As the former sales manager for a major kitchen and bath
distributorship, I can’t brag that I picked only winners as sales
personnel. No one in our industry, no matter how astute a judge of
people and talent, is capable of that.
I can say with reasonable certainty, however, that I was able to
identify and utilize some basic guidelines when it came to the
recruiting and performance of sales personnel.
These basics, I believe, apply not only to sales personnel
hiring decisions by distributors and “whotailers,” but to personnel
decisions involving kitchen and bath dealers, as well.
The first thing I think you have to ask yourself is, what’s the
key to sales success? From my observations over many years, I think
the ability to communicate candidly with the customer is the single
most vital attribute to success.
This should be kept in mind, of course, when recruiting, hiring
and evaluating sales personnel. Similarly, it must be kept in mind
as you take steps on a day-to-day basis, as a manager or business
owner, to help your sales staff succeed.
That said, what follows is a synopsis of the guidelines I used in
the interviewing process.
l. Select for interviews, if possible, candidates that you know are
highly respected by others in the industry. Keep in mind, however,
that platitudes are often transparent and lack credibility so take
what you hear from others with a grain of salt. But “qualifying”
sales position candidates, whenever possible, can assure you of
seeing only the best candidates around, and keeping wasted time to
2. Personality is an important ingredient in the hiring process.
If you feel uncomfortable during an interview with a candidate for
a sales position, chances are this individual won’t succeed because
they won’t relate well to your clientele, either.
It’s important to remember, too, that your sales staff must
ultimately relate well to their manager, as well as you their
employer. A personality that’s incompatible with those of others
will create obstacles to cohesion. And without solid lines of
communication, it’s nearly impossible for any salesperson no matter
how adept in other areas to contribute to the success of your
3. If your customers favorably rate your sales organization, you
can anticipate referrals. Customers are unlikely to furnish a
favorable reference if they encounter non-performing sales
Satisfaction and confidence in your sales staff are also
essential elements to the long-term success of a dealership or
distributorship. Of all the valued assets of a company in the
kitchen and bath industry, a reputation for consistent performance
is most important. Even your most difficult customer must be
convinced beyond any doubt that you and your employees go all-out
to assure a happy result for them as well as yourself.
A “referral” from a disenchanted customer is far more of a
liability since it will inevitably go a whole lot further than even
an enthusiastic endorsement by a satisfied client. Stated another
way, “good will” is your company’s most important asset. Never
4. You, as sales manager, must build the self esteem of your
sales force. When one of their customers comments favorably on your
rep’s product knowledge and sales ability, pass the compliment on
to the salesperson in question. This will serve as a morale booster
and increase the same person’s level of self-confidence.
5. Conduct brief sales meetings twice a week. Ask your sales
personnel to critique each other’s approaches to new accounts and
to report on their results, whether they’re favorable or
6. Since we are in kitchen and bath sales, the training of our
sales personnel will do much to influence their success. Expert
designers with superior drafting technique and visualization will
impress customers and increase their sales. In contrast, those who
are poorly trained or inadequately prepared will do nothing but
damage your company’s reputation.
A misleading sign
Don’t equate popularity
with sales success, however. I recall the time when one of our
dealers, in speaking of his sales representative, complimented me
on having such a personable individual representing our company.
Asked why he liked our rep so much, he replied that our salesman
brightened his day with jokes and humorous stories.
I analyzed this account’s purchases from our company and was
dismayed to discover that sales of our products were declining
despite this cordial relationship. Asked why his good personal
relationship with our representative didn’t reflect in improving
sales of our products, the dealer replied, “We really don’t have
much time during his visits to discuss product.”
No wonder sales were down!
Shortly after this conversation, I assigned a relatively new
salesman to the dealer’s account. The dealer principal complained
bitterly about our change in representation, saying he related far
better to our previous representative. However, our new rep to his
firm, hungry for commissions, increased that dealer’s purchases by
25% in only three months.
The moral of this story should be clear to sales managers: Draw
your conclusions regarding sales productivity from a record of
purchases rather than from such factors as the amount of time that
is spent with favorite accounts, and the apparent good will that
exists between your sales rep and the customer.
I’m not negating the importance of a personal relationship
between your sales rep and customers. Such a relationship, in fact,
is essential to the sales process. But when it comes to the success
of your company, results obtained by selling your products’
features and benefits count far more than simply the good will
that’s established by being a charmer, a humorist or a
Salespeople should stick to the basics of selling. You need to
see to it that they do just that.
Allan Dresner, CKDe, is a Washington, DC-based marketing and
management consultant with a broad background in kitchen and bath
distribution. He conducts seminars for cabinet distributors, and
serves as a consultant to firms in kitchen/bath distribution. A
columnist for Kitchen & Bath Design News since the magazine’s
launch in 1983, he is a member of the National Kitchen & Bath
Association’s “Hall of Fame.”