Is now the time to hire your first salesperson? How are you dealing with existing client relationships? (You better believe they want to feel the love.) Do you pay a sales pro 100 percent commission – or not?
There are no clear-cut answers to these sales questions, but Lawn & Landscape spoke with three firms to find out what makes their sales engines run smoothly and profitably. Here’s what we learned.
“It’s amazing what constant attention will do,” says Terry Delaney, president of GroundServ Property Services in Fayetteville, Ark. A year ago, the company hired a client representative, who cares for existing customers and upsells services – someone to deepen client relationships. “With the downturn in the economy, we find that we need to not just sell to new clients, but to resell to existing clients,” Delaney says.
GroundServ has had a sales manager who brings in new sales on staff for five years. But the firm recognized that for every new sale it grabbed, it was losing an existing client for one reason or another. “We weren’t growing,” Delaney says. “So we had to work harder keeping the customers we already have.”
The goal of the client representative is to become that trusted landscape adviser, the approachable person a customer calls to ask questions. The extra attention to existing clients is paying off. “We have added revenue by spending time with those clients and selling them different services,” Delaney says. “And we have lost maybe three or four small clients this year.”
Delaney chalks up this sales success to his team. The client representative managed a regional airport for six years prior to joining GroundServ. She knows customer service. And his sales manager sold powered wheelchairs. He was used to 100 percent commission-based pay, so when Delaney decided to alter his base salary policy before bringing on this pro, the fee structure was no problem. And Delaney says that paying commission only to a salesperson who is responsible for generating new business ignites sales.
“He should be the highest-paid staff member here if he is doing the right things,” Delaney says. “(That commission) is what gets him out of bed. All it costs me is the company vehicle and fuel.”
Commission at GroundServ is paid out over the life of the contract. So if the sales manager sells a one-year contract, that client is billed each month and the sales manager is paid commission every month. “He builds up a bank account that pays month after month,” Delaney says. “And if he can sign a client on a two-year contract, he’ll get paid for those two years. When the contract is over, the commission ends. So that gets him hungry so he can get more contacts.”
Delaney says he looks to hire those who are younger, smarter, faster and better looking than him. “I truly have done that,” he says. “I have gone with young people who are hungry and ready to go out and make some money, and it has changed the way our business runs.”
When Delaney was paying a base sales salary of $35 to $40, the sales associate might bring in an extra 10 percent in commission above that pay. Today, the sales manager can make six figures while seriously driving the company’s revenues.
Aside from the “who” of sales – young, smart, hungry – Delaney focuses on the how. His staff isn’t selling a commercial client like a car dealership a nicely cut lawn. The client doesn’t care about that. The dealership just wants to sell more cars.
“We always think about their pocketbook before we think of our own,” Delaney says.
All in good measure
“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” Michael Thackrey says, relating the importance of sound estimating as part of the sales process. In the beginning, when Thackrey and his business partner, Chris Eastman, started FieldStone Landscape Services in Clearwater, Fla., they didn’t have a system in place for figuring out the actual cost of doing a job. So like many young landscape firms, they learned the hard way that guessing didn’t produce profit.
It took about four years for FieldStone to develop an estimating process, “And it’s still not perfect,” Thackrey says. But now the firm’s bids are turning in revenues to the tune of $3 million. Estimators are part of the team sales approach at FieldStone, which begins with a business developer who generates the sale, and continues when a client is signed on and transferred to an account manager.
New sales and relationship management are entirely separate responsibilities at the company. FieldStone looks for “closers” to fulfill these positions, leaving the technical estimators to focus on their work. “I feel like our industry has a lot of order-takers, or estimators – people who receive an RFP and estimate it as opposed to aggressive door-knockers,” Thackrey says.
Because FieldStone focuses on B2B sales – its customer base is entirely commercial, whether homeowners associations or office parks – Thackrey says the sales team must be polished, assertive and naturally wired to close deals. “We hire on personality,” he says simply. “We can teach the green industry, but we can’t teach someone to be a natural closer.”
In fact, prior to starting the business, Eastman was a successful realtor in the cutthroat Tampa Bay market. The lessons he learned from this experience have shaped the way FieldStone structured its sales process. For one, the company does not offer commission. Salary-based pay makes for a more team-oriented environment, if you ask the partners. “We pay a competitive number and hire people who are self-motivated,” Thackrey says. “They are looking out for our best interests knowing that as they grow, they will benefit financially.”
Currently, FieldStone has two business developers and two account managers. The firm brings on new sales personnel as volume increases. A business manager might handle millions in sales because that business is won then passed on to an account manager. However, account managers can handle about $1 million in revenue, Thackrey says.
Meanwhile, a streamlined bidding process helps forward the sales process at FieldStone and ensure the business that comes in is worthwhile. “Profit is not a cuss word,” Thackrey says. “Profit is a good thing.”
Plug ahead with PR
“I will take a warm referral any day over a cold call,” says Kim Lewey, co-owner with her husband, Mike, of Lewey Landscaping & LawnCare in Raleigh, N.C.
The family business has grown steadily the last 12 years thanks to referrals from existing clients, but Lewey recognized after the recession that a more assertive approach would be necessary to replace commercial business that was waning after 2008.
She considered hiring an outside sales person – outsourcing a role that she and her husband just don’t feel comfortable doing. Neither like to get on the horn and hunt down new business by phone. But then, Lewey reconsidered.
“Our goal is to grow our business steadily, but not so aggressively that we sacrifice quality,” she says, noting that the business does not currently have a dedicated sales professional on staff. That job falls mainly to the Leweys.
Lewey believes that relationships are what have grown the firm – it went from two crews to four in a couple of months, “so we have more business than we can keep our hands on and we are three weeks out in scheduling work,” she says. Relationships are what will keep the company growing at a comfortable pace. That’s why Lewey hired a public relations agency to help market the business beyond the community members and businesses that already know about the company.
“We had enough trial and error and made enough mistakes over the years that we finally recognized that we need to keep doing what we are doing, but somehow get our face out there better,” Lewey says.
After 2008 and an economic hit, Lewey says the company had to take a “giant step back” and reassess how it wanted to grow. “We needed to make sure we could continue going forward,” she says.
Lewey hit the networking circuit, meeting businesses through the local chamber and other groups.
The company focused on residential, but now it wants to continue building its commercial account base. Lewey thinks the PR firm will help do that, especially since she chose an agency with clients that include commercial management companies – the type of customers Lewey Landscaping would like to add to its roster.
PR is a back door to sales, and Lewey recognizes that she can’t expect instant results. But she believes this strategy will result in building relationships that can be converted into sales.
“I would rather be methodical and develop the relationship with the understanding that it may take two years to get in the door,” she says.
“But once you’re in, it branches out like a tree and you get introductions to other prospects.”