The only consistent thing I’ve seen at LBM dealers is an inconsistency in sales performance within each dealer. Special orders are priced inconsistently based on individual whims and fears. Sales protocols are debated among outside salespeople based on beliefs and individual bias. Branch managers—often with little or no field sales experience—operate independently, without exchanging ideas or benchmarking their performance against other branches.

I have yet to find a single dealer who understands the formula for getting salespeople to consistently adopt new technology. The end result of this inconsistent performance is inconsistent, undependable results.

I assert that the sales department should be treated no differently than any other within your organization. Selling is not a style, nor is it a personality; selling is a process to be objectively observed and scientifically measured. Leaders who presume their managers will instill a personal style or sales philosophy that translates into success are creating a recipe for failure at worst, luck at best.

Real sales success comes to companies that create a program of sales excellence based on protocols, measurement, and reinforcement.

Start with a process. Good selling means building a sales process of relationship development to produce sales and margin growth. The primary purpose of outside salespeople should be prospecting for new sales opportunities, not handling tedious administrative tasks that can easily be delegated. The modern sales structure includes support specialists who can handle details when the timing is right to assist with details on specialty products and administrative services. Sales success begins and ends when you have built a team that frees up time for outside salespeople to prospect for new sales and margin growth.

Build the right performance metrics. It’s not enough to measure results after they come in and presume a salesperson is competent. A ship rises and sinks with the tides, and in recent months most LBM dealers have enjoyed a wave that raised sales and margins. It’s more important to measure the prospecting data, sales activity, and meaningful ratios of sales performance. Sales results are merely an accident if you don’t have the right metrics to validate a causal relationship between performance and outcomes.

Develop the right coaching protocols. There is a big difference between doing and managing. The most common hiring mistake that organizations make is to presume a top salesperson will magically develop coaching and leadership qualities after a promotion. At the same time, it is a reach to believe an operational leader will have the right knowledge to properly coach a salesperson in the field. This is the most difficult skill to master in your organization. I believe a high level leader or credible consultant is needed to provide the oversight that ensures coaching is done correctly.

Ultimately someone needs to be held accountable for results. Instead of segregating responsibility for results by division and branch, it is more beneficial to have a single leader in charge of sales results. Regardless of your sales structure, the person taking responsibility for results should not blame performers when things go wrong. Results are the responsibility of leaders, not performers. That is why coaches get fired first at the end of the season.

A good sales methodology permeates the culture. This means developing a hierarchical system to instill skills, expectations, and measurements which are consistently repeated and taught throughout your organization. It is possible to do it by consensus, but easier when the right individual leader is in charge.