Sales structure

Figuring out what you want your sales staff to do

Before you start thinking about how to pay your sales staff, consider how you might structure a sales team for your business. Even if it’s just you right now, down the line, there may be more business brewing. When the tipping point comes and you want to hire, be ready with a plan. If you already have sales staff, consider new ideas and improvements. Also, consider the unique elements of your market, such as size, clients and competition.

Joe Taylor, sales/marketing manager, Classic Party Rentals, McCook, Ill., says that in Chicago, rather than assign outside sales team members by market segments — catering, hotels, educational institutions — the outside team is divided geographically.

“We’re serving the whole Chicago and upper Midwest market and it reduces inefficient travel time between client visits,” Taylor says, adding that the company has three tiers of team members in its sales organization.

“We have an inside team that is assigned to each outside event consultant called client service representatives. They are the front line catcher group of phone calls, and they take initial inquiries and handle the quick, smaller orders,” he says.

“Then we have assistant event consultants. They are generally more tenured event rental employees or people we have recruited from catering, service or hospitality backgrounds, where they can pick up the event rental business quickly. That team supports our outside event consultants. They field requests from the outside team, such as, if they have a meeting with a university and they need a quote, they will send the information to the assistant, who will generate the quote. Our assistant event consultants also handle larger orders,” he says.

“Our outside force includes our event consultants. They are responsible for growing current accounts, prospecting, generating brand new clients and new business. We do a lot more sales analysis than an average rental store, so we track all those numbers and use them for focusing our efforts. They are responsible for filling the sales pipeline with an appropriate mix of business, and rebooking annual events,” he says.

Classic’s sales team in Chicago also includes a bridge position, Taylor says. “Event managers also work in sales and their job is to ensure that our jobs are executed on-site as we sold them. They are on-site people, also involved in the planning projects. They understand the scope of the events, who the decision makers are and what the timeline is, so they are on-site to make sure what we sold is what we deliver. They also do preliminary site inspections and site plans,” he says.

For construction, sales can be a different animal. Diamond Rental, Salt Lake City, has 16 locations — 13 tool rental and three for party and event — and targets homeowner, light contractor and construction/industrial customers, as well as party and event rental. Recently, the company decided to try something new with outside sales, says Mark Clawson, the company’s president.

“We actually transitioned on our equipment side away from having a traditional outside sales force last year,” Clawson says. “We kept one outside salesperson and transitioned him into a business development manager. He is making calls about 75 percent of the time. The position is more of a salary with a bonus structure.”

Much of the reason for the change was their market structure, he says. “The question became, can we push our resources to be in a better part of the business? Our market here is saturated and urbanized. All the nationals are here and all those sales guys are at the same job sites. Ultimately, we decided it’s a zero sum game. We decided our marketing efforts should be more focused on making sure people know the Diamond Rental name. We need to offer really good service and let people know what we can offer. We would much rather have clients like the maintenance people at the universities know who we are and who they can call. Eventually, we’d like to add more business development managers,” Clawson says.

On the event rental side, the company has party sales staff members who handle walk-in business as well as smaller events, and event sales staff, who handle larger, more detailed events. “Through the years, we’ve experimented with a number of compensation options. We’ve concluded there needs to be an incentive portion to the compensation structure. Simpler is better. It’s better to pay a smaller percentage of the revenue as the incentive. This business is all seasonal and all the revenue comes between May and September. Paying incentive helps build teamwork and morale,” Clawson says.

Greg Dugat, president, Prestigious Event Rentals, Houston, agrees. “An effective sales program is always changing. It needs to change along with our annual goals. If we keep it moving, we’re always re-challenging our staff members. Sometimes the change is more operational, sometimes it’s more revenue driven,” he says.

“Typically, I think, outside sales start out with the owner. That’s how it was for me. When you’re talking about a new company, the owner is the one who has all the relationships. When the sales efforts start impacting your abilities to manage and lead the company, at that point, you need help. You have to make sure you don’t lose sight of that,” Dugat says.

“For me, I was out chasing business all the time and not inside the business making sure the accounts payable was being taken care of. You don’t want to pull back, you want to keep going. That’s when you need someone,” he says.

Rob Robben, CERP, owner, Robin Event Rental, Berthoud, Colo., says outside sales is important, especially for the party and event rental segment.

“For party and event rental, I truly believe you need an outside salesperson,” Robben says. “Generally, what they really need to concentrate on is getting the bigger, repeat customers. Weddings are usually a one-shot deal. You have to go after the caterers, the fairgrounds and the business community. From the very get-go with party, you need an outside salesperson. The first thing you might
say is, ‘I can’t afford it.’ Well, you can’t afford not to.”