The Game is Talent

By Jim Cory

Tough market out there today if you’re looking for production people. There are fewer and fewer people to hire. At the end of last month, Fortune pointed out that 60 percent of contractors “reported difficulty finding skilled workers in the third quarter.”

Wait, Then Panic

It’s not news that installers are hard to find. Everybody’s talking about it.

The difficulty in hiring labor points to a bigger problem, which is attracting young people to an industry that’s hardly a career destination. This is as true for sales positions as it is for production. And it is a bigger problem because salespeople turn over rapidly.

Among other things, that means that if you wait until someone quits before starting to fill a position, you’re losing money. Since most people eligible for the job are already employed, you will likely have to persuade someone to leave their current position.

So why then does recruiting fall to the bottom of the typical owner’s “To Do” list? Because it takes time, requires tough decision-making and carries risk. In addition, recruiting produces no top line dollars.

New Way of Seeing

Many owners think this way. Larry Closs, owner of MaxHome, a bath and window company in Texas and Louisiana, isn’t one of them. He used to believe that home improvement was “a leads and sales business.” Now, he says, “the game is no longer leads and sales, the game is talent.”

Closs makes recruiting part of his every working day. He gets copied on every resume and reviews each. He’s developed an internal referral program for salespeople. Every week he searches LinkedIn for potential sales candidates.

MaxHome isn’t a small company and you might think he’d have better uses for his time. Say, dealing with suppliers or negotiating media buys. Closs says others can do that with no significant difference in outcome. An owner’s email gets someone’s attention. “This is the most important thing that I can do,” he says. Last year he recruited four good people on LinkedIn. “All had jobs already,” Closs says. Three of those recruited are still with MaxHome.

Teach Him The Math

Others have come to similar conclusions about recruiting. One reason more people don’t continuously recruit, notes Brad Fluke, is that it means investing marketing dollars.

Fluke, owner of The Honey Do Service, a franchise he founded in 2002, has a recruiting budget. “Craftsmen respond to print ads,” he notes, “managers and salespeople to digital.”

While most handyman services have tradesmen estimating, selling and performing the work, Honey Do sends a salesperson first. Fluke says he’d “rather have a person who knows nothing about the trades” do the selling. He’s looking for a different kind of personality in sales, hence the need to recruit across multiple platforms. “I can teach him the math,” Fluke says, via his company’s proprietary estimating software, which “turns a two-hour process into a half-hour opportunity” to sell the job.

Six Questions

Most candidates for sales positions know they won’t get far without charm. But, as Closs points out, he’s not looking for the charm that builds relationships. That kind of salesperson is better off in Business-to-Business sales. He’s looking for the closer, the one with little fear of rejection.

So is Brian Diamond, owner of Quality Home Exteriors, in Omaha, Nebraska, who took his one-man-band of a home improvement operation from zero to $3 million in sales in three years. At the big company where he worked as a division manager, Diamond typically had 15 salespeople reporting to him. That’s where he realized it’s a lot easier to manage 10 great salespeople than 15 mediocre ones, because the great salespeople essentially manage themselves. It also solved the turnover problem; their attrition rate was 28 percent, compared to 124 percent at the rest of the company. So when he launched his own business, he knew about hiring salespeople. Hire those who strategize and plan. He does that by informing candidates he’ll ask them six questions in 20 minutes. They’re responsible for keeping time.

“At some point, I’ll say to them: how many minutes do we have left? How many questions?”

The reasoning behind this, Diamond says, is that “if I give someone a ten-step selling process, they need to know where they’re at in that process so they can finish it. If a homeowner tells you something that has value and importance for the sale, and you don’t follow through, you’ll lose the sale.” Finding those who grasp that concept intuitively means the need for extensive training is minimized.

Don’t Go It Alone

In hiring salespeople, it’s easy after a while to drop your guard. Michael Damora, vice president of sales and marketing at K&B Home Remodelers in New Jersey, looks for someone who “has a personality, is intelligent, capable of critical thinking, and of problem solving.” His advice after decades of hiring salespeople: don’t do it alone. He cites the “horns and halo” effect of solo interviewing. You stumble on to something you have in common with your candidate, and overlook all the reasons he or she won’t work out. Or, conversely, you notice something that annoys you, and your in-ever-other-way suitable candidate grows horns. His advice? At least two people should interview.