Expert tips on how to build an effective sales team

Today’s remodeling market is more competitive than ever. Hiring an effective sales team that can turn leads into revenue is critical to your business. Professional Remodeler’s Tom Swartz talked to remodelers Gary Marrokal and Thomas Capizzi about how they built an effective sales team.

January 28, 2013

TOM SWARTZ: Define or describe your concept of building a sales team.

TOM CAPIZZI: “On a design/build/remodel project, we have a project consultant—it’s what we call our salespeople—and they will go out with our designer, Betsy, and basically get them under a retainer for a design deposit. The agreement is mainly to develop a working plan—designs, I should say—on the project. That’s usually a two-to-three appointment process before we can go into an agreement phase of writing a proposal. At least two of the appointments are here at our office in our conference room because we like to get them on our turf and present the job on our big screen overhead. It really enhances the experience by getting them into our office and getting them to psychologically own the project on the big screen first before even seeing the proposal and the price. We want to make that kind of experience where they own it and got to have it. Because we’re the ones delivering it, they’ve got to have it from us. So we’re trying to sell in a vacuum where ultimately by the time we get to the proposal, we’re not really competing with anyone else because no one else can bring them through the process we just did—even though they may be getting one or two other guys involved. Our process can’t be repeated because it’s ours, and we try to capture them a lot more than someone else can.”

GARY MARROKAL: “From the time we get the phone call, one of my professional design consultants will go out and meet with the client for about an hour in their home. Talk to them a little bit about what their needs and desires are. The next appointment we try to set in the next few days is at our professional design center, and our goal is discussing things that are important to them working with a company. Also we will discuss project range and let them get to see what we are, what we represent. We try to mirror them with past projects that we’ve done in their community, and also with their type of project. The point there is getting a retainer to design, doing an as-built, doing some renderings. Our process will take probably four-to-five meetings with them. On our fourth-to-fifth meeting we go into a home improvement agreement. The bottom line is we have to design something that exceeds their expectations. Because if we can’t design a project to fit their budget, we’re wasting their time and ours. That’s kind of our process, and it’ll normally take a minimum of three weeks, probably four-to-five weeks on a larger project when we start getting into $200,000, $300,000, $400,000.”

Gary Marrokal, President

Marrokal Design and Remodeling, San Diego, Calif.

Marrokal Design and Remodeling has more than 30 years of experience in the remodeling industry, including whole-house, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom, room additions, and more. The firm currently employs 25 full-time employees.

Thomas Capizzi, President

Capizzi Home Improvement, Cape Cod, Mass.

Family owned and operated, Capizzi Home Improvement has been in business since 1976 focusing on complete interior and exterior remodeling and restoration. The firm currently employs 22 full-time employees.

SWARTZ: Who are the people at your company involved in your sales team?

MARROKAL: “Design consultants are sales people of the company.”

CAPIZZI: “Project consultant is sales person.”

SWARTZ: Where do you find people qualified to be on your sales team?

CAPIZZI: “We put the feelers out everywhere, including calling for referrals from our local lumber yards and NARI chapter. The typical ads in the newspaper and on Craigslist and Monster—just trying to get any leads we can on those type of candidates. I’ve had good luck myself with employing people that were previously self-employed. In fact, all of them have been previously self-employed except for one. Same with my three production managers, actually. I’ve just done well with that in my culture and my company. Previous entrepreneurs—that’s the kind of organization that we have. The way we say it here, they’re all running their own business inside of our business. So I need that kind of thinking in the people that I hire because I don’t micromanage. Once someone is trained and up to speed, I’ll continue training and supporting. But if I have to motivate someone to play football, I’ve got the wrong football player. I need them to know the job and go do the job. Usually entrepreneurs who were self-employed, and had to be the rainmaker for themselves, seem to have a little bit of that edge that I want and need around here.”

MARROKAL: “I’m always looking, and on our website it’s posted all the time. When I look at the seven people I have, one of them used to be a project manager for me. It’s nice that he was not a good one because, boy, he can sure sell—high integrity, honesty, caring, trying. I have one person who was an electrical contractor for me for 10 years, and he’s one of my top design consultants now. He’s been with me designing and selling for about nine years now. We also have some people that have only been with us for a few years. When I look at their background, some of them have a master’s degree in architecture. A couple of them used to be in business themselves. What’s really important are people that care and try. Probably the biggest thing with a professional sales person in our industry is they’ve got to be able to accept rejection. That’s why most people can’t sell. We all know if sales was easy, it’d pay minimum wage. Finding that right person, you may have to go through a several people before you find the right one.”

SWARTZ: What process do you have to train the salesmen and the sales team?

MARROKAL: “I want them to know my company, and to do that I have to expose them to four different departments—a design center, a separate corporate office with admin, a production crew, and my design consultants in sales. I want this person to spend individual time with all of those departments, including admin, so they can kind of learn a little bit of the storybook of what we do. So that means spending a couple of days out riding around with a project manager, and spending some time in the office with admin. Then I want them to spend some time with my interior designers, I want them to spend some time with the drafts people. From that point, I really want them to study our website because it tells the story of what we do. So that when someone says to them, ‘By the way, how long has your cabinet man been with you?’ Well, he knows the cabinet man’s been with us 32 years. I want them to understand that they’ve read all of the chapters of our book. Once we’ve done that, I want them to do some cross-training with some of my veteran sales people, and I want them to go out on the first appointment. Then I want them to see the second appointment in the design center and see how we do our best to get a retainer to get a homeowner on board. But then I want them to work on step three, step four, step five. I don’t do that just one time. I do it with a couple of my design consultants, and I want that person really to follow all of the steps. If we don’t get the prelim, go back on another meeting. Once we get one, I want them to do all of the steps going through. I’m a big believer in cross-training. Because when you look at what a lead costs, and you look when they don’t perform well on a lead, the damage it does to the image that you have in your community is terrible. So even when the job doesn’t fit, you really need to spend the time with that homeowner so that they still have good thoughts in their head about your company. Branding is very important in today’s world.”

