Hiring Sales-Savvy Staff

December 1, 2004

12 Min Read
Hiring Sales-Savvy Staff

Most of us agree it is better to have sales-savvy staff than not. Our business requires intense customer interaction. The person at the front desk wearing your logo shirt is the reason people choose to store with you or your competitor. When a tenant has a problem, it is your staff persons ability to handle it that makes the difference.

So how do you attract sales-savvy people? You have to build the culture first. Every workplace has its own feel and unspoken understandingsthis is your culture. It revolves around language; stories, myths and legends; rituals; and unwritten rules. When your culture encourages sales and the development of selling skills, you have created a workplace where sales-savvy people are comfortable and can excel.


Start speaking the language of sales. Teach employees how to use qualifying questions, alternate-choice closes, concerns and assurances, assumptive statements, closing percentages and missed opportunities. Learn the keywords and code words that help your staff keep sales at the front of their minds.

Stories, Myths and Legends

Share stories and myths about selling with your staff. For example, there is a great story about a young kid straight out of high school who went to work for a department store that sold everything you could imagine. At the end of his first day, the store owner asked him how many customers he had helped. He was shocked and dismayed to hear the hire had only helped one customer and asked him to explain.

The kid explained he had offered a customer a fishing hook, only to find the man had no rod, reel and or tackle. After he helped the customer pick out that gear, he discovered the man had no fishing boots or outdoor clothes, so he helped him choose the right boots, pants, jacket and hat. Then he realized the customer had no boat, so he helped him select a boat and appropriate trailer. When the man mentioned he would have trouble hauling the boat with his Volkswagen, the young sales clerk took him to the truck department and helped him choose a pickup truck with a towing package and CD/DVD player.

Finally, at 4:45 p.m., the customer who had been with the young salesman since 10:30 that morning had everything he could possibly need for a weekend of fishing. The owner of the store was amazed. He asked, You sold all this merchandise to a man who came in to buy a fishing hook? The kid replied, Well, actually, I started the day in the pharmacy, and the customer asked me where to find the band-aids. While I was helping him, I happened to say, Looks like a good weekend to go fishing.

There are all kinds of fun stories about salespeople. There are some great cartoons, too. Have you ever seen the Far Side cartoon featuring the King of Salesmen? He is waving good-bye from a boat as he pulls away from a shore-side Eskimo village. The Eskimos are standing proudly by their new refrigerators and waving back. You can tell their fondness for the salesman in the sad expressions on their faces.

Then there are sales myths, like the Rule of Thirds, which breaks customers into three distinct categories:

  • One third of customers will rent from you, as long as you dont chase them off, because they already like your location or know someone who has rented from you. Your job is simply to not talk them out of the sale.

  • Another third of customers will not rent from you, either because you cant meet their current needs or their needs are too far in the future. If you are nice to these folks, they might remember you when it is time to rent.

  • The final third could go either way. These are the people with whom you need to use your best sales and listening skills.

Finally, talk with employees about legends of great sales feats accomplished by members of your business. For example, tell them about the time one of your managers had a record rental day. Talk about the funny ways staff has asked for the rental and gotten it. At my company, we still talk about the day one of our sales reps, Dana, reserved seven 10-by-20s for one caller, and we still try to beat Paulas eight-hour record of 23 credit-card reservations.


You can also establish business rituals for your staff. These might include the manner in which you make notes on your call logs, the way you stand up to greet customers who walk through your door, the way you turn the lease toward new tenants so they can see where to initial and sign. Look at the things you do during your selling routine. Use consistency to allow some of these actions to become rituals.

Unwritten Rules

Then there are unwritten rules. For example, consider the rule that you should never end a rental inquiry without asking which day the person would like to move in; or the rule that says theres no eating at the front counter; or the rule that says you should look everyone in the eye when you greet them. You probably have many such guidelines that work in selling your facility to new tenants and re-selling it to current ones. They may not be typed in the policies and procedures manual, but you encourage employees to follow them nonetheless. Let employees know what those rules are so they can use them.

Attracting the Sales-Savvy

Now that you have created a selling culture, you need to attract people who are sales-savvy. How do you get the right people to inquire about your positions? What do you call those positions? Do you look for managers, sales assistants, marketing reps or retail-sales reps? Think about this before advertising or promoting an opening. You will generally get what you ask for in an ad.

Start screening candidates with some qualifying hoops. The first a potential new hire jumps through is the recorded audition. When a candidate calls your employment hotline, he is invited to talk about himself and his experience on a voicemail message. Listen to all the messages and only contact the people who sound good on the phone, use visuals in their stories and sell themselves well. The impression employees make on the phone is essential to getting rentals. Why not hire only people with a great phone presentation?

If a potential hire passes the recorded audition, the next step is the phone interview and mystery shop. If you like the way the person deals with you and sells himself during the phone interview, move on to the shopping phase. Wait a day or so, call his place of work, and interact with him as if you are a prospective or current customer of that business. How he treats you in this situation will tell you a lot. Did your potential hire ask for your business, try to fix your problem, and attempt to cross-or up-sell?

