In the first installment of a three-part series, industry consultant Dan Harris advises on how to avoid making sales that put your team in over its head.

Chasing sales is a dangerous game. Yet it’s an easy one to fall into and has the potential to eat into profitability and destroy employee confidence. Chasing typically occurs when you or your customers take on projects outside your scope of expertise—in other words, you’re in over your head.

Let me be more specific. When your sales rep forwards a government-funded project that includes custom-fabricated glulam and fire-treated plywood, there’s a good chance you’ve just been handed a job to chase. In another case, your customer passes along a set of ultra-custom home drawings with the heading: Need Bid by Next Thursday. You know that this level of complexity is beyond your customer’s ability to win. In both cases you recognize that any effort to provide a quote is probably not going to yield a sale. But you have to decide:  proceed or don’t proceed; rough-estimate to get it out the door or estimate as normal. If you decide to play, then your company is committed to the costs of producing estimates for trim, the frame, and trusses, for sourcing odd items, and for dealing with the inevitable backlash from disgruntled employees.  And when the sale doesn’t happen, you’re out the fixed costs and goodwill of your employees. There’s rarely a good outcome to chasing sales.

The root of this issue is usually a lack of vision and sales coaching. In today’s ultra-tough building environment, it’s critical to make sure everyone in the organization is tackling business that the company has a high percentage of winning and servicing—a simple vision that gets lost in translation daily. It’s not good enough to assume that the idea of what a “winning” project looks like is consistent across the company.

If you haven’t told your sales reps what type of business your company wants and given them the opportunity to develop a game plan around your goals, now is the time to start. I’m constantly amazed at managers who shrug this off with flippant excuses: “These guys know what we do,” or “They’ve been selling for years.” Perhaps, “I hired them to sell, so there’s no reason to go through this exercise.” Even if you’ve had the conversation about sales direction (vision), it’s important to reinforce it. One way to begin forming a shared vision of good business is to have someone bring up specific “chased” projects at your regular meetings. The goals are:

  • To make sure everyone understands the cost to the company and to morale.

  • To address what could have been accomplished with the same time and dollars with other business you might land.

  • To look for ways to properly channel these projects and push them closer and closer to the first point of contact for more efficient decision making.

Targeting specific projects helps to crystalize the company’s vision and makes coaching a regular and accepted part of the routine. It won’t take long for your staff to begin whittling down their call lists to hone their focus. 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 [email protected] and (303) 862-9713.