James Graening

Enough is enough, already! How often have you felt that way with regard to your sales team, sales processes, and selling performance? “Why can’t I get what I want out of my marketing and sales efforts from the people that have all the experience, the right résumé, and have shown success in the past? I take the time to hire good people - testing, interviewing, reading, checking past performance - but where are the sales? Where is the money?”

These are all questions that I have asked myself during my years as a sales and general manager. What I have come to find is that there is so much more to sales success than just hiring the right person.

I’m reminded of a consultation meeting I facilitated a few years ago in Texas with a contractor who seemed to have “all the right stuff.” His business had working systems and processes in place. His sales staff had been to residential and commercial sales training, and according to him, the sales employees were dedicated, enthusiastic salespeople. Despite these positive elements, there had recently been some turnover and sales were slacking. On top of that, two more sales people were scheduled to soon exit and these staff members provided both negotiated revenue and margin consistently.

With the challenges mounting, the contractor brought me in and together we decided to proceed with some real marketing and sales strategic planning including an assessment and evaluation of the company’s people, systems, and culture. Having participated in and facilitated multiple planning sessions, many similarities became evident as this Texas contractor and I began the interviews. What we found in the pursuit of selling and sales forecasting success were five critical areas that helped stop the sales person revolving door, save time, and grow revenue.


The first key to sales success is understanding and developing a company culture that promotes marketing and sales. A company that supports and promotes marketing and sales creates true management and leadership for sales by appropriately funding, appreciating, rewarding, and including sales staff in management decisions.

“We recognize the importance of sales in our service/retrofit organization and we have elevated sales and marketing to a level of department or division within the company,” said the Texas contractor. “It helped our company get through some very trying times.”

The second key is having an organizational structure and operational model that supports marketing and sales. I learned in the halls of higher education that the business operational model is for problem solving, conflict resolution, and moving a business forward day-to-day. The organizational structure is purely protocol. It is “the buck stops here” area of your business that is utilized to keep expenses in check and to make decisions when the operational model, day-to-day problem solving, or conflict resolution breaks down.

The third key is to train and coach the sales process and the marketing approach, leading to success behaviors. Planning and preparation are essential to the success of a sales team. The foundation must be started by management and built upon by the sales staff with the values, vision, mission, and message incorporated into the sales processes. The question I most often hear when planning and developing marketing and sales materials is “How will we differentiate ourselves?”

As Adams Hudson, contracting’s top marketing coach preaches; “It’s your responsibility to be remembered by customers, not their responsibility to remember you. This is done by engineering a distinctive, memorable, and preferably automated customer relationship program. In this way, it is measured and accountable, rather than left to the mood of their last contact.”

It is targeted direct marketing and the associated tools that are best to position, help qualify, and close more commercial sales. The sales-driven contractor knows the importance of training, coaching, and managing a thorough, credible, ethical, sincere, and proven sales process as part of the fundamentals necessary for success.

The fourth key is to implement systems that support tracking and measuring success to manage expectations. Some of the most profitable businesses develop a comprehensive standard operating procedures manual to detail and document communications, processes, and policies. It is important to goal set, forecast, and measure sales with periodic reports. This is one area where the Texas team made real progress.

Software can be a great asset as companies endeavor to track and measure success. Purchasing software, however, can be a challenge and the integration of accounting, service management, and sales software, with a true CRM front end, is often overwhelming. For this reason, I advise against contractors setting out to purchase or expand software use without knowing how the marketing, sales, and service systems in their company work.

The fifth key is the right compensation package for the right candidates. I’m not sure that anyone is ready to completely open this can of worms - least of all me - but let’s cover some of the highlights, including key mistakes that contractors make when considering the right or fair compensation package. Here is a big hint. The best packages that help motivate salespeople and yet protect the company assets include a base pay, incentives, commissions, and detailed plans for achieving the sales goal as well as delivering on the specific behavior objectives. It all begins with the right person for sales. Some other strategies for attaining the right candidate include continuous recruitment, receiving résumés, interviewing in person, testing for aptitude and personality traits, team interviewing, and providing a written offer with base and commissions details and expectations.


I’ve heard it said that, “Your salespeople are the first product, so positioning them, arming them, and helping them understand the market are extremely important, and to not do so is extremely expensive.” Take the time in your business to examine these five critical areas in light of each other to help avoid the pitfalls and costly decision mistakes commonly made.

Publication date:01/26/2009