Dear David Column – Hiring Sales Associates with Experience or Green


Dear David: 

I am looking to hire a sales associate and I need him to bring over a book of business.  I don’t have the time to train him and I need him to hit the ground running when he gets started so he can pay for himself right away. He needs to have at least five years of experience and brings at least $1 million dollars of business with him and is looking for a change of scenery.  Can you help?

Dear Irrational Owner,

You are not looking for a sales associate you are looking for a unicorn.  And unfortunately for you, they do not exist.  You may be able to find a pony with pink spray paint and a fake horn that has been glued on to it’s head, but the real thing is just a myth.  Someone who REALLY has a big book of business most likely will not want to risk the uncertainty of income when leaving their current employer.  Now someone who TELLS you they have a big book of business and is willing to leave their employer, yeah, that’s the pony with the pink paint.  We have hired hundreds of sales associates for our clients and 9 times out of 10 they have more success when they hire the right personality, with potential, and teach them to sell flooring.  Your route almost always leads to overpayment and disappointment.  Here is my advice:


Bad Habits and Untrainable

When you hire experience you inherit all habits, both good and bad.  It is much easier to teach a new dog new tricks and the same can be said for sales associates.  New sales associates are eager to learn and happy to take direction while many veterans are closed off and any advice is often viewed as meddling or a nuisance.  Isn’t one of the main reason you went into business was to provide a level of service that you deemed as the best in the market?  If so, how likely are you to achieve that if you hire someone who is steadfast on delivering the level of service they have become accustomed?


High Pay and No Assurance

Someone who “supposedly” writes over $1 million is not going to come cheap.  Most likely you will have to pay them a very high draw/salary hoping they do bring enough business that their sales produce commissions to cover that draw.  Keep in mind you are hiring a “sales” associate that is going to sell you on the fact that they do have a book of business.  Only to find out it is substantially smaller than they verbalize because they are looking for an opportunity to earn more money.  And if they don’t bring the business, you now have an overpaid and untrainable employee.  



Keep in mind that you are hoping to poach away someone that is currently employed at one of your competitors.  If you are able to steal him/her away for the potential to earn more money, what makes you think he/she won’t leave you in the near future for an opportunity with another one of your competitors?  They learn your secret sauce, get access to your customers, establish relationships with your reps, and bam off to your most fierce rival.  On top of that, if they do leave you are now saddled with the burden of picking up the pieces of their accounts until you divvy them up to the rest of the sales team or find a replacement.  This can happen with any new employee as well, but one you have poached has already shown their willingness to jump the fence for greener pastures. 


Training the Greenies

It is totally understandable the reluctance to train rookie sales associates because of the level of training involved.  It takes a year for someone to become a truly professional flooring sales consultant but someone can become quite proficient in as little as seven weeks.  Now, that seven weeks does involve intense training but that training can be administered without a lot of effort from an owner/manager.  I know that sounds hard to believe, but in essence this is how it works:  you take one product (carpet) have the sales associate complete two days of online training on just that one product, send him/her out to assist carpet crews for two days, have him/her work with some carpet reps learning features and benefits for one day, and then have him/her shop your completion for one day and come back and present results of the experience with the rest of your sales team.  Now hit the repeat button for the rest of the surfaces.  Not too bad right?  Computers, installers, reps, and your competition do most of the work. 


Once that portion of the training is complete you are left with measure, estimating, order entry, scheduling, and selling strategies training.  The WFCA University and some buying groups have made this option even easier because you can send these greenies to camps to return with selling skills that are many times much more polished than your existing sales team.  Best of all, this method produces an appreciative, motivated, and coachable employee that is not overpaid. 


We wish you the best in finding your unicorn and if you do please take pictures.