It's a question that's as old as the art of sales itself: Is a good salesperson born or made? “That's the first question I ask at all of my sales management boot camps,” says Rick Davis, a PROSALES contributor and president of Building Leaders, a Chicago-based sales training organization. The answer? “Well, it's a little bit of both,” Davis says. “Some people are born with better natural ability than others, but in the end, selling is a skill that can be learned.”

That's an answer that resonates with many sales leaders in the lumber and building materials industry, as well. While practically every dealer strives to identify and hire the best natural-born sellers in their given markets, the shops that stand out, not only in terms of overall sales but in dollars generated per outside salesperson, consistently have systems in place to develop their sales staffs while giving those sellers the back-office support and tools they need to land profitable accounts and maintain them down the road. It's a characteristic Davis says he sees, and strives to teach, at effective sales organizations nationwide.

“It's one thing to luck out and hire a guy who really kicks butt. It's another thing entirely to be able to manufacture great sales performance,” Davis says. “The best organizations create a sales system. They focus on developing and coaching skills that they can franchise, and then they home in on what's repeatable. By doing so, they create a model of behavior and performance that can be measured and taught.”

That kind of disciplined approach to developing and supporting great salespeople is a hallmark of three sales leaders in the building materials industry—Home Lumber, Roper Bros., and VNS Corp.—identified by PROSALES as examples of what it takes to produce great results. While these dealers no doubt benefited from the housing boom in their respective markets during the last few years, they also worked diligently to achieve their results. As housing starts slow and home builders pull back from the frenzied pace they set in the not-so-distant past, these dealers are ramping up their selling systems and pushing their best sellers to continue to lead, while identifying and pursuing new opportunities in the changing landscape ahead.