Both in hiring and training, we divide potential salespersons into two groups: Possible inside and possible outside sales. These two positions would appear at first glance to be interchangeable, but most employees are not good at both. An outside sales rep needs to “talk the talk,” be self-motivated, organized, detailed and, most important, be able to listen well. Conversely, an inside sales position is perfect for the person who needs structure and routine. Put simply, inside sales people like to punch a time clock and outside sales reps are alwayson the time clock.

For inside sales, we devise a training program to fit the individual employee’s needs. Someone with no previous experience might be teamed with a retail yard employee to help with walk-in and retail customers. This allows the salesperson to learn about products, the layout of the yard, and how products flow through the yard. After approximately a month, the new employee is moved inside to shadow a mentor and learn inside sales procedures from that mentor, who will serve as a guide in everything from computer use to dispatch/delivery procedures.

We begin a new outside sales rep in the store, working at retail and also spending time in the yard and at dispatch. Once the operations and retail sales processes are understood, the employee travels with a sales manager for one week, then spends a week with each of the outside sales representatives. This is followed by a final week with the sales manager once again. This last week allows the manager to review the progress of the new sales rep a final time and introduce the rep to any existing customers that he/she will be servicing.

Monitoring continues once new sales reps are on their own. Each new salesperson is required to e-mail a brief review of each day to the sales manager. We also require a detailed weekly report on the same which would include any updated personal information on current customers as well as new prospects. To help evaluate performance, management assigns a projected value of sales each customer should produce. Actual sale numbers are then tracked and compared to the projected values that had been assigned.

New to the evaluation process is a grid review of 12 groups of products that each customer could possibly purchase. The review should help identify the underperforming product categories of each of our top customers, giving the outside sales rep the ability to see which groups of products are selling and which are not. Also new is the addition of proactive outbound calls from managers and from the inside sales teams. These calls are made to our top customers each week to ensure that salespeople and delivery crews are meeting or exceeding customer expectations.

Unlike some of our competitors, we find that paying our outside sales force on 100% commission hasn’t been successful. We pay a comfortable base salary (no more than 80% of average gross pay) plus a commission based on gross margin to the outside salesperson. This base allows our team to prospect for new accounts and spend time building relationships with existing accounts without needing to close a sale in order to pay the mortgage.

If a salesperson is not covering his/her base, the customer base is reviewed to determine if sales numbers match the customer’s potential. This review requires a sales manager traveling with that particular sales rep to show support and to identify any poor habits, including poor time management and poor communication with either the customer or the inside support team. Excuses for underperformance are never acceptable, and such underperformance will only result in a lower base salary.

No amount of training or reviews can replace an owner who is present and leads by example. I spend a great deal of time in our stores and in the field working with employees and customers alike. I do know for certain that, when properly managed, great outside sales combined with outstanding inside support can be the most important asset a company possesses.

John Holmes is owner of Holmes Building Materials in Baton Rouge, La., and a member of the Do it Best board of directors. Contact him at [email protected].