CAPIZZI: “I have a five-step process. One is training and supporting them, and the training process is a little bit of time with me to learn the company’s story, company culture. I’ll go through our company presentation. I have them do ride-alongs with a couple of the production managers, sometimes even for a couple of days at a time—just sit in the passenger seat. Same with salespeople. Then I’m not one to hold them back from getting involved in a lead pretty quick, within a week, or a few leads. Then those leads will generally be run in tandem with someone else in the company. I have a production manager who’s very, very strong in sales as well, so he kind of takes a lead role in the training and supporting on the front end of someone new coming on board. So we’re launching that as well as then tracking the lead we give a person. That’s step two. Step three is constantly reviewing the results they’re generating, and the ratios—close ratios, average lead value that they’re converting to sales. Four is debriefing with them on why if they’re missing the mark at all. Five is basically corrective mode, going back to training and supporting on what we just debriefed. It really comes down to behavior and performance. Everything falls into those two categories, behavior and performance. It’s all of the little nuances that the clients don’t even know why they’re not buying from one guy but they are from another. They don’t even know why because it’s subconscious. It’s 90 percent emotional. Even the toughest guy in the world, it’s still going to be emotional when he’s going to make a decision to buy or not. And it’s about feelings. The customer might not even being able to say, ‘That’s why I didn’t buy,’ or, ‘That’s why I did buy from that person.’ They just say to themselves, ‘You know, I don’t know what it is. I just want to do business with that person. I just like that person but can’t put my finger on it.’ That’s the ‘it’ factor that we really need to somehow try and train the best we can. But that ‘it’ factor is the hardest thing to get.”

SWARTZ: Does the sales process change depending on the size of the project?

CAPIZZI: “Well, the process changes only by how many appointments, but in concept it’s the same—approach and greeting, warming up, qualifying, presenting, closing and following up. But that can all happen on one appointment if it’s a simple roof job—or four, five, and six appointments because it’s a remodel. That’s the biggest change. We do a lot of behavioral profiling about the kind of customer you’re with. Some of them will want to be longer and drawn out and more deliberate, and get into more detail and minutia before making a decision. Sometimes we can just sell. I just sold a $100,000 job on my third appointment. I met him once, I met him the second time with a designer, and the third time I brought him to the conference room; I presented everything in the proposal and signed him up. I felt that momentum, and I strike while the irons are hot. No reason to go a fourth and a fifth appointment if they’re ready to go on the third.”

MARROKAL: “We call it funneling. Funneling starts when you first get the call from the client. Getting through that process, at the bottom of the funnel, is called the sale—getting the home improvement agreement signed. Bottom line is who you’re sitting across from. When they’re ready to move forward, don’t keep talking. Ask for the order. Because when it takes too long, the funnel doesn’t happen—it blows out. Probably the biggest skill of a professional design consultant is knowing when to ask for the business. That ‘when’ is determined by who’s sitting across from you. There are times, though, you have people that want to drag everything out and take too long. Are they really a fit? Prioritize your leads every week. If we have a $700,000 deal, we’re not going to close that in two weeks, in two meetings. That’s going to run five or six meetings because there are so many things that have to be drawn. There’s a lot to it. Again, don’t drag that out for three, four, or five months because it won’t happen. Our normal process is usually five weeks, from the time they called us to the time we get in to a home improvement agreement. When it starts going to eight, nine, and 10 weeks, 75 percent of the time it doesn’t happen. And we have to remind our design consultants, ‘You’re going into week five, and it’s a $150,000 job.’ You need to be more assertive and find out. Your top people will sit down with a client and ask, ‘What are we doing?’”

SWARTZ: What advice do you have for the remodeler who wants build a sales team?

CAPIZZI: “First thing is make sure that you have a budget and a financial performance going forward, with the salesperson’s income figured in. That’s the first mistake I’ve seen a lot of guys make. They don’t have a plan to even pay them because there isn’t any money in the company to pay them. You’ve got to at least put on paper a plan that works. Making it really work is another thing. A person has to first decide what kind of business they really want to run and what level of complexity they want in their life. When you’re the only salesperson of a remodeling business, you’re really running a practice, a large practice. You’re like a doctor or lawyer, and you’re doing all the selling to bring in the revenue. All of the sudden when you throw in two or three sales persons and have them do all of the revenue, that takes a whole other set of skills and mindset. It’s a different level of sophistication to do that. You don’t just hire three salesmen next month from zero without having a good budget in place and without understanding and getting trained yourself. Because before you can hire a salesperson, you’ve got to become educated on what it takes to be a sales manager. That takes a whole other skill set. You don’t just wake up one morning a great sales manager.”

MARROKAL: “In your our own community, I would try to mirror somebody that you respect and that you know has one or two or three salespeople. When you decide you want to grow, grow like a dimmer switch. If you try to grow and jump into having five people, you’ll collapse. When you grow, realize that your overhead is going to grow and you’re going to need to hire maybe another production person, maybe another admin person. A big thing I’ve seen from most people that do fail is that they have a weakness to delegate. They think they have to micromanage. If you hire the right people, and you have the right people on the bus, and you compensate those people, they will carry you. But if you want to be a pusher your whole life, and you want to micromanage, it’s not going to work. You’ve got to have the staff to support one salesperson or two. If you enjoy selling and you want to grow, maybe you continue selling and you hire someone else to run the work, or you hire another admin person that supports you. It’s all about numbers. You’ve got to know when to grow.” PR

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