Testing, 1,2,3

Next is the personal interview. For this, you will need to create a test that will weed out the wrong people for the job. It can be frustrating when a person interviews well, then turns out to be a bad fit for the position. I once hired someone with a good resume and appropriate work history who interviewed very well. When the other team members learned about the hire, they asked if I was nuts. Apparently, he had been rude and even hostile to three or four people while waiting in the break room for his interview. Enter the birth of The Break-Room Test.

Now when I conduct personal interviews, I intentionally leave the candidate waiting in the break room for five or 10 minutes before I meet him. I have several team members interact with him during that time and gauge his reactions. If the prospect does not offer natural, friendly responses or is impatient or rude, the interview is extremely short and I move on to the next candidate. This test has almost entirely eliminated unsuitable hires and decreased our turnover in trainees. Create your own version of this test. You will be very pleased with the results.

Another great test is the Sell Me Something Test. During the interview, ask the potential hire to sell you a pen, note pad or picture on the wall. If he freezes up and cant even try, this is a red flag. Anyone who is a little sales-savvy should have fun with this and come up with some entertaining features, benefits and closing questions.

Finally, there is the Chuckle Test. You should only hire people with a little bit of a sense of humor. Sales people without one are no fun to deal with as a customeror as a supervisor! If you cant share a laugh with your interviewee, that is another red flag. Look for these warning signs. If you see them, end the interview cordially. Tell the person the position probably wont be a good match and move on to the next.

Taking a Chance

Once you have found someone who does well on the recorded audition, telephone interview, break-room test, sell-me-something test and chuckle test, you have someone worth trying out. You may have noticed I did not address how to read a resume or factor in work history. There is a saying that says, Beauty is as beauty does. So if someone comes to you with a beautiful resume and very appropriate work history, he still may not pass any of the tests that really count.

But resumes are interesting. They will tell you if someone has jumped from job to job. If each job was a step up in responsibility and compensation, it is usually a good sign. Work history can tell you about how other employers saw fit to use the person and what fields of interest the person had.

The proof is really in the pudding. Hire someone for a temporary assignment or on a probationary basis. Not everyone is well-suited for every job. You need an evaluation period, which will tell you if you should spend more time and money training and preparing a new hire to be a part of your team.

When I ran a bottled-water dealership, we had many people apply for a route job delivering 5-gallon bottles of water. But until someone has delivered 150 bottles in a day, you dont know if he is well-suited for the position. So we would hire a potential recruit for one week as an assistant route driver. Each day, he got more responsibility and, by the end of the week, you either had a good candidate, or the recruit quit or was released. The retention rate of people who made it through the first week was very high. Why not let your recruits work a week as a sales assistant, giving people tours and showing them units?

The Right Hire, The Right Job

If a candidate jumps through all of your qualifying hoops, does not raise any red flags during the process, and successfully completes the first temporary assignment, you have someone worth hiring. Now it is up to you to keep him interested and engaged. Give him enough responsibility to keep him challenged but not so much to overwhelm him. Everyone is a little different, with his own strong and weak points. Know with whom you are dealing. Great shortstops usually dont make good outfielders. Great pitchers generally dont make good first basemen. So mind how you direct your new talent.

For example, I had a sales rep who did great on all the qualifying hoops and did well during training, but something was amiss. I hired her to work evenings, but it wasnt working out. She didnt appear happy, and her numbers were not what they should have been. One day, she volunteered to cover a Saturday-morning shift. She had a great day. Her spirits were good and she had great results. Was it a fluke? I scheduled her for a few more Saturdays, and the result was the same. She finally told me she was really a morning person and felt and performed better early in the day. I had put her in the wrong slot. In the evenings, she was tired, physically and emotionally. I moved her to mornings and she did very well.

Getting a sales-savvy staff is not just a matter of careful hiring. Its also a matter of watching how people progress and grow in your culture. There are several thresholds a new recruit will cross, usually at the end of week two, month two, month six and month 12. The person hits a wall and either goes through it or decides to seek other employment. Be aware when someone is going through a phase and see what you can do to help. If he has been successful and enjoys working with you, it only makes sense to help him gain confidence in his place on your team.

Sometimes, a good hire will only last so long. People may need to move on. Thats OK, too. But considering the cost and effort of finding, qualifying and training a sales-savvy employee, you like to keep all your good team members for as long as you can. Once they have been around for a while, they gain so much knowledge that they become a mentor and go-to person for less experienced team members, and their very presence helps move your project along.

Having a sales-savvy staff takes time and considerable effort. You may have to terminate employees who seem disinterested in developing the necessary skills. You may have to reassign those who are great at some things but are notand will not becomesales-savvy. But if you are determined to create a sales culture and attract and hire the right candidates, your business will see results in increased rental activity, average lengths of stay, rental rates and customer satisfaction. This all amounts to higher profits and a more advantageous cap rate. Good luck in your efforts.

Tron Jordheim is the director of PhoneSmart, which serves the self-storage industry as an off-site sales force that turns missed calls into rentals. This rollover-call service serves as a backup to store managers. Mr. Jordheim has started several successful businesses from scratch and assisted with acquisitions as general manager of the Mid-Missouri Culligan Bottled Water franchise. For more information call 866.639.1715;
e-mail [email protected]

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