Our current economic conditions have left many trades competing for the same project. These conditions remind me of a conversation I had with Mike Barlow about one of his experiences in Africa. Mike is a freelance wildlife photographer that spends many months a year in the wilds of Africa shooting pictures for National Geographic and Field & Stream, among others. He told me about a terrible drought year, when watering holes were so few and far between, animals that normally would not be within miles of each other drank from the same hole at the same time.
Mike's story of basic survival and creatures satisfying a common need is not unlike what many contractors are facing today. How can you separate your business from the others waiting in line to sustain themselves with the same job you need?
Should you add a salesperson to help market your work during times like these?
A few in the decorative concrete industry are good at the trade and great salespeople as well, but not many. If sales are not your thing, then now is the time to push ahead of the competition and find the right person. Having had a salesperson for more than eight years, I can say they can be worth their weight in gold. The key is to set up a pay structure that won't strain your cash flow during lean months. The benefit is having a person that is promptly following up on all leads and closing new work while you are out doing what you do. Let's answer some questions like where to find, train and pay the right person.
Let's assume that right now is the right time to add a salesperson to your business. Finding the right person is key because this person will be your mouthpiece when you are not available to describe your services to a prospective customer.
If I were to come to your town to help you look, the very first type of person I would look for would be someone who is known in the local contracting community. This person would probably be an experienced salesperson looking for a change, or better yet, a contractor looking to slow down. Someone who is over 50, established, patient and financially stable will sell differently from someone young and aggressive. What I like about an older or experienced person is that they will connect better with the type of person buying our services. This type of building rapport is very important considering the competitive nature of today's market.
Nevertheless, finding the right person is as much about matching your personality type as anything else. I know plenty of successful salespeople who I wouldn't want working for me for free. They just aren't my type.
Consider finding someone part time if this hire is your first taste of building a sales team.
Training them Having the new salesperson train by spending time with you personally will lay the foundation of this whole sales gig. Let this person shadow you for a week or two while you are on sales calls, follow-ups, callbacks, everything related to your business. This establishes how you want things handled when you are not available. Cut corners here and you will find yourself answering questions all day, defeating one of the purposes of have a salesperson.
You must put in place a person who thinks for himself or herself and in return trusts that you will stand behind their decisions. Many times my salesman, Scott Reeder, has called to tell me he had to adjust a price or throw in a second color to land the job. In return, many times he has called to say he "sold up " a job by adding a stained patio to a stamped job. They must feel comfortable looking at each job individually and making real-time decisions that are best for the business.
Sending new salespeople to a $400 seminar is not necessary when starting out. They can learn plenty from you and your crew. In the future, maybe, but don't spend the money at this time. Send them off with a portfolio of honesty and good pictures. They don't have to sell the decorative concrete industry, because it has been proven. They just need to sell themselves and your company.
For this to work, establishing the right pay structure is so important. I like low-salary, high-commission pay structures myself. This trickles a few bucks out during lean months but gives incentive to your salesperson. If you cannot afford to pay a salary, then look for a person who is semiretired that would be fine with the "eating what you catch " pay structure. This salesman type will most likely not be as aggressive but would do fine returning sales calls and following up on leads.
Part of the pay structure could include vehicle allowances, fuel, cell phone and bonus levels. Things like health insurance could be important to some but a waste of money for others - it depends on the individual. Don't be afraid to sit down and ask real questions before committing to a pay structure. Overpaying a new salesperson will be an anchor dragging behind your business unless they are closing plenty of work. Track their ratio of closings to sales calls to see how they improve, and don't be afraid to let them sell out of your comfort zone if your local market calls for it.
Doug Carlton operates Carlton Concrete Inc. in Visalia, Calif. He can be reached at email@example.com