In today’s tough economic climate, hiring managers may be tempted to look for inexperienced people to fill sales positions, with the idea of saving money in the personnel budget. In my opinion, this is one of the last places a company should cut costs.

During more profitable times, each department had plenty of people so overlap and cross-training was not encouraged. For instance, the quality control department took care of onsite testing, even though most salespeople were required to pass the written and performance tests for ACI-Level I. Most companies had the typical conflict between sales and operations.

Today, the traditional role of a ready mixed concrete salesperson should be evaluated and modified. Your sales force is most likely covering many more bases than before, and is expected to have the corresponding experience. I believe there are five qualities a good salesperson should have – and it’s well worth the investment to train them if they don’t.

INDUSTRY EXPERIENCE — Eight years ago, a company could hire a salesperson with general construction sales experience and teach them about the ready-mix industry. Money is too tight in today’s market to spend months teaching the sales rep about the ins and outs of the ready-mix process. It’s ideal to hire someone with previous ready-mix sales experience or choose someone already working in the industry from dispatch or quality control. People in these two departments already have experience working with customers.

In addition, anyone hired for sales should be required to get the NRMCA Certified Concrete Sales Professional certification. I was lucky enough to be enrolled in this program soon after I was hired as a ready-mix salesman. The four modules were tough, but I learned more in four months than most people do in four years.

FAMILIARITY WITH THE REGION — Let’s face it, although we live in the USA, we are not of the same culture and background. Someone who has grown up and works in New York City will not instantly feel comfortable working in the Deep South. Face to face contact is required of ready-mix salespeople, and the ability to establish a personal relationship.

TECHNICAL KNOWLEDGE — Education about the scientific and technical aspects of concrete usually ends after the salesperson has received the ACI-Level I certification. Salespeople must continue their education, especially in the areas of value-added products (VAP) like fiber and color as well as admixtures like retarders and water reducers. Additional sales of these products will increase your profits, and customers will benefit by receiving better concrete.

CROSS-TRAINING — It is essential that salespeople spend time working in other areas of the business like Quality Control and Dispatch. They should also spend at least one day a month riding with the mixer drivers. I have worked in these different areas and the experience of seeing this business thru different eyes has helped me gain a great amount of respect and understanding of the work these people do.

TEAMWORK/TEAMBUILDING — Now is the time for people in all departments to walk in the same direction to help the company survive and prosper. Internal conflicts and finger pointing must be minimized. Any driver or dispatcher can drive away more customers in a day than I can sell in a month. We are equally important to the success of our business.

Take the time to thank a driver or dispatcher for giving great service to a difficult customer, with a smile. On a regular basis, drop off pizza during lunch-time, to the batch plant and the dispatch office. Thank the people in the QC department for resolving a customer’s concrete issues.

Based on these suggestions, hiring managers may draw the conclusion that it is worth more to the bottom line to hire more “expensive” experienced people. Managers should also consider an investment in training people in other areas besides direct sales.

As always, I welcome feedback from others working in this challenging and rewarding industry called ready-mix concrete. My opinions and suggestions come from listening to others who know a lot more than I do and personal experience, sometimes learned the hard way. Keep on charging. The best is yet to come.

Tom Johnson has spent the past decade getting to know the ins and outs of the concrete industry from various viewpoints including driver, salesman, dispatcher, and quality control professional. Contact Tom with comments or suggestions at johnsontf@hotmail.com.