Many home improvement companies are once more hiring sales staff. But hiring salespeople is not necessarily like hiring other employees at your company (see Dave Yoho's column on page 17). You're taking on expense and you're counting on that new hire to make some rain.

So what if he or she doesn't cut it? Many companies require a probationary period when they bring on new sales hires. During that time the sales reps train, do ride-alongs, then run their own leads, and managers evaluate whether or not trainees will work out in the long run. Ninety days from the day they're hired “gives me time to see if they can really do it or not,” says Matt Colligan, operations manager at Champion Windows, in Colorado Springs, Colo. What Colligan has found is that “they're either producing out of the gate, or not.” In that 90 days, the new hire generally runs about 75 leads. Colligan says he worries if “they're not asking questions.”

ONE-ON-ONE TIME It's the cost of leads — $250 or more — that makes the situation do or die. Companies simply can't afford to “waste appointments on someone who is not successful,” says Eric Tullio, general manager at Mid-Atlantic Waterproofing, in Laurel, Md. The company has a 90-day probationary period. Sales hires will spend six weeks sitting in the classroom by day and running leads at night. Generally, Tullio says, “we give them a lot of one-on-one time. If we believe they have the aptitude, we give them some practice.”

Bob Quillen, owner of Quillen Bros. Windows, in Bryan, Ohio, says that he hires about one salesperson a year and values longevity on the sales staff. Quillen Bros., which also has a 90-day probationary period for all new hires, including sales reps, has sales trainees spend two weeks in the classroom before sending them out on their own for two or three days, after which they ride with the sales manager for four or five days, go out alone again, ride again, etc. Repeatedly going back and forth from learning to selling to learning and then selling again, as a training procedure, Quillen says, lets reps “see what they're not doing right” and change it.

Quillen, who has been training salespeople for his company since 1996, says he knows from experience that “if the rep doesn't close his first five days out, he isn't going to make it.”

FARM SYSTEM Kearns Brothers, in suburban Detroit, also just hired a new salesperson. At the roofing, siding, and window company — which generates 60% to 65% of its business from repeat or referral — new sales hires come through friends, other employees, or someone otherwise known to the company. “We know them first,” vice president of sales and marketing Gary Kearns says.

What's critical is not only that they bring in sales, but that they gel with the sales team (of 10). New sales hires are on salary for the first year and go to full commission in their second year. It's a system, Kearns says, designed “not necessarily for closers but for people who can build relationships with our clients.”