As I read Geoff Gordon’s article on the role of the flooring contractor in the December issue of Floor TrendsI was reminded of all flooring contractors have to know and do.
Interesting that Geoff, who I consider one of the best sales talents in the industry, understands and articulated so well the operational role of the flooring contractor. He didn’t distinguish or discuss the selling role, which is imbedded in operations so deeply it may be impossible to separate them.
I thought I would share some of the areas of knowledge and skills required of successful flooring contractor salespeople and how in 2009 Fuse Alliance developed a focused sales education and training for its members, specifically for flooring contractor sales personnel.
The Fuse University online learning site was developed by Kris Keller, who also manages the content. Kris is Fuse’s vice president of marketing and member services. She understands the role of flooring contractors as Geoff described including the importance of sales and built the online learning courses to support those needs. She focused on developing courses for new hires who had sales experience but had not worked in the flooring industry.
Most sales jobs are about generating top line sales and don’t require following the product from manufacturing through its installation and useful life. Flooring contractor sales personnel, like manufacturer representatives need pure selling skills and product knowledge. They also have to know multiple product types from multiple manufacturers and how they work together.
Additionally they must deal with an enormous number of financial, operational and technical details before and after the sale and during the installation. They are responsible for not only the total sale but also the gross margin outcome.
We all know that details are not typically a salesperson’s strength so finding or developing a salesperson with this ability is a challenge.
We believed all too often new hires were thrown into selling situations without the real understanding of what they were selling or who was buying. We decided to start at the beginning and offer courses on understanding who is the company they are working for, what do they do, what do they do well, why do they do it and how. In addition, who are the customers who would be buying the products and services their company offers? There is not a simple answer/explanation to any of these.
Flooring contractors operate multiple business models and the customer is not the same on each opportunity, or even during different phases of the opportunity. The “aha” moment was recognizing the selling complexity and acknowledging the many variables, then mapping them and understanding how they potentially fit together.
We used our knowledge of successful Fuse members to classify the various selling models. We settled on three classifications. “A,” those who create demand for products and services, “C,” those who focus on responding to created demand, and “B,” those who do both.
A model companies who create demand focus their sales efforts on the architectural design community, end users, other direct customers and manufacturer’s reps.
C model companies generally respond to already created opportunities, focusing on operational efficiency and operational excellence. They tend to work with those who are actually writing the check such as general contractors, developers and end users. They also are very supportive of and rely on manufacturer reps.
Companies having broad characteristics of both A and C we classified as B model companies and represent the greatest number of Fuse members.
Classifying the different models allowed us to start figuring out how they operated and what each of these operations had in common. Two things really stood out.
First, common to all successful flooring contractor salespeople was the knowledge that manufacturer reps are also customers and as important as A&D, end users and general contractors. With a trusted manufacturing partner you can confidently recommend, sell, install and service products.
Second, understanding their company’s core competencies and how it processes business. Often overlooked by salespeople is the “internal customer.” The individuals in the company behind the scenes, who process orders, schedule labor, manage labor, bill contracts and collect receivables. The ones who salespeople rely on to make things happen and make them more successful.
We wanted new salespeople to understand the business process so they could provide all the information and support necessary to help these internal customers do their job.
Examples of these classifications are Fuse member companies such as Modular Designs of Charlotte, N.C. which is active in the A&D community, has a large following of end use customers and markets consistently to its product reps and is a typical A model member. While it bids projects it is long before the bid stage that it becomes involved.
Fuse member Flooring Resources Corp. in Chicago represents a C model service provider. It has built an organization that understands mill rep support, operational efficiency and operational excellence. It has developed great people, and those people have developed departments and staff who focus on execution. They rely on two principals—the company reputation and repeat customers—to provide the sales required to support their significant infrastructure.
Modular Designs, Flooring Resources Corp. and other Fuse members helped us understand what architects, designers, end users and contractors do, what they provide their clients and how they are structured to respond to the complex selling process.
Our industry organizations such as the Carpet & Rug Institute (CRI) and our preferred suppliers provided generic and specific product information. From that input Kris dissected, documented and authored Fuse University courses specific to fit the educational needs of the flooring contractor salesperson.
Fuse University provides an introductory level of knowledge to an experienced salesperson new to the flooring industry. This knowledge allows the new salesperson to hit the streets sooner, shortening the breakeven timeline from 18 to 6 months, creating a higher success rate for new salespeople benefiting both the employee and the company.