Last month, I attended NAHB’s midyear meeting in