A great installation like this at the Firekeepers Casino in Battle Creek, MI using Axminister carpet tile comes from teamwork within your organization - from sales through installation. Photo courtesy Brintons.

If you are looking for a way to kick-start your success in your commercial business in 2010, I suggest you start with training in both sales and operations. Every dollar you spend and every hour you invest wisely will come back to you many, many times in sales volume, profit, happy clients and personnel.  

The first idea applicable to all of your personnel is effective communication. In fact, I’d suggest your new vision for 2010 include a meeting with everyone in office administration, sales and operations. Make this an important meeting that focuses on how effective communication with each other can pay huge dividends with less stress, fewer mistakes, and more success for each person within the company.  

Identify problem areas by opening the meeting up for feedback from all personnel.  One problem to consider could be the loss of profit from not billing a completed job because no one passed along the delivery or completion ticket. Maybe a crew was sent out to do an installation when all of the materials had not been delivered to the jobsite, or a message from a potential client was not passed to the right project supervisor for action – so the client thought he was being ignored, and ended up giving an important job to your competitor. I’m sure you can come up with some examples of both good and bad communication that will start the ball rolling.

After this first meeting, you’ll have a much better idea of what needs to be accomplished and in what order training should be done to maximize results. In most cases, there should be two levels of training: That which deals with all personnel in communication and customer service, and specific training within each operational class such as administration, sales, and operations. What is appropriate and necessary for sales personnel would not be the focus for operations where the guidelines for installation and details of project supervision and inspection are critical.

For the purposes of this column, though, I’ll focus on sales and operations. Nothing happens with sales volume and profit until something is sold. If you don’t have sales, you’ll have nothing to deliver and install, and office administration has nothing to bill or collect.

On the operations side of the business, a key component is flooring installation. Your clients pay for receiving a beautiful floor, not a roll of carpet, a box of wall base, or pallet of vinyl tile. Quality installation, therefore, is what makes the sale a reality. Your installers are such an integral part of the finished sale that you must make sure they are adequately trained. Many retailers/contractors overlook the training of novice or apprentice installers.

One way to make sure there is a thorough grounding in the basics is using a professionally designed program such as FCICA’s Floorcovering Installation Training (FIT) program that features a step-by-step outline of classroom instruction, review and testing, and hands-on demonstrations. This type of instruction by a qualified trainer will help fill in areas that might be missed when one relies strictly on teaching by example in the field.  The independent, non-union dealer who may not have access to other programs often uses this type of training with great success.

Terrific training programs through INSTALL and other union apprentice programs are known for their emphasis on high quality, hands-on instruction and thorough supervision of work in the field. If you are unable or it is impractical for you to conduct your own in-house training and are non-union, then you should consider the training seminars and skills assessment done by the International Certified Floorcovering Installers Association (CFI).

The CFI emphasis is on certification of installers based upon standardized testing criteria, which relies on hand skills and industry knowledge. They offer residential and commercial training. Installers who are adept at commercial work can earn C-I, C-II, and Masters II certifications. Every dealer should have as many of their installers as possible with these nationally recognized certifications. If you are serious about commercial work, you should encourage and pay for or share the cost of such training and certification. If I were you, I would want a C-II team leader or a minimum of C-I for any crew doing my commercial jobs.  

As a commercial dealer, when I had a high profile, potentially difficult patterned broadloom or Axminster carpet project, or a complicated commercial job, I’d sleep a lot better at night with a CFI Masters II installer on my project. This is not a “pay your money and you get certified” program. I once had an installer who was a bit of a “know it all” but by the end of that week when CFI training and testing was complete he was crestfallen because he had found out how much he didn’t know about his craft. Yes, he was certified as R-I, C-I, but not at the higher levels he had expected.

Other valuable avenues of training and certification come directly from product manufacturers. Most of the major mills offer specific training on location, regionally, or at the mill. It is far cheaper to pay a tech rep to explain the intricate steps necessary to do a proper installation of the manufacturer’s product than it is to have a prolonged argument with a client about how it really isn’t a manufacturing defect, but an installation problem or even worse, to replace a perfectly good product because of defective installation.  

With many mills, training is not a choice but a requirement; warranties and claims will not be honored if a non-mill certified installer installs the product. You need your commercial jobs performed by an installer who can prove their credentials through an organization like CFI.  

Whatever your path may be with installer training, just be sure you do it. Resolve to set aside some money in your budget, involve your installers and ask for suggestions from your sales team, too. They know what they’re going to be selling.  

Sales training.Without refreshing one’s sales skill continually, it is easy to be complacent and not have the edge you need to close every sale that’s available. Here, my suggestions are similar to that of installation training. There are multiple venues available to you. There are seminars or webinars that last for an hour, and online computer training modules that are done on an individual basis -- half-day, or multiple days training offsite.  

Excellent training is available through many manufacturers but is usually based more on product knowledge and presentation with selective emphasis on how, where, and when products should be used. Features, advantages, and benefits are discussed in detail, but techniques of actually closing sales are usually left to the dealer. If you are going to do training yourself, then well-known sales trainers like Sam Allman and Warren Tyler have excellent written materials that can be the basis for your very own training program.   

In fact, there are so many opportunities for training it can become overwhelming. The best idea for you may be this: Look carefully at your sales volume in retail and commercial and then look at your sales personnel. Where do they need help? Do they need help with getting in the door and establishing rapport, cold calling, follow up, development of winning proposals, or closing sales? Oftentimes, I have felt more like a doctor in diagnosing a patient than a sales manager when trying to pinpoint what would be the best course of training.

No one is going to know your business or your personnel any better than you do.  Start by planning a series of meetings with your sales personnel; one meeting every two weeks, at the same time and day, no more than one hour in length. Don’t let anything interfere with those dates, and accept no excuses for non-attendance. If you make it important it will be important.

The first meeting will be to outline the series of meetings over the coming quarter. Talk about the importance of getting back to the basics of being successful.  Provide an overview of the scope of each of the following six meetings. You should start with how to properly handle a lead, getting in the door, establishing rapport; asking questions to qualify the potential client; how to make a presentation, helping set budgets or find out the budget; drafting the written proposal and techniques of follow up; negotiating for and closing the sale. The program’s success is up to you more than anyone else.  

A couple of other ideas for you to add some spice to the meeting: Provide handouts and give a brief test on the subjects covered in the meeting. You’ll quickly find out who has been paying attention and where you may need to modify your teaching. Announce the high score and send the winner to lunch on the company.   

By the end of the first quarter of training, you should see a marked difference in attitude and results, and your sales personnel will be used to providing progress of their sales leads to you and where they need help.  Foster the attitude that closing sales is a team effort. It is not demeaning to ask for help and ideas.  If you encourage this feedback and continue your commitment to training you cannot help but be successful.

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