Credit: Illustration: | Alex Slobodkin

Two weeks? Six months? A year?

Home improvement company owners and sales managers can't say for sure exactly when newly hired salespeople will start paying dividends on the substantial investment that companies make in training them. That's partly because the learning curve varies widely, but also because companies are expanding that sales training to include non-sales functions. The goal: to give new sales reps a sense of the big picture and how the company operates.

A big cost in flush times, one hiring expense that many established contractors don't worry about in the current economy is advertising to fill open sales slots.

“I have people calling me weekly,” says Camille Saleh, corporate sales manager for Champion Window and Patio Room Co., in Cincinnati. Mike Kuplicki, who co-owns New York–based Alure Home Improvements' Owens Corning basement finishing franchise, says that he is “bombarded with requests for employment.”

360 DEGREES Contractors' sales training process includes classroom instruction in product knowledge and sales methodology, role-playing, and, at some companies, mentoring by experienced reps.

During these training phases, recruits typically draw a salary. “My only requirement is that they show up every day, prepared,” says Kuplicki, who, along with three assistant sales managers, works with recruits in the field. During this phase, he says that new hires are exposed to a minimum of 12 hours of customer interviews.

However, training can be yet more expensive because it's rarely just about selling anymore. At Alure Home Improvements for instance, a new hire interacts with the company's production, ordering, administrative, financial, and marketing departments.

At Beldon Roofing Co., in San Antonio, new hires work with various internal departments, including production, “before they ever get to see a customer,” president Brad Beldon says.

UP TO SPEED Saleh says that her company expects new salespeople to be productive within a month. “By then, you should know what you have.” With each sales call costing the company $300 to $400, Champion Window and Patio Room can't wait too long for a salesperson to find his or her legs.

Beldon estimates that it costs his company between $50,000 and $100,000 to hire and train a salesperson, and that, realistically, it could take a couple of years before Beldon Roofing realizes a full return on that investment.

That's why, he says, you can't afford to make a mistake in the hiring process, which for Beldon Roofing Co. includes pre-screening candidates.

—John Caulfield is a freelance writer and editor based in New Jersey.