Secrets of the Sales All-Stars
authors Patrick O'Toole | March 11, 2020
Every other year, home improvement business consultant Rodney Webb brings together his client community of roofing, siding and window companies—residential specialists of all types—for several days of immersion in sales technique and business acumen. It happened again last month in Fort Lauderdale.
This year, at the start of the very first day, sales awards were bestowed on a handful of the best salespeople among approximately 160 firms represented. The backgrounds of the winners were extremely varied—manager of a Rite-Aid pharmacy, an installer who switched to sales, an administrator who switched to sales and a cook who switched to home improvement—were among that group. They each have sold millions in home improvements over the last few years.
So what is the first secret of sales all-stars? They come from all walks of life. The stereotypical salesperson from central casting does not exist anymore. They are smooth. They operate independently from the pack. They look at a company’s sales presentation as a menu from which to pick and choose portions to use. They can “sell ice cubes to Eskimos,” as the old saying goes.
And yes, it is true that some people are blessed with good looks and outgoing personalities. But it is rare today to find a successful home improvement company owner who is willing to give his or her valuable leads to someone with a hotshot, go-it-alone mentality like that.
In today’s world, repeatable and sustainable growth in home improvement is based on one of any number of selling systems. Rodney Webb’s system involves treating the home as a patient, where the needs of a client’s house are uncovered with scientific tools like thermal-imaging cameras and photographs of damaged roof shingles. The common thread: To be successful, a salesperson and a company must utilize a proven sales system that needs to be learned until it is second nature. Presentations must be practiced and role-played until made perfect.
Dave Yoho pioneered the practice of step-selling in home improvement, which today is the backbone of the selling systems at thousands of companies around the industry, including Renewal by Andersen, among many others. Selling the value of the appointment all the way through the demonstration is foundational to this type of system. To Dave Yoho’s way of thinking, the best salespeople are willing to follow a methodology strictly and are also willing to use key words or phrases when they ask for a sale. An example Yoho gives is a highly crafted phraseology that should be communicated to a prospect in the correct sequence, only after completing a full presentation where the prospect follows along each step of the way. “What would need to exist for us to get the paperwork started so we can get this new (project) in your home?”
“It is a fact that most people don’t like to sell. And some people don’t know how to sell and they learn it,” Yoho explains. “Then there are certain personalities and behavior types that will not use these key phrases. So I say the same thing all of the time. Your job is to make perfect presentations, not to get a sale all of the time. We want a perfect presentation, done the same way, all of the time. Some people don’t like to do it because they are concerned people will not like them.”
Once a presentation and a method has been learned, the final test of whether a person can sell or not comes in the field under the watchful eye of a sales manager or owner, the sales experts agree. If a salesperson can follow a practiced methodology, the results can be spectacular.
“How well does it work?” Yoho asks. “To get one of your salespeople selling $2.5 million, $3.5 million or $4 million—and hear me—in profitable business, it takes a lot. These people don’t fall out of the sky. That is why hiring salespeople from your competitor is not the answer. The job is to find the right people and to train them to do a better presentation every time they do it while aiming for perfection.”
Desire and Drive
Among each of the home improvement sales and business consultants we spoke with for this article, each of whom were asked to reflect on the common traits of the very best salespeople they have had the opportunity to know, an unyielding drive and a high level of desire was seen as a top trait. Sales all-stars must persevere through an enormous amount of rejection—50, 60 and 70 percent of the time—in order to succeed.
“The biggest trait that I see? It’s pretty simple. It’s desire,” Webb says. “And desire has three parts: Desire for success, desire for money and desire for recognition. The truly great salespeople are motivated by those three. And if they have a desire for all three, they are usually superstars. So that word, desire, I think is huge. It is something that most managers and owners don’t really understand how to see in people.”
The desire for just one of three—money, recognition or success—can create imbalances, Webb explains. If someone is just about money, they might be tempted to do something improper, like overcharge a customer, he says. So the motivation to sell must be balanced. Thus, oftentimes natural talent, like being outgoing and being a good communicator, is secondary to desire. That, according to Webb, is why some of the sales award winners at Webb’s conference last month come from such unexpected backgrounds. Their desire trumps all of the obstacles.
