February 29/March 7, 2016; Volume 30, Number 18
By David Romano
I am looking to hire a sales associate and I need him to bring over a book of business. I don’t have the time to train him; I need him to hit the ground running when he gets started so he can pay for himself right away. He needs to have at least five years of experience and bring at least $1 million of business with him. Can you help?
Dear Unrealistic Owner,
You are not looking for a sales associate; you are looking for a unicorn. You may be able to find a pony with pink spray paint and a fake horn that has been glued on its head. Someone who really has a big book of business most likely will not want to risk the uncertainty of income when leaving his current employer. Now, someone who tells you he has a big book of business and is willing to leave his employer—that’s the pony with the pink paint. We have hired hundreds of sales associates for our clients and nine times out of 10 they have more success when they hire the right personality, with potential, and teach them to sell flooring. Your route almost always leads to overpayment and disappointment. Here is my advice:
Bad habits and untrainable
When you hire on experience you inherit all habits, both good and bad. It is much easier to teach a new dog new tricks. New sales associates are eager to learn and happy to take direction while many veterans are closed off.
High pay, no assurance
Someone who supposedly writes over $1 million is not going to come cheap. You will have to pay him a very high draw/salary in hopes that he brings enough business to cover that draw. Keep in mind you are hiring a sales associate who is going to sell you on the fact that he has a book of business. If he doesn’t deliver, you now have an overpaid and untrainable employee.
Keep in mind that you are hoping to poach someone who is currently employed at one of your competitors. If you are able to steal him away for the potential to earn more money, what makes you think he won’t leave you for an opportunity with another one of your competitors? They learn your secret sauce, get access to your customers, establish relationships with your reps and—bam—off to your fiercest rival.
Training the greenies
It is understandable that there is a reluctance to train rookie sales associates because of the level of training involved. It takes a year for someone to become a truly professional flooring sales consultant, but someone can become quite proficient in as little as seven weeks of intense training. But that training can be administered without a lot of effort from an owner/manager. Take one product category and have the sales associate complete two days of online training on just that one segment, send him out to assist crews for two days, have him work with some reps learning features and benefits for one day and then have him shop your competition for one day. He should come back with results of the experience. Now hit the repeat button for the rest of the categories.
Once that portion of the training is complete you are left with measure, estimating, order entry, scheduling and selling strategies. The World Floor Covering Association (WFCA) University and some buying groups have made this even easier with training programs that bring rookies back with skills that are often more polished than veterans’. Best of all, this method produces an appreciative, motivated and coachable employee that is not overpaid.
We wish you the best in finding your unicorn; if you do, please take pictures.