On an afternoon in mid-August, John Smith spent five hours with a homeowner and came away with a $51,000 contract. Many home improvement sales reps would have headed straight for the bar to celebrate, but not Smith. A few hours later he went back out and sold a $12,000 project to another homeowner.
Smith, 47, who's been selling something or other since he was in high school, is on track this year to bring in at least $2 million in business for P.J. Fitzpatrick Inc., in New Castle, Del. Doing so would make him a member of that exclusive club whose membership doesn't understand the meaning of the word “No.”
What separates $2 million sellers from the rest of the pack, say home improvement company owners, sales managers, and consultants, is their unbelievable confidence in themselves and what they're selling, and their sense of home improvement sales as a profession that requires discipline and constant self-improvement.
“They've mastered their art,” says Rick Grosso, a sales-training consultant whose “Closer Camps” have helped innumerable reps elevate their game. Certainly, Smith's success is partly the product of his company's 2½-hour-long weekly sales meetings, which review everything from selling techniques to product knowledge. But training takes even a good salesperson only so far, and the $2 million seller is, in fact, still rare; “freaks of nature” is how Bob Priest, president of Burr Roofing, in Stratford, Conn., describes them.
The reasons have less to do with the coaching they receive, and more to do with the seriousness and consistency they bring to work every day. And few salespeople ever reach $2 million in sales without two indispensable personality traits: a healthy ego and a likable demeanor that puts customers at ease.
“You can modify behavior, but you can't change a salesperson's personality,” says Priest, who accepts that training might turn a $750,000 salesperson into a $1 million producer. “But $2 million? No way.” Tom Capizzi, who owns Capizzi Home Improvement in Cotuit, Mass., believes most $2 million salespeople are born, not made. “You can't ‘train' desire, or a value system that has a need to make money, to have power and prestige,” he says. Capizzi knows what he's talking about, having generated $3.6 million in sales over a nine-month period himself one year in the late 1990s, before settling back into his owner's role. “You have to be a $2 million seller in your mind first, before you can actually become one.”
SO LONG, COMFORT ZONE A salesperson's productivity is usually a function of how satisfied he or she is. Some are energized by challenges and rewards. “It's a fun job, helping people with their homes,” says Dennis Dombroski, a 30-year-old salesman who in 2006 generated $2.1 million in window and siding revenue for Tri-State Home Improvement in Branford, Conn., with a 70% close rate that year. Others are productive out of necessity. “I sell out of fear because I have three kids in college,” says Lloyd Hersch, laughing. For the past seven or eight years he has generated between $3 million and $4 million in sales annually for Jamaica, N.Y.-based U.S. Window Factory.
Some salespeople, though, are perfectly content earning between $75,000 and $100,000 per year on $1 million in sales, and aren't motivated to extend themselves beyond that threshold. “They own a few cars, and say to themselves ‘I can live with this,'” says Jule West, sales manager for Mr. Rogers Windows in Chesapeake, Va. Rodney Webb has a less-charitable word for this attitude: laziness. “Salesmen are the laziest people on the planet,” says Webb, whose prowess while at Dixie HomeCrafters (where he sold $3.6 million in 2002) is legendary, and who is now one of the industry's most sought-after trainers. “They'll make a commission one week, and then not work for the next two.”
CRAFT, EFFICIENCY, DISCIPLINE “It is the only job where you constantly have to stay on top of the guys,” adds Dombroski, who these days is doing more training for his company, but still expects to close $1.6 million this year and $1.8 million in 2008.
Dombroski is a case study in how a good salesman can significantly increase his efficiency through a greater application to his craft. A former medical student, he was selling vacuum cleaners for Electrolux before joining Tri-State Home Improvement part-time in 2004. “I was just fishing around then,” he recalls. He got into the company's advanced training program, which emphasizes time management. Every day, from 8:30 to 10 a.m., he'd attend sales meetings where information about the company, its products, and selling techniques was discussed. Sent into the field after three months, Dombroski became a machine, scheduling daily appointments with homeowners at 10 a.m, 1:30, 5, and 7:30 p.m. “As long as I can get in front of a customer, I believe I can close that customer.”