They say you can't teach old dogs new tricks. Fortunately for me, I get to work with people rather than animals.

When Joe “Cat” Turner came into my office looking for a sales job, I have to admit, I was not all that impressed. Especially when this 53-year-old lumber guy called me “Cat.” I think he said something like, “Hey Cat, I know a lot of Cats that will buy from this company if you hire me.” No one has ever told me that before. At least not in those exact words.

Just as I was about to go outside and see if someone changed our sign from Ply Mart to Pet Mart, another salesman popped his head into my office and said, “I hope you hire this guy, he is good and he'll get us lots of orders!”

I did a double take. A recommendation for this “Hip Dude” from one of my salespeople? He must be good! I threw out all of my tests, progressive interviews, and reference checks, and I gave him a job.

I got exactly what was promised—lots of orders. Lots of incomplete orders, low-margin orders, fill-in orders, and return orders. But I have to admit it was great volume. It was obvious that Joe knew a large number of contractors, and they loved to buy from him. Unfortunately, they ordered supplies the same way they walked their dogs—several times in the same day. But I knew Joe was a quality guy, capable of quality business.

Research supported my hunch. In addition to these erratic clients, Joe had several new accounts that were performing at or above expectations, and average ticket size was higher than the established standard at our company. Profit margins also were within the proper range. At the same time, the product mix was good, credit returns were very low and pricing errors were just not to be found. But of course, what else would you expect from a client base of well-organized professional builders? The only anomaly was that the best sales performance among Joe's accounts was originating from our toughest group of customers to service—the new, small, custom homebuilders with the area's most demanding home buyers!

That finding drove home the point that with a little coaching, Joe Cat could become a top-notch salesman, and it only took one meeting with him to turn the problems around.

Joe told me that these new builders needed him to control the order process. If not, they would be buried in problems. He simply earned their trust and took control of the material flow. With his other more established builders, he was simply taking orders, believing that they knew what they needed and when they needed it.

After our meeting, Joe realized that he needed to apply the same principles of sales process to his established builders that he did to his new clients. If he was successful, he would provide additional value to his customers and make the company more profitable. As a bonus, he could free up some truck time for new business and better service.

After six years, Joe is still breaking his sales records with quality business. You may not be able to teach old dogs new tricks, but there are some pretty cool cats out there like Joe who grow and get better every day with a little training.