In traveling around the country and observing not only Stock Building Supply but other LBM operations, I can't help but offer a "welcome back" to the true sales professional.

I'm describing those hearty men and women who are gregarious and outgoing, in the store at 5:30 a.m., on the first jobsite by 7 a.m., picking up prints, doing their own takeoffs (including the ones for interior trim and hardware), actually selling the product, and helping to manage the jobsite. You know–a real salesperson, not just somebody who attends builder meetings and takes the client to play golf or lunch.

Our industry has evolved from this type of salesperson to specialist, to the hunter (who couldn't do any of the above), and finally full circle back to the true sales professional. What's interesting is that, in many instances, these people have been in your yard all along.

Let me explain. Back in the day when the Earth was cooling, we had true sales professionals who literally did it all. But then we got lazy. We provided outside sales support to handle material ordering, and then we added estimating support. Yard foremen took a leading role in operations. Drivers became smarter (or so it would seem). Eventually, all the salesperson had to do was visit jobsites to gather prints to be bid and maybe, just maybe, deliver a bid/quote in person.

Then our industry fell apart. Cost-cutting became the norm, and personnel and positions were slashed across the board. We still needed those salespeople, but we started to demand more from them. Unfortunately, in many cases their skills had become rusty and customer service suffered. Of course, our customers were facing the same economic woes and had cut staff accordingly, so the need for service was increasing precisely at the time we were pulling back. It almost reached the point where "nobody knows anything" was the status quo.

The recession forced us to change the process and become smart again. Salespeople began to look out for customers, provide project management and support, hone their blueprint reading skills, and become better salesmen/saleswomen. They checked on their orders more frequently and helped load a truck if needed. Profits had suffered throughout this period, so they started paying more attention to margin management, jobsite penetration and product knowledge.

How's it working? In my opinion, it's coming along nicely. Customers have grown to depend on our professional service again. And where building is still under way, construction people are happy to have a representative who knows and understands their business environment.

Product knowledge is a good example of how things have changed. When product specialists were reassigned or let go, the salesperson had to redevelop that knowledge base or chance losing the customer to a better-prepared person from another company. The result is that product knowledge, and product penetration, have grown.

Welcome back, Sales Professional. I've missed you.