The most successful commercial service companies are those that hire, train, and promote successful sales personnel. Quite simply, they put the best sales team on the street. As with any worthwhile endeavor, selecting the proper candidate isn't easy. Your odds are greatly increased by looking at the most common sources for sales candidates and acknowledging the red flags associated with each source.

More service salespeople come from the ranks of technician than any other source. This is a logical and prudent career move for many technicians, but there are some red flags to watch for. Insist each technician candidate go through the same interviewing process required of outside candidates.

Above all, look closely at the motives for change. Gaining a car allowance and expense account are not acceptable reasons for making the move. If they genuinely want to make the change because they're reaching middle age and realize that someday, crawling around boiler rooms and climbing ladders will be prohibitive, that's acceptable. At the very least they have the maturity and foresight to plan ahead.

A better motive is when a technician recognizes that, in order to reach a management position, sales experience is beneficial and sometimes imperative. Beyond the obvious, there are several major adjustments necessary in making this move. Good technicians find reward in fixing mechanical problems. While not to diminish the importance of these accomplishments, working with people brings a different set of issues, not always as easy to resolve.

Conversely, prospective customers come with a diverse array of personalities, requiring the sales person to constantly shift gears. Learning to cope with daily rejection can be frustrating if not insurmountable. Before a technician makes the final decision to transition, ask if they're willing to get rid of their tools. While this is a figurative question, I don't want the technician to come with an attitude of, “I can always go back.” Without a total, dedicated commitment, the difficult becomes impossible.

The second most popular source is hiring an experienced service salesperson from the competition. This can provide some opportunities, especially when it's the first sales person on board. Without management experience to guide and direct the sales force, it's comforting to acquire a proven commodity. Again, everything comes down to motives.

It's very important to know the real reason for the change.

  • Proceed with caution when the reason is only for more money. Unless your competitor is known to be inherently cheap, an employee jumping ship for a raise will probably do it again.

  • How much business will they bring with them? I simply ask them if they'll have customers follow them. If the answer is “yes” the interview should be over. Realizing that this goes way beyond business etiquette, it's a policy I have adhered to, even when it's difficult.

If applicants are willing to take business from their present employer, they'll certainly do the same to you. That business was bought and paid for and, in my opinion, belongs to the competitor. It's hard to view such action as anything but theft.

Placement companies can deliver quality candidates if you use those that specialize in our industry. I advise a thorough check of references from an employment agency much the same as you would with an employee. Keep in mind that their motive is ultimately to collect fees. Make sure your contract provides a refund of fees if the employee voluntarily resigns during the first six months. Also be advised that an employment agencies' fees, and some terms, are negotiable.

The college campus affords another source of candidates. There are always one or two universities known for their engineering program in every metropolitan area. I typically find graduate engineers to be happier in the role of construction and building automation sales as opposed to service sales. This source is better suited for larger companies looking to augment an existing sales team.

A much over-looked arena is the military. In most cases, applicants who either retire from the service or receive an honorable discharge, come equipped with a work ethic and discipline. All cities in close proximity to military bases host a job fair at least once a year.

Most hiring managers err on the side of not being thorough. Hiring the wrong person in service sales is extremely costly. Typically, it takes a minimum of a year to terminate a failure. There is the expense of hiring, training, compensating, fringe benefits, car allowances, and management time. While any manager can identify this number with a four function calculator, the greatest expense, usually overlooked, is in the lost business. Mr./Ms. Right could have delivered an additional $200,000+ of recurring revenue.

Earl King is the founder of King Productions International, a commercial HVAC contracting sales consulting firm based in Texas. In addition to consulting, Earl travels the country giving talks to associations and trade groups, as well as writing this column for Contracting Business.com. Questions or comments can be directed to: profithvac@aol.com or call 515/321-2426.