The way some reps operate, "gross sales" is more than just an accounting term. Rick Kapres knows them well.

"Sales people who work smarter are much more effective than those who simply make a ton of calls and puke features and benefits all day on people who aren't looking to buy, don't care about the features and benefits you are selling, or are not the persons in the organization who make the call," says Kapres, vice president of sales at Versatex Trimboard in Leetsford, Pa. "That type of salesperson will say 'I have a good relationship with so-and-so' only because that so-and-so sits and listens to their pitch, but those people NEVER make the sale."

While dealers nationwide recognize the need to diversify their sales base and prospect for customers to replace the legions of builders who went bust, their outside sales reps (OSRs) know both activities can suck hours from their work week. That makes it more important than ever to generate the most revenue in the least amount of time.

But what does it mean to sell efficiently? To answer that question, ProSales asked for tips from more than 2,500 LBM sales managers and sales consultant Rick Davis. We then organized the responses into 20 of their best ideas.

1-Figure Out Who's in Charge

The key to efficient sales, Versatex's Kapres says, is to find the ultimate decision maker—a challenge that in some companies can be as daunting as closing the sale, particularly if the business has lots of people who influence corporate purchases. "In that case, we instruct our people to do what is needed to hit all of them and make sure they clearly understand what our value proposition is," Kapres says. "This can involve various presentations to individuals or groups, like the entire sales team or production team of the prospective buyer. Fully engaging everyone in the process is a time- consuming process, but if you do not do it you are wasting your time when selling to a multilevel company."

2-Listen for the SONG

"I guarantee you that when I leave a meeting, I will know more about the customer and the inner workings of his company than they will know about me and my business," declares Dena Cordova, regional sales manager at Foxworth-Galbraith Lumber in Colorado Springs, Colo. That's because she and other leaders stress to their staff the need to listen to customers more than talk.

"As a company, you know what you have to offer, but don't assume that you know what your customer needs," says Stephanie Daniels, regional sales manager at Atlas Roofing Corp., Sanford, Fla. "If you listen, they will tell you and you can customize what you have to fit most, if not all, of what they need to be successful."

Kapres tells his team to learn a company's SONG (Situation: Where are they currently?; Organization: Who makes what decision?; Norms: What's the process for buying?; and Goals: What matters most to them?). "It helps us not waste time with prospective accounts that are not the right fit for us or who are not ready to buy," he says.

3-Quit Making Impromptu Visits

Sales managers across the country were unanimous in declaring dead the era in which a sales rep could drop by a jobsite or mosey into a new store unannounced and chew the fat about yesterday's ball game. Even the clients who love you don't have time for idle chatter.

"We need moments with our customers of 'meaningful specifics,' not 'wandering generalities,'" says Dave Worthington, general manager at F.P. Supply in Indianapolis.

Justin Mann, sales and marketing manager at Worth Supply, a high-end roofing specialist based in Charlotte, N.C., says he has found that without an appointment or at least permission from the builder to come by, "you are not only wasting gas and daylight; you are potentially offending them for not respecting their time."

"When at all possible, we are asking for permission to enter before we go barging in the door," Mann says. "It can be as simple as asking if you can drop off literature or just bring by a business card and a note. But once you are in—and you have been invited in—conversation and sales develop faster and with less tension."

4-Load Your Guns in Advance

"The most efficient way to sell a product line is to set the meeting with the decision maker and be prepared with the needed information to close the sale," says Dan Kelly, sales manager at Tri-State Forest Products, Springfield, Ohio. "That information should include competitive market information, advantages of your product in that market, a recommended opening order that makes sense, a plan on promoting the line in that market, and possible terms that will help take the cash flow burden off the customer."

Tom Minick of Dixie Ply in Tampa, Fla., tells his sales reps to prep for each meeting by coming up with a "commitment objective." That helps move the sales process along and avoids wasting either side's time.

"Ninety percent of our battle is making sure we can explain the goods and/or services correctly," notes Dave Amato of PrimeSource's branch in Greensboro, N.C. "We seem to be more knowledgeable when we understand the use of the product rather than trying to read off of a sales flyer."

5-Refine Your Telephone Skills

Your dazzling smile and good ol' boy banter will do you little good unless you can see the customer face to face, and often today that won't happen unless you also can make an effective call and/or leave an intriguing voice-mail message. Davis and other sales gurus tell managers to listen to their reps' telephone techniques and push their salespeople to practice that first call.

"Let them know that you respect their time and their business," Mann says, "and have something good to say that can help their business and make their life easier. Or else don't go."