Across the western U.S., the Builders chain of home improvement stores offers a complete selection of building materials and design services. One central element of the company’s decades-long success is its outside sales team, a group of 21 salespeople who constantly seek new sales opportunities for the company.
Dave Hoglund, vice president of purchasing at Builders, says the outside sales team is core to the operation’s success. Read on to learn some of his tips for starting and managing an outside sales team.
Early outside sales were critical.
Builders has been in operation since 1977, and Hoglund says the internal promotion of the first outside salesperson in 1984 was key in driving sales and momentum in those early days. More importantly, he says its effects are still being felt three decades later.
“We were in a growth mode and made a point to visit other businesses that were using outside sales teams,” Hoglund says. “We wanted to capture more sales from contractors and we knew having an outside sales team could help us do that.”
Hoglund says Builders didn’t enter into managing its outside sales team with a set outline of how to grow the team and find new sales. Instead, promoting team members from within helped unite the goals of the outside sales staff with Builders’ existing management.
After more than 35 years of operation, Hoglund says the outside sales team is now responsible for a significant portion of the company’s overall sales.
“Without our outside sales team, our volume would be about 10 percent of what it is today,” he says.
Sales can come from anywhere.
Hoglund says only one of the company’s 21 salespeople is focused on a specific geographic region to find new sales. The rest of the team operates throughout seven states surrounding their core operations in Nebraska and Colorado.
“Our core market is Nebraska and Colorado as well as several surrounding states, but we’ll go anywhere the customer goes,” Hoglund says. “We’ll figure out how to deliver materials anywhere in the U.S.”
Earlier this year, the Builders team provided materials for a hotel in Rhode Island and is currently readying a shipment to Idaho.
“It’s best to have the sales team out on the ground, building relationships and knowing what’s going on in the market to understand who the next players will be.” —Dave Hoglund, Builders
The right personality succeeds.
“You need an outgoing person who can communicate properly with a diverse audience, one-on-one and in a group. If we can find that person, we can teach them everything they need to know about the products we sell,” Hoglund says.
Another component of Builders’ outside sales force is providing the team with administrative support.
“We have a support staff to write the orders and mind the nuts and bolts,” he says. “It’s best to have the sales team out on the ground, building relationships and knowing what’s going on in the market to understand who the next players will be.”
Don’t underestimate training.
The tenure of the average outside sales team member at Builders is more than 10 years, and part of that longevity is the emphasis Builders places on training. Hoglund says the company has promoted from within whenever possible, but has also hired fresh faces. In either case, creating a results-focused training program is crucial.
Internal promotions usually come from inside sales coordinators who provide support to the sales team. Hoglund says that linked experience has been a good indicator of success in the role.
“Once someone is identified as a potential outside sales team member, they work with a local branch manager and other salespeople to learn best practices,” he says.
For retailers who may consider adding a team like Builders’, Hoglund says patience is a virtue.
“There’s no perfect way to begin,” he says. “Success doesn’t happen overnight. Don’t be so rigid that you’re unwilling to adjust your plan; that’s the best way to move forward.”