My First Season as a Sales Manager
My First Season as a Sales Manager

My First Season as a Sales Manager

Before getting into business years ago I was reading business book after business book.  One idea that I learned from these books was by an author and entrepreneur named Robert Kiyosaki.  He wrote that it was important to learn the fundamental aspects of each pillar of business such as sales, accounting, management, and to get paid while learning.  For example, if you want to learn business management, then get a job managing a business (or entry level at least). If you want to learn about sales, then get a job doing sales. Kiyosaki went on to say that doing this will force you to accumulate knowledge over a period of time that will allow you to own your own successful business one day. 

The books that I was reading taught me to be curious about different topics and to seek out mentors in those topics. One topic that interested me greatly was real estate. I had met a local business owner named Elliot Kelly while working at the Greyhound bus station in Tucson. I needed a job badly once I get sober and there was a small snack shop and computer lab across the street from the bus station and it was owned by Elliot.

Elliot and I had things in common like poetry and reading books. He actually got his degree from the University of Arizona in poetry and I was studying English Literature. We also both liked the internet and computers and other random topics.

I had lost touch with Elliot and then on a random day I bumped into him in the neighborhood.  I told him that I was teaching financial education at a non-profit and that I was looking to venture out into business. I was torn between getting a job in financial services or real estate. Elliot happened to be working in real estate and he had just flipped a property and earned over thirty thousand dollars in one deal.

Elliot urged me to get into real estate and to get a job as a mortgage lender. He assured me that he would be my customer and we could work together in the business. He invited me to a small business networking group that he hosted and one day he told me that a successful mortgage broker would be attending. 

My first reaction was to be intimidated by this mortgage broker because I had recently started working part time as a mortgage broker with a tiny one man show mortgage business and still working at the non-profit. The owner of that small business was about the only person that would give me an opportunity to get into the business. 

I went to the networking meeting at a Barnes and Noble and I saw Steve sitting at a table reading a book.  I swallowed my pride and approached him. I just sat down at the table and said “hello are you Steve?” He looked at me puzzled and then began to have a conversation with me.

By the end of that conversation he offered to introduce me to one of the partners at the mortgage company who was looking for a marketing person. Sometimes I think that I got lucky with getting this opportunity but when I look back this encounter, it was the result of a series of decisions that I had made. Each decision was based on furthering my career and following my curiosity. This particular encounter required that I put my ego aside and humble myself enough to learn from an individual who had already attained success in the area that I wanted to work in.

My last day at the non-profit and my first day at the mortgage company was enlightening in different ways. The non-profit staff I worked with wanted to go out to a “good-bye lunch” type of thing and someone picked a tiny whole in the wall taco shop. At the end of the meal they were fighting about who owed what on a $30 bill for about five people.

In contrast, my first day at the mortgage company, the partner told everyone that we were having a lunch that day across the street so he could introduce his team to me. The place across the street was called Sullivan’s and it was the nicest steakhouse in town. We had a private room for our team only and Joel, our boss, told us to order anything we wanted and he was paying. Out of respect, almost everyone ordered the cheapest thing on the menu: a twenty dollar burger. I knew at that lunch that my life was about to change.

Joel’s business model was simple and effective.  It was the perfect situation really.  I had a lucrative opportunity to make money doing sales, and I was being taught personally by a successful salesperson and leader.  He had one full time employee that worked for our team within the company and she coordinated his sales, and she coordinated the sales of the team. The team consisted of myself and five other mortgage brokers. He had a small company within the larger mortgage company. My goal was to duplicate this model at the roofing company.

I mainly put ads on Craigslist looking for experienced roofing sales people because if I could recruit experienced people, then my thought was that I could reduce the one on one training.  Regardless of what I was doing, if my phone rang I answered. It didn’t. matter if I was eating at a restaurant, on vacation, early morning, late evening, it didn’t matter; I was extremely hungry to recruit new people to the company and I had a good sense of the kind of hard work and sacrifice that it would take. 

That first season as a sales manager I recruited one person from Craigslist, one person from attending local networking events, and two people from my personal network of friends that I had in the area. The best recruit was from my personal network. I had dozens of phone calls and numerous face to face interviews to build this small team of people.  I met or discussed the opportunity with at least 100 people.  It’s important realize that in order to find the gems you will need to sift through a whole lot of dirt. 

Navigating the challenges of being a sales manager is both exciting and extremely stressful, especially the way that it was set up for me.  The deal I negotiated was that I would get an increase in commission from my personal sales so that I wouldn’t need to sell as much and spend more time supporting the team, however, this setup merely motivated me to sell more and work more and do the bare minimum to help my sales team. This model was obviously not the best model because I worked long days, weekends, and evenings attempting to sell as much as I could and still be there for the team.  Answering the phone while with my family and around the clock became a normal part of our life.  Looking back I should have negotiated a high salary and bonuses from the sales team I recruited as well as a clearly defined agreement of what was expected of me because it felt like all of their responsibilities had shifted to me and I ended up spread out very thin.

My experience as a leader was minimal up to this point.  I have always had the natural ability to lead, even as a young boy leading my friends and schoolmates into getting in trouble, but to lead a group of grown men to financial success was relatively new to me.  My only saving grace was that I had some training and experience recruiting and leading a sales team from scratch during my time in the cell phone business. I led a group of 4-6 sales people at a cell phone kiosk in the Tucson Mall where we would basically harass people in the mall until they bought a phone, but I only did that for less than year. That company was eventually bought out and forced to shut down.

It was a rocky road and I had many ups and downs with the team and with the company as a whole. At that time, the owner was also building another company that he was passionate about so I did not have his complete attention to help me with the team. I also did not know the roofing business that well and I did not know how to delegate very well either.

A pivotal moment during that time was when I had one of the sales people confront me after I had criticized him in a rude way, and he flat out told me that I was a bad leader. I really took this to heart because it was the truth and it hurt. On the drive home after that meeting I listened to an audiobook by John Maxwell called The 21 Rules of Leadership. That was the beginning my journey into leadership on a deeper level.

Despite my shortcomings and lack of effective leadership, we still had a good year financially. I was able to train my sales team well enough so that two of them were able to move on and start their own companies (this was also a lesson in retention). I had to let go of one recruit and the last man standing was my first recruit: Steve. 

By the end of that year, I was left with myself, Steve, and battle scars that come with being a first year sales manager in the roofing business. Looking back I learned some powerful lessons. Probably the most important was my approach to being a Sales Manager and hiring a Sales Manager. A Sales Manager who also sells is a very distracted manager. Their pay should come from the revenue and profit that the sales team produces as well as a base salary that meets their financial needs. As an owner, this is not an easy position to hire for. To do it right, it takes strong financial backing so that you can put a good leader on payroll and pay them a high salary with a bonus structure based on the team’s sales revenue.  Unfortunately, most roofing owners are not in that position, so you have the straight commission model is often used in lieu of a high salary along with bonus model.  Either way, a roofing owner can still benefit greatly from both models.

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