Selling anything is tough. That’s why many sales-focused positions are difficult to fill. And why many sales reps quit in the first year. In this article we discuss what’s involved in hiring great sales reps for your construction business and how to do so effectively.
The Ideal Sales Rep
The ideal sales representative embodies the perfect combination of personality, knowledge, and drive. But you can mold an employee to become your construction company’s ideal sales rep. If your products and services are not terribly complicated, it may be best to hire based on personality and train the sales rep to do things your way.
Why Is Sales So Hard?
Why is it so difficult for people to sell things? The truth is that people “sell” all the time. For example, every job interview requires a candidate to sell themselves. Getting your spouse to agree to buy a large ticket item requires selling them on the idea. (Or just a lot of whining.) But as soon as you refer to their efforts as “selling” they freeze up. Earning a living as a sales rep is difficult for several reasons, including:
- All or most of the sales rep’s salary is based on commission.
- Sales reps are under pressure to attain a certain level of sales within regular intervals.
- You can swing a hammer on a bad day, but it’s tough to sell a hammer when you’re not feeling well, are stressed, or distracted by personal issues.
- Sales reps must understand and leverage human behavior.
- Sales reps must handle a lot of rejection – every day, in every way.
An effective process for hiring sales representatives for your construction business involves the following steps:
- Developing requirements
- Creating a recruitment plan
- Creating a screening process
- Onboarding new sales reps
You need to decide what type of employee will suit the needs of the sales rep position. You may prefer someone with, say, a minimum of 10 years of construction and 2 years of sales experience. Perhaps you want them to possess certain technical skills – like the ability to use technology and software in the field. You want to make sure that the requirements are truly necessary. Could a candidate with a great personality with a year of sales experience and 6 months of construction experience be trained as a great sales rep?
You want to look for great sales reps for your construction business in all the right places. There are several ways to effectively find and attract them.
Recognizing Sales Talent
Sometimes you meet someone who oozes that great sales personality. They may be on the construction crew – or they’re managing your construction projects. The construction knowledge is there, but perhaps they’ve never considered a career in sales. This could be an opportunity to groom someone to become a great sales rep. Of course, you need to sell them on the idea.
Sales Training Program
You can hire people with the right personality and construction knowledge and teach them how to be great sales reps. There are many options for sales training programs. The Association for Professional Builders offers construction sales training.
You can lure great sales reps away from other construction companies. Seems kinda mean, but it’s an advantage to your construction business to hire sales reps with proven sales skills. Your challenge is to create an environment that’s un-poachable.
You can offer recent graduates of trades schools and local colleges the opportunity to learn sales as part of a mentorship program. Here you match sales reps in training with experienced sales reps in your construction company.
Your screening process is key in hiring sales reps for your construction business. It’s important to be aware of your own biases. You may think that someone young and attractive is a requirement in sales. Not so. Some of the best sales reps we know are older – and won’t be winning any beauty contests any time soon. Generally, your screening process for prospective sales reps should include:
- In-Person Interview
- Scoring (optional)
- Reference / Background Check
Setup a 15-minute interview by phone or video with the prospective sales rep. Your goal is to see if it’s worth spending time conducting a full in-person interview. You should ask basic questions to see if the candidate meets your minimum requirements. For example, “How long have you been in sales?”
Have a standard list of questions that you ask each prospective sales rep. Include open-ended questions such as “What’s the best deal you ever closed?” Or “Did you ever lose a customer? How did you handle it?” Listen to the content of their responses, but also watch them carefully. What’s their body language like? What is the tone of their responses? For example, do they sound arrogant? Are they taking the time to listen to your questions? Do they get flustered easily?
It can be helpful to have a scoring system to evaluate prospective sales reps. Be careful here – you don’t want to lose out on a great sales rep because you didn’t use a fair and balanced rating system. However, if you are interviewing several candidates or using several people on your team to conduct interviews, it can help you keep track. A scoring system can assist you in deciding which prospective sales reps to hire.
An easy scoring system is giving 1-5 points to rate the level of experience in a particular area or for how well the candidate answers each question. For example, 1 = None / Poor, 2 = Minimal / Fair, 3 = Some / Average, 4 = High / Good, 5 = Excellent / Very High. Comments should be used to explain why the interviewer selected a particular rating.
Your standard set of questions should cover the desired skills and qualifications – known as “hard” skills – you want in a sales rep. Questions that evaluate hard skills include:
- How long have you been in sales?
- How long have you been in construction?
- Do you have experience selling our product or service?
Questions that evaluate soft skills – like getting along with coworkers or managing clients – might be:
- What do you enjoy about sales?
- Tell me about a time you had to handle a difficult customer?
- How do you manage scope creep in construction projects?
Notice that questions related to soft skills tend to be open-ended. This gives you more information than you would get with a question that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” It’s helpful to allow a comment after each question so that the interviewer can explain their score.
You can create a template that each interviewer will use to guide the interview and to score the prospective sales rep. Later, the sales team can go back and compare evaluations. The template should include the name of the candidate, the interviewer’s name, and the date the interview was conducted. You may also want to include the start and end time of the interview. This tells you how much time each candidate was given. If a candidate was given far less time than others, it’s fair to ask the interviewer why. It could reveal a bias on the part of that interviewer.
You can add up the scoring for each question to give you the overall score for a candidate. You can also allow each interviewer to provide their overall score and include this in the calculation to provide a final score for each prospective sales rep.
Notes / Comments
Keep notes of the interview. (You can do this immediately after the meeting.) Did they show up on time? Did they dress appropriately? How was their general demeanor? Would you buy your products or services from them?
Closing the Interview
It’s always helpful to end your interview by asking the candidate if they have any questions for you. Typically, a prospective sales rep who has questions about your construction business has taken time to research your company. That tells you whether they cared enough about the interview to prepare for it which in turn gauges their interest level in the sales rep position.