Credit: Jack Hornaday

Before founding Yankee Home Improvement in 2009, Ger Ronan decided he would hire salespeople with home improvement sales experience. Ronan, who had developed a track record as a multimillion dollar seller for several New England home improvement companies, says he knew what motivated salespeople to stay with a company and to produce results for it. So he set out to find candidates for his Northampton, Mass., company who already knew how to present windows or siding in the home but who wanted to work at a company that appreciated their skills and celebrated their success. “If they have decent people skills, can retain customer eye contact, and can make the prospect comfortable, I'll do the rest,” Ronan says.

Not all company owners agree. Many prefer to hire sales candidates who have sold one thing or another — whether it's cars or vacuum cleaners — rather than someone with a home improvement background. The theory is that if the sales rep who comes to you from a competitor was really any good, he wouldn't be looking for a job to begin with. Another common view is that home improvement veterans bring bad habits — such as over-qualifying prospects and blowing off leads — with them, and that such habits have a way of spreading.

GO TEAM Ronan first teaches newcomers Yankee's PowerPoint presentation on an iPad, which “they can learn in two days,” then requires them to do a full sales presentation in the office. After that, he gives them four or five appointments in the course of two weeks. No contracts, no job. “You either can do it or you can't,” he says. He's also not big on psychological tests. “Why give sales reps a test when you can give them a lead?” he asks.

Even owners wary of hiring experienced reps acknowledge that mediocre performance at one company could be due to management issues rather than any lack of skill or talent on the salesperson's part. Some executives express no strong view either way, or are looking for other clues on the résumé beyond a candidate's prior experience selling windows, siding, roofing, or other products.

A home improvement sales background “neither qualifies nor disqualifies somebody” for a sales job at Chicago-area replacement company Feldco, says president Doug Cook, who estimates that 50% to 60% of company salespeople have prior home improvement sales experience. “What's more important to us is who they are as a person and how they fit into our system,” he says. Since sales reps tend to have lone-wolf–type personalities, “teamwork is the most crucial component.” One round of job interviews at Feldco has candidates team up one-on-one for exercises. Those who balk clearly are not Feldco material.

Chris Cardullo, president of Castle, The Window People, in New Jersey, says that hiring reps with past experience is “all about the timing.” The company seeks out experienced salespeople when moving into a new market and trains at different levels, depending on sales experience. There are “few surprises” when hiring sales reps with prior home improvement experience, since they “know how the system works and what to expect,” Cardullo says.

WHERE THEY'RE APPRECIATED A good manager can train away bad habits, according to Cardullo. What can't be tolerated is dishonesty and manipulation. “If it's a blue suede shoe guy,” he says, “we get rid of him immediately.” Reps stay because Cardullo's company offers high-quality inbound leads, regarded by salespeople as “gold.”

Cook says that reps stay at Feldco because the company invests in them, offering benefits such as health insurance and retirement plans. Yankee Home Improvement also offers benefits, a 401(k) plan, and bonuses.

Sales skills are just one of the things that Ronan looks for. “The rep would have to be tech-savvy,” he says, “and open to learning. If he thinks he already knows it all, there's no way.” Ronan, who teaches his sales management system (see, says, “I look for the best people, I give them a phenomenal presentation, and I let them know they're appreciated.”