Vetting potential customers the right way requires coaching your sales reps says LBM consultant Dan Harris in the second installment of a three-part series.

You had the discussion about focusing reps into projects with a higher probability of sales success. Now what? One dilemma that could result from developing a tighter group of customers and projects is that there rarely seems to be enough of them to qualify. I’ve watched sales reps and managers struggle with this and their inevitable conclusion (in the absence of a plan of action) is to turn over every rock and force-feed blueprints into the organization in the hopes of finding one that fits. “My boss told me he wants sales, so that’s what I’m getting. If he wants to turn it down, that’s his decision.” I’ve heard this many times from reps. Managers often qualify it along the lines of expanding the customer base or simply racking up the sales. If you don’t make an effort to coach reps through the process of growing within this new approach, then you’ll get exactly what you asked for: More sales quotes and a huge supply of chased sales at high cost and low potential. The goal should be to help each sales rep develop a mindset and method that leads them to the customer base and type of project that have higher potential.

Specific direction from the manager is the easiest fix. An example of a more productive statement might be: “We’re keeping inventory low so we can do great with getting small projects out the door in a few days or less. I’d like you to focus your time on getting the guys who can benefit the most with what we can offer. Any ideas?” Ideally, they’ll come back with a list that includes remodelers, basement finish companies, deck builders, and commercial tenant finishers.

A sales-potential metric is another way of getting your sales force to think about making good decisions. Here’s how it works: 100% means it’s a sold job and 50% means you have a 50/50 chance of getting the business. If you implement something like this, reps quickly learn that it’s not in their best interest to submit projects that are much less than 50% without a serious cost-benefit discussion.

Sometimes there is. Occasionally a good customer gets into a project over his head, but he wants to grow. Your choice is to either help him or back off and let a competitor tackle it. Most likely you don’t want to let a competitor in, so you hedge your bets and agree upon a certain level of service. Whether it’s a square-foot number or a really rough estimate, the communication among your departments needs to be clear that the company is making a conscious effort to get this business, and why.

With regular communication, some kind of metric, and feedback, your sales force will find the level watermark. That will help them make increasingly better calls and will likely improve your service department’s morale, too.

Dan Harris owns the construction consulting firm CSFI. He brings 30 years of construction and building materials experience, including two decades of sales, and sales management and training experience with manufacturer Weyerhaeuser and its TrusJoist brand. He can be reached at and (303) 862-9713.