Loosen restrictions on woodworking salespeople for optimal performance

When it comes to sales, there is just one way to roll: Hire pros and get out of their way. First in a series.

Early in my woodworking career, I was pretty intolerant of “sales types,” and justifiably so. It seemed every day a new salesman was knocking on my door, interrupting the groove I had just regained at the table saw after the prior salesman’s interruption.

Salespeople still retain a reputation (with me, at least) for being a little too enthusiastic, a little too loud and more than a little too inconsiderate when it comes to their demands on the time of their victims — um, prospects.

Still, as I have matured — and as sales has become a larger part of what I do — I have grown a lot more measured in my view of the profession. Or maybe I’ve just become too enthusiastic, loud and inconsiderate myself!

Seriously, in sales, just as on the floor of your shop, you will find people at every level of professional development. And while there is no denying that some very successful salespeople meet or exceed the stereotype I hold, there are plenty of others who are neither loud nor inconsiderate; just enthusiastic.

Unlike the other two traits, enthusiasm is never a bad thing, at least not in sales.

What is bad is when people overseeing the work of a qualified sales force, whether that force numbers one or one hundred, squelch that enthusiasm. They don’t mean to do it. They, as Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff would say, “just don’t understand.”

The Salesperson’s Role — and Motivation
Selling is an entirely different kind of work from that which the people in your shop or office perform in two primary ways:

• First, sales pros make — and receive — calls at all hours of the day. And night. And sometimes, the weekend.
• Second, they are consistently focused on one question: “What’s next?” Really good salespeople are always always looking for the next sale.

Smart owners recognize the value of such commitment and focus on just one question, too: Is this person producing sales? If the answer is yes, that is all they need to know.

But too many owners and sales managers unwittingly become drains on such initiative. They do it by setting and enforcing arbitrary rules and guidelines that have nothing to do with performance and instead act as roadblocks to their salespeople’s success.

Some see salespeople the same as they do other, hourly employees and keep them on short leash. Or worse, they want it both ways: They expect their sales staff to keep the same “regular” hours office and shop workers do, while remaining available at those odd night and weekend hours as well.

So focused on the trees are such managers, that they couldn’t find the forest with a map and a compass.

Smart owners and managers know that one of the things that makes selling attractive to those who are really good at it, maybe the biggest thing, is its entrepreneurial nature.

Salespeople who consistently make the calls, build relationships and close sales come as close as any employee ever will to caring about the company’s success as much as its owner does.

But such enthusiasm comes at a price. It is not the salary salespeople make, the commissions they earn nor any other such tangible benefits. The price is Freedom, and smart owners are more than happy to fork it over.

If you asked 100 proven sales pros, “What is the biggest reason you are successful?” I’d wager that at least 90 would say, “Because I love my job.”

Now, that is not particularly different from the answer anyone viewed as successful in any job might give to the same question. What IS different is the reason sales folks love their work — and that, in a word, is Freedom.

True pros, especially “outside” or “on the road” sales reps, know how to manage their time a lot more efficiently than their boss ever could, and they get righteously indignant when the boss tries to do it anyway. And, like any unhappy employee, they are not going to perform as well as they otherwise might.

Managing a sales force is a lot like owning a racing team: You hire the best drivers you can find. You discuss strategy. You set goals. But ultimately, you have to sit down, shut up and turn those drivers loose.

This is not to suggest that anybody, and certainly not everybody, you hire for a sales job can handle that kind of Freedom. Many can’t, and there is a pretty direct relationship between the amount of sales experience a person has and his or her ability to work independently.

But experience is just one indicator, and not the most reliable one at that. There are several things you can do to find out very quickly whether your new salesperson can handle his Freedom or not. We will look at some of those things next month.

Anthony Noel has written for the magazine since 1994. Send e-mail to [email protected].


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