In any pavement maintenance business, the sales staff is the backbone of the company. Without sales, you have no company. Companies that deploy their sales force daily are generally successful – they enjoy steady workloads, growth, and continued profits. If you aren’t getting the outcomes you want, you should perhaps reevaluate. Winter is always an ideal time to evaluate your current sales staff, as well as lack of it.

For a company that relies on just its owners to seek out, bid, and perform the work, any growth usually will force that company to expand their sales personnel in a hurry. Sole owners that try to do it all cannot handle the stress load and will not enjoy the profits that an organized sales staff can provide.

Hiring sales people can be the solution, but it is critical to know how to hire and whom to hire. This task must have clearly thought-out goals. Building a successful sales team depends on choice, not chance.

In many cases, the hiring process begins with a specific need. Hiring begins with a general ambition: The owner needs to have long- or short-range sales plans to start. Long-range plans allow an organization to seek the best people it can find. Short-term plans usually end up short term, with short-term results.

Hiring sales people can be particularly challenging. You should have an interview strategy before you hire any candidate. First, make sure your evaluation strategy matches well with the type of selling you do. For example, you do not want to hire someone who is great at transactional sales if you want to build long term client relationships, especially when your pavement maintenance business is built on repeat business.

The hiring process should be concise but strategic at the same time. Ask all your sales candidates the same questions. It is very easy to be side tracked by an engaging candidate and not cover everything you wanted if you are just winging it with random questions.

Applying a standard set of questions will provide each candidate the opportunity to answer each question and give you a better evaluation of each candidate interviewed.

Compare the answers of all the candidates to see who is a good fit for your organization. A common mistake owners/interviewers make when hiring is to bring in a candidate and immediately divulge too much information about your company and its inner workings. When you proceed with the interview process, a perceptive salesperson will “talk back” to you everything you want to hear using your own words. A critical mistake.

You must prepare a solid interviewing format. Prepare a set of straightforward questions, as well as questions that test the person’s pavement maintenance industry knowledge. Some examples: Tell me, why are you interested in working at our company?  Did you always meet or exceed your sales quota at your former job?  If so, can I verify that? If not, why not? When I call your former employer, what will that person tell me about your performance? (Your chances of getting the honest answers are now even better, even though you may or may not intend on making that call. The candidate will also know you are serious, and reduce his sugar coating.)

If the candidate comes from an asphalt background, you might ask a few questions to qualify the candidate, for example: Describe what the most challenging project you completed in the past year? You will be able to evaluate the candidate’s drive and level of energy with questions like this.

Consider your candidate’s potential for a productive working relationship with both peers and management. Evidence of a candidate’s ability to form and sustain good relationships can be brought out with a few simple questions. Examples: Do you like working as part of a team? Describe the working environment you enjoy the most. What was your relationship with them? Keep in mind, most sales people in the pavement maintenance industry work alone and must be a self-starter.

At this point of the interview, you should have a sense of the candidate’s style and be able to determine whether the candidate will be a good fit. (Remember, you can legally only ask work related questions.)

Now, once you have narrowed down your candidates, you must decide which ones will be the greatest assets to your company. A seasoned veteran may not always be the obvious choice. I sometimes favored a sales candidate with an overachieving drive, high level of energy, money motivation, and common sense, over a seasoned veteran that may have high demands in salary, commission, and may carry old bad habits from previous employment. However, at times if I needed fast short-term results, the veteran who has been-there-done-that would be my immediate choice.

Some pavement maintenance companies are seasonal, depending on their geographical location. This always poses a potential problem with retaining quality industry sales professionals. Top producers are inclined to require yearly employment, with a compensation package, such as company vehicle, phone and insurance plan through the off-season. I have always viewed these productive sales people as my “long-range planned sales force.” Therefore, when interviewing candidates for long-term plans, be prepared to answer any questions the candidate may have pertaining that.

When presenting an off-season package to known top producers, you do not want to “give away the farm,” but you do not want to lose them either. Be open to what their financial needs would be through the off-season. A rule of thumb for off-season sales personnel is to suggest spreading their salary package over the off-season. In one instance, a sales person asked that I put a certain percent of his commission into a company draw account to make sure that there was an adequate weekly check in the off-season added to their unemployment. You need to have a sit down with the sales person and discuss this in depth at the start of the season to avoid any off-season conflicts. Other sources of potential compensation are the use of a company vehicle and phone. This perk often helps retain your top sales professionals.

One of my tricks of the trade from my former pavement maintenance company was in seasonal sales and labor hiring. I always hired schoolteachers when I could. I have had many schoolteachers selling and working the crews for me over the years, and they were very productive and less demanding than a sales or crew person who relies entirely on me for year-around employment and benefits.

School teachers are usually off from early June through late August/early September, which is also the prime season for the pavement maintenance industry. Schoolteachers are educated and comfortable in talking with people. Teachers have insurance from their school policy, and most are looking for an extra summer wage.

The best part is they always seem to come back every year.  My teacher summer sales crew was very productive and stayed with me for over 15 seasons. Not to mention they know everyone in the area, and usually know other teachers looking for part time summer work. It truly is a win-win situation for both parties. Remember sales come first!

Mark Mcleod