A Salesperson's Role

Shop owners discuss what a salesperson brings to a company, and whether the owner of a small company should just perform that work himself. October 11, 2007

We are a 3 man shop. I am thinking about bringing on a salesman. What is my responsibility to that salesman? Do I just offer him a desk and a phone book? Am I supposed to have a list of builders available? How is this generally handled? Does a salesman also do a little marketing? I've never been in a shop that had a dedicated salesman, besides the owner.

Forum Responses
(Business and Managment Forum)
From contributor W:
A desk. A computer. Internet connection. Pay for his cell phone. Pay for vehicle mileage.

But with only 3 people, I think you are going about this wrong. A salesperson can keep 20, 30, or 50 people busy. What are you going to do with this sales person after he slams you with more work than you can handle, and you still can't afford to pay him well? It is unwise to spend 25% or more of your payroll budget on sales.

My suggestion (take it with as much salt as you care to) is to develop/promote/hire someone to run the shop part of your business (at least to the point that you can leave for a half day at a time), then *you* go sell. You are the best salesperson your business can have. Now you are freed up to run your business. When you get up to about 8 people, hire a bookkeeper who can also answer phones and do basic HR functions. When you get to about 20 people, then you should start to think about a full-time salesperson/customer service person.

This is not what you are looking for, but to answer your question without addressing the larger issues is to set you up for possible failure.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the response. I appreciate all views. Here's the thing. I'm not really much of a salesman. I feel that I am a people person, but can't seem to "candy coat" things and truly figure out what the customer is subtly asking in order to be able to hammer home the deal. I'm too much of a nice guy. I'd also rather be managing the shop and building instead of designing. God, I hate it! I already have too much on the plate and am looking to share the responsibilities. I pretty much lost construction responsibilities to my main man, and I thankfully don't have to be in the spray booth anymore. I seem to just be pulling out my hair worrying about everything else. I figured not having to totally worry about design and sales would open my doors and time to the guts of the company. (I'm not a workaholic, and I have 2 little kids that I intend on watching grow up.)

As far as the extra work, bring it on. I would love to get me a CNC machine so our workload will be more accurate, efficient, and easier. I'm just getting the wheels a-turning to prepare for the future.

From contributor W:
I think you have the wrong impression of what a salesman is and how they go about it. First I will say that you learn to be a salesman just like you learn to build cabinets: you work on smaller pieces so they fit into the whole plan.

It sounds like you feel you can't "spar" with the customer. Is that right? You don't have to.

The first step is a marketing one: you identify your customer base. This usually suggests the method of contact.

Second, you make contact. You introduce yourself. You smile. Be a nice guy.

Third, you ask questions that qualify them for your services. "Do you ever hire subs for cabinet work?" Be direct while being polite. You don't want to waste your time or theirs.

Fourth, answer objections. Don't sugar coat. Be a nice guy. This does require some thinking on your feet, and you will get better at it very quickly. Never over-promise. Just be yourself. You won't be able to answer all objections. Often you will find that they are asking for something you don't want to do.

Fifth, deliver the quote.

Sixth, answer objections and ask for the close. Tell them why you are a good fit for the job. Tell them you would like to do the work for them. "May we do this job for you?"

This is stressful work, but it is necessary that you learn how to do it well so you can train someone else to do it. The difference is that if you can train someone, they will start out at half the pay that an experienced person will, will have more enthusiasm, will stay with you longer. I also don't mean just train to sell. You might hire someone who has great sales experience but is willing to work in the shop for awhile to learn about cabinets. Regardless, for you to run your business well, you have to have the experience of selling under your belt. There are thousands of books on selling. I can recommend Tom Hopkins and Zig Ziglar for starters.

What are "the guts of the company" to you if the sales, design, and production are taken care of? Is it your desire to focus on managing production? I encourage you to defeat your demons and personally learn the basic functions of a business so you can know how to hire, train, and promote for those positions. Since you know how to manage the shop, that is the first position you need to train someone else to do.

From contributor L:
Contributor W's response is right on. I've got a 20-man shop, no salesman. I've spent a lot of time building relationships with other business people. I never try to sell them anything, just fill their needs. We now do very little bid work since we have built trusting relationships with our clients. Running a business is all about relationships; deal with good people, forget the rest.

From contributor M:
Contributor W says it all! It is great that guys like you are willing to share experience and information here that will help others.

From contributor I:
Contributor W's response is right on. The only other thing I might add is this... If the purpose of hiring a salesperson is to increase sales, have you thought about hiring a secretary/order person/design trainee? This person can prepare mailouts, faxes, e-mails, call potential and existing customers, and do a lot to increase sales without ever leaving the office. You can train them to deal with customers, do basic design work and prices, and take over many of the tasks you now perform, freeing you up to manage your business.

Calling on builders directly is a time consuming task, and requires many months of work to bear fruit. I think your money would be better spent contacting them by other means.

From contributor G:
I know exactly how you feel. I don't care if I am the best salesman I have or not. I hate that part of the business! I have a seven man shop. My salesman takes care of sales and all of the office work. Estimating, paying bills, ordering supplies, design, cutlists, all bookwork and everything else I hate. In a pinch we bring him into the shop to help as much as he can. He does not like to be in the shop, but says it helps him know how and why we build the way we do, makes it easier for him to design things to the way we build. I have to estimate custom stuff and do some office work, but not a lot. He came to me with stock cabinet sales experience and that has been very helpful. I'm screwed if he quits (I don't know how to run Cabinet Vision and don't care to learn). I'll cross that bridge when I get to it. I couldn't keep him busy just selling, but with him taking care of the office, it works out very well.