Is Your Firm Truly Ready to Add Salespeople?

The decision to hire your first sales designer, or to add another, is a big one…quite possibly among the biggest decisions that you may make in your business career. Kitchen and bath business owners must honestly evaluate their readiness – in terms of opportunity, capability and desire – to take on this responsibility.

Contrary to popular opinion, adding a salesperson does not automatically translate into additional profit to your bottom line.

The more projects that are sold, the greater the cost of goods sold, thereby creating a greater risk of error. That’s why so many kitchen and bath firms discover the hard way that their gross margins frequently fall as their sales increase. It’s also why so many owners soon find themselves in a position in which they don’t want to be – namely, working harder to produce more sales, but not getting any more personal income out of the business.

Additionally, contrary to popular opinion, “experienced” salespeople are frequently not as productive as expected. It seems owners always advertise for certified kitchen designers. Yet that credential by itself is no guarantee of securing a real sales producer. “Experienced” industry salespeople also often carry baggage that hinders them from producing big numbers in your operation. Rather than buying into your corporate culture, they may constantly refer to the way they did things at their last place of employment.

Readiness Test

Before you commence recruitment for a sales designer, consider the importance of passing a company readiness test to measure opportunity, capability and desire. Consider the following 10 questions:

  1. Do you have more than enough leads to support another sales designer (at least 10-12 leads per month)?
  2. To furnish capital for the sales expansion, is your firm in a position to raise its Price Formulas Multipliers by 3-5%?
  3. Are there new markets that can be entered, both of a product or geographic nature, to support the sales expansion?
  4. Do you have a staff design assistant to do all the CAD drawings, cabinet estimating, cabinet acknowledgements and job-site binders so the sales designer can maximize his/her time selling?
  5. Do you have a staff project manager to check the orders, buy materials, schedule jobs, coordinate deliveries and manage the trades onsite?
  6. Are your lead system and sales analysis system in place and kept accurately up-to-date on a monthly basis by a reliable staff person?
  7. Is your commission system – based upon the percentage of the job’s gross profit and competitive with kitchen and bath industry standards – in place, efficiently run, accurate and on time?
  8. Are you prepared to make a $8,000-$15,000 investment in a three-month sales trainee salary or experienced sales designer draw, plus benefits and additional investments in industry and cabinet manufacturer training schools?
  9. Are you reconciled satisfactorily to giving up personal selling time for on-the-job training and ongoing sales management, thereby potentially diminishing your sales volume and personal income in the short term?
  10. Are you prepared to stand behind your new sales trainee or experienced sales designer in the face of careless planning errors, botched leads, incorrect job estimates, client misunderstandings and similar frustrating mistakes that are inevitable with learning the ways of your business?

If 90% of your answers to this sales recruitment questionnaire are yes, you may be indeed ready to commence recruitment. If you score less than 90%, I would strongly recommend not hiring a salesperson at the present time. Make your organization and yourself ready first. For more information in preparing your business for additional salespeople, please see the April 2007 column entitled “Organizing Staff For Greater Productivity.”

Recruiting Right

If you are ready to hire a salesperson, many years ago I learned a recruitment system from a professional sales recruiter that could be helpful. I found it to be so effective that I ended up applying it to every job description in a kitchen and bath dealership, from recruiting a receptionist to a subcontract installer.

The system was instrumental in enabling me to hire 14 people who, with considerable training and coaching over time, developed into 14 highly successful sales designers. As a result, I was able to plan and roll out three additional, profitable showrooms over a six-year period. Remember, you are looking to find people who can both design and sell – no small feat.

Here are the key elements of this recruitment system:

  • Specification Form – This details what you expect in the way of education, experience, skills, personal qualities, earnings history, etc. for the ideal person to fill the position.
  • Classified Ad – This could be a column-type ad with a bold border in a Sunday metropolitan newspaper using a heading of “Kitchen Sales Designer;” include critical requirements drawn from the specification form. Your ad should indicate lucrative earnings potential, and state that interested parties should call you (give your name) between the hours of, say, 3-5 p.m. on the very next day. The rapid response strategy is predicated on the notion that salespeople in general are both impulsive and impatient; this theory worked because the ad always seemed to generate lots of calls.
  • Telephone Screening Form – This asks a series of questions, drawn from the specifications form, and includes a few “knock-out” questions. For example, after getting satisfactory answers to education and experience questions, the form calls for the candidate’s earning requirements. You hear “$100,000 to start” as a response whereas your specifications form call for $45,000-50,000. So you thank the candidate for their interest, indicate that the job can be filled for less money and move onto the next caller.
  • Interview With A Test – The structured 60-minute interview for sales designers seeks proof of sales accomplishments and concludes with a request for them to prepare a drawing from a measurement sheet for a simple kitchen. Candidates had 60 minutes to prepare a drawing and hand sketch. We judged them not on completion, but on accuracy and quality of presentation. It gave us great insight into their ability to follow instructions, develop a plan, use their time well and demonstrate creativity.

To be brutally honest, the greatest success I ever had with salespeople was when I recruited them from other industries (using the system outlined above) and taught them the kitchen business from scratch. I looked for people with a proven sales talent in some form, a flair and/or appreciation for design, an appetite for learning and a hunger to earn money. Of course, this approach required me, as the business owner, to become a full-fledged trainer and develop specialized training programs – worthy subjects for a future column.

Read past columns on Bettering Your Bottom Line by Ken Peterson, and send us your comments about this story and others by logging onto the Kitchen & Bath Design News’ Web site, located at