Pat Pagano, vice president of American Siding & Window Systems, Urbandale, Iowa, knows his company's selling system works. In 15 years, that system has helped drive sales from $1 million to $18 million.

He also knows when a salesman is starting to deviate from it. “We have the system, we know it works, and we know how long it takes for that individual to be in the home, whether they sell or they don't,” he says.

Dave Becker, co-owner of Mid America Exteriors, in Wichita, Kan., agrees that when it comes to knowing who works the system and who doesn't, time is of the essence. “The guys who really do a good job are consistently in the house for three or four hours,” he says. Robert G. Priest, president of Burr Roofing, Siding & Windows, in Darien, Conn., easily spots the salesman operating outside the system. “Their numbers go down,” he says.

MEASURE IT To evaluate a rep's performance, sales managers typically review contact reports, make post-sale phone calls to prospects, and watch for clues when role playing in regular sales meetings. Burr Roofing, Siding & Windows for example, calls all prospects classified as “no close/alive,” to ask probing questions about what was and wasn't covered on the sales call.

Knowing why salespeople don't follow a proven selling system is just as important. “Some aren't good warm-up people,” Becker says. “They don't spend much time making friends with prospects, really talking to them.”

Some reps skimp on the product demonstration. For instance, Becker notes, “One of our guys consistently sells our cheapest windows, which suggests to me that he isn't doing a really good presentation on the better ones.”

HOW AND WHY For the less-experienced salespeople who Pagano prefers to hire, the hardest thing is to overcome an objection at the close. “Sometimes they give up too early,” he says.

Major objections at the close indicate steps skipped or a failure to trial close throughout the presentation.

On the other hand, the “old pros,” Pagano says, are more likely to think they know better than the system or to commit the cardinal sin: pre-qualifying the prospect.

But when reps skip a step, “nine out of 10 times it boils down to mechanics.” The salesman got nervous, talked too fast, and simply forgot a step or didn't cover it as well as he should have.

Whatever the reason for salespeople deviating from the system, these contractors agree that training is the remedy. “Good salespeople are made,” Pagano asserts. And Becker says, “The key is to stay on top of your salespeople. We have a sales meeting every Monday, and discuss our system at virtually every meeting.”

Priest has a monthly “sales TQM” meeting with each salesman to review the profit on his jobs, identify “wayward” jobs, and determine what went wrong when the rep failed to close.

“We have a lot invested in these guys, and if their sales start to go down, it's painful for everyone,” he says.