When Brian Martin, a vice president with North Ft. Myers, Fla.–based Raymond Building Supply, is assessing the performance of any of his 40 outside salespeople, the “most important” criterion he uses is whether that seller has “a sense of urgency and response” in the way he or she works with customers. Those characteristics also are valued by dealers who responded to a nationwide survey about sales management, more than three-fifths of whom said “self motivation” is the trait they sought in new sales hires.
These inclinations shouldn't surprise anyone, as maintaining customer relations and prospecting for new business—especially now, with the housing market cooling—are where outside sellers are focusing the greatest amount of their time and effort these days, based on the results of the Sales Management and Compensation Study, which PROSALES conducted this summer (see “About the Survey,” below), along with interviews with leading dealers.
Outside salespeople have a lot at stake in finding and keeping new customers, as their job is one of the best-paying in the home improvement field. Anecdotally, sellers are making anywhere from $100,000 to $400,000 per year, although how they are compensated varies as widely as the companies for which they work.
Their success usually hinges on the quality of the inside support they receive—one dealer calls his inside team the “backbone” of his company's selling apparatus. But this support only recently has included more extensive and ongoing sales training, although that's still an area where many dealers, by their own admission, fall short. “Training is a major, major commitment,” says Scott Ponder, corporate general manager for Rome, Ga.–based Wheeler's Building Materials, which he admits has no formal training program in place.
Inside-Outside Combination The survey reveals that there continues to be a correlation between the size of a company and its employment of outside salespeople. Nearly three-fifths of the survey's 268 respondents operate out of one location, and 28 percent of the total sample have no outside salespeople (see Figure 1, page 66). About the same percentage have only between one and three outside sellers. “We've run into a lot of dealers who claim they don't have outside salespeople, but actually do: the owner,” says the president of one of the industry's largest pro dealer chains.
Compare the survey's findings with some of the larger dealers interviewed for this article: Alpine Lumber, which operates six yards in Colorado, has between 40 and 45 commissioned sellers, supported, at different times of the year, by 60 to 80 inside people. Overland Park, Kan.–based McCray Lumber has 60 outside salespeople and 25 inside support people for its seven yards, two millwork plants, and a truss plant. Chevy Chase, Md.–based TW Perry has 25 outside salespeople for its five locations in Maryland and Virginia. According to Ross Ridout, vice president and general counsel for 14-unit Searcy, Ark.–based Ridout Lumber, which employs 35 outside sellers: “We'd only be getting 10 percent of our business without them.”