“A high percentage of people in our country can’t deal with the rejection that it takes to be a salesperson,” Webb says. “Even if you are a good salesperson, you’re going to get rejection 50 percent of the time. If you are a mediocre salesperson, you’re going to get rejection 70 percent of the time. Desire has to outweigh all of the rejection. And not very many people can deal with that. If you have a strong enough desire, then you can become a good or even great salesperson. And that’s what you have to look for when you hire.”
Consultant Tony Hoty uses a different word to describe the same attribute: Competitiveness. These are people who want to win but, perhaps more importantly, hate to lose. “When you meet the truly great salespeople, they absolutely hate to lose.”
Hoty cut his teeth in the business in Columbus, Ohio, as a college student working for Ohio Energy, and he said that he was able to ride along with some great salespeople who were very competitive. Between appointments they were practicing. They would record themselves. These were not people who were “winging it,” he explains.
“The great ones practice,” Hoty says. “You can’t just expect to be great without putting any effort into it. And the desire to practice and get better comes from that competitive drive.”
For John Anglis, who owns a home improvement firm in Connecticut, Carefree Home Pros, there are four Hs to success for sales all-stars: Hunger, Honable, Humble and Honest. The first one, hunger, is critical.
“To go into someone’s home and then in two hours or three hours to walk out with a $7,000 deposit check, you’ve got to be driven,” Anglis says. “That’s information that we seek out in interviews for salespeople to hire: how hungry they are, how driven they are. That’s an important one for sure.”
One of the telltale signs of someone who lacks sufficient desire and drive often arises after some initial success, our experts agree. The great ones are driven to succeed consistently and thus manage to pull themselves out of slumps where others might slide their way out of the business.
“There’s certain personalities that can go out and sell really well for a month or two, then they go into a slump for a month or two, then they bring it back out,” Anglis notes. “Those are people who lack hunger to drive results. For them, it’s not just about the money but to be productive.”
Beyond drive, desire and competitiveness, our experts cited additional attributes that are often present among the truly great salespeople. They are coachable. They can empathize with prospects. They are often humble, team players.
According to Dominic Caminata, sales manager for fast-growing Mad City Windows and Baths in Madison, Wisconsin, and co-owner of Grosso University, the great sales people also possess a number of baseline attributes that relate to non-verbal cues: Confidence, mental toughness, assertiveness, certainty, integrity and assumptive.
“In the profession of selling, salespeople will often get the exact same training, selling the exact same products in the exact same market with completely different performance,” Caminata says. “We may wonder why it is that one salesperson can sell circles around others with the same opportunity. The simple answer is that 90 percent of communication is non-verbal. Even if a salesperson memorizes exactly what to say and can deliver scripts verbatim, that by no means results in high levels of performance.”
Confidence, according to Caminata, is communicated in a number of ways. Product knowledge, posture, tone of voice, rate of speech, attire, good eye contact and an easy smile, among other factors, he says.
“If you are not confident in yourself, customers will not be confident in you,” Caminata says. “Confidence is radiated from your non-verbal communication and speaks louder than the words you’re saying to your prospects.”
Assertiveness is critical because clients avoid those who beat around the bush or timidly ask for the order. Assertive people take control of situations, Caminata explains, and leave people perceiving they are “more authoritative, positive and decisive and that you are an expert that will get the job done.”
Honesty and integrity were mentioned by all of our experts. “I don’t want salespeople who can sell ice to an Eskimo because Eskimos don’t need ice,” Anglis says. “That’s how you build a terrible reputation, you know, gouging customers and not taking care of them.”
Caminata sums it up this way: “Prospects have built-in B.S. detectors that can tell when someone is being untruthful or not speaking honestly. Salespeople with high levels of ethics and integrity do not have to pretend they do. The prospect, at a subconscious level, trusts the salesperson and believes they genuinely care.”
The ability to ask for the order within the proper methodology is what separates the non-salespeople from salespeople, Yoho says. And there are many ways to ask for an order. Some are more direct, and some are beyond direct. They assume the close. According to Caminata, the best salespeople assume the sale “by taking physical action.”
“When salespeople ask for the order, they create more pressure because they are putting the weight and pressure of making the decision on the customer’s lap,” Caminata explains. “When a salesperson assumes the order in a confident and assertive way without hesitation, he takes all the pressure off the customers, making it easy for them to make the decision.” QR
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