Cultivating an optimal outside sales team

Updated Nov 15, 2017

The employee shortage facing the commercial vehicle industry isn’t new or surprising. For years, the industry has seen its workforce age out of the marketplace and has struggled to find quality replacements.

The technician shortage has garnered most of the headlines, but the industry’s retirement boom has been felt everywhere. One overlooked position that continues to be harder to fill is the role of outside salesman.

During a brief panel discussion Thursday at the Association of Diesel Specialists (ADS) Convention & Tradeshow in Las Vegas, Jeff Richman of Midwest Fuel Injection, Carl Ferguson at Taylor Diesel of Nashville and Warren Stewart of Industrial Diesel, Inc., shared their tips on hiring, training and motivational tactics that have paid off in their operations.

Richman led off with an insightful presentation on hiring. While any good employer knows to look for industry experience and hardworking traits during a job interview, Richman says it’s important to also try and learn more about how a person acts away from the job. He says those traits and habits can have more impact on how they fit into your business than their knowledge of vehicle componentry.

He references one of his favorite interview questions “What do you know about our business?” as a good barometer in this area. Richman says an employee that wants your open position should come to your interview well versed in your business. He notes there’s “no bigger sales pitch than a job interview,” and a person who doesn’t come to that prepared likely isn’t going to do what’s necessary to prepare for sales calls.

Among his other tricks, Richman also says he likes to an in-depth resume audit new potential employees searching for both good (industry experience, anchor jobs, ‘outside sales’ as former job titles) and bad (employment gaps, no outside sales mentions, previous business ownership) information.

When it comes to training, Ferguson has built an equally detailed program. He says all new hires are first versed on their new employer, and the products they sell. From there, Ferguson says it’s important to make sure outside sales people also understand how diesel engines and their related systems work, and can identify how parts in those systems correspond to the products they’re selling.

Ferguson also believes in providing a clear description of what is expected of the sales person, both from a revenue generation and customer service perspective. Finally, he says it’s also important that outside sales people develop a relationship with their store managers and inside sales associates. These stronger relationships improve overall business functionality and increase customer service.

When it comes to motivation, Stewart says he’s had success with a year-end commission program. Stewart acknowledges this may be different than monthly or product-by-product commission, but he believes it works better because it’s so all-encompassing.

He uses the example of a salesperson who hits a benchmark for commission with a few days left in a month, then slows his focus and/or takes time off for the rest of the period. Under the year-end program, Stewart says that employee is more likely to remain focused for the remainder of that month if they know those extra days could bolster their final year bottom line.

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