselves for failing. If someone can’t close business, it’s the leads (lousy), the customers (cheap), the weather, anything. Excuses pin failure into place.

So potential exists—was demonstrated in the past, or was evident in hiring—but so do bad habits. And the way to ferret out bad habits, says a New Jersey sales manager, is to ride with a salesperson on two or three calls. Watch, say nothing even if they crash and burn. Then: time to get real.

What’s often the case is that they’re skipping steps in the sales process, so that when it comes time to close, they have no solid argument for buying. Or “they start talking too much about themselves, or they don’t ask for the order,” Wegner says.

So what it comes down to is, you’ve got to figure out what the problem is, and if the problem is inside the salesperson’s head, you’ve got to, as Gindele says “fix his head.” They might need to learn something they forgot, or something they were reluctant to learn, like using an iPad to present. The key to recruiting good salespeople is to “find the guy who understands presentation, can communicate, who doesn’t get flustered with an objection and will learn a script,” Wegner says. And be willing to work with them if they hit a rough patch. Perfectionists make great installers. But “a perfectionist is not going to be a very good salesman.”