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Building good LBM salespeople

Rick Davis sales brand


There is consensus in our industry that our workforce is aging. This consequently leads to the question, “Where can I find good salespeople?” To that I respond, stop trying to find good salespeople. Just find good people and then build a salesperson.

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Picture a 23-year-old kid out of college who realized a path as an apprentice chef was not for him. Instead, he created a resume and drove from one car dealership to the next, seeking his first sales job. One manager after another told him they would only hire experienced salespeople. After the fifth or sixth rejection, the kid expressed his frustration with the Oldsmobile sales manager, “For Pete’s sake! Didn’t any salesperson start without experience?!? Surely someone teaches the startup salesperson how to sell.”

Obviously, that kid was me. I got the job and did learn from that sales manager. I followed a script and quickly became one of the more successful salespeople. I was off to a great career selling cars, but simply didn’t care for the tactics I was being taught. The lesson learned, however, is that selling skills can be taught.

We see many salespeople without the fundamental skills of business-to-business sales, skills that can be taught. For example, better dialogues about expectations could reduce the ubiquitous emergency fires that occur every day. Instead of lamenting the price objection and promising to “see what can be done,” salespeople can be taught to negotiate effectively. Instead of lamenting the loss of business, a high caliber salesperson recognizes that lost accounts are par for the course and proactively uses prospecting skills as the only solution.

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It’s not enough to train; you must coach. This is the reason I first emphasized sales management training as part of my company curriculum decades ago. It was inspired by a study from two University of Minnesota PhDs in education, Mary Broad and John Newstrom, that sought to analyze quality transfer of training.

“Transfer” is said to have occurred when the lessons in the classroom are transferred—i.e., effectively utilized—after a training event is concluded. Broad and Newstrom studied the roles of the trainer, manager, and participant to produce interesting conclusions. They found that the role of the manager prior to any training event is the most important factor for success. This means that the right person was hired; the environment is conducive to success; the manager understands the required performance of the job; and so forth.

Not surprisingly (to me), the role of the manager after training has been completed is nearly as important. The manager must reinforce optimum behaviors; continue to foster an environment for success; and provide constructive feedback in a manner that positively affects performance without diminishing enthusiasm. In short, the manager must observe and validate training success.

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I’ve conducted hundreds of training sessions in my career. The modules, although constantly improving, at any time frame are identical. Of course, there is anecdotal success from individual performers, but it is the organizational differences that are more revealing.

One organization I worked with put their young and ambitious beginner salespeople through continuous training, and the outcomes were considerable. A new emphasis on prospecting and skills to build new business relationships worked due to the positive reinforcement from managers; emphasis on performance metrics; and constructive feedback. Conversely, another organization, receiving the identical training content, achieved only anecdotal success simply because the management team sat back and waited for the performance improvement without intervention.

The simple morals to this tale are a) if you want great salespeople, hire good people, and b) build them with the right coaching. The bad news is that there are no shortcuts to building great sales teams. The good news is that, because there are no shortcuts, it can become your competitive advantage if you’re willing to invest the long-term energy for success.

Rick Davis is the Sales Education Leader for ABC Supply and the President of Building Leaders. You can buy his books or learn more about his online sales training platform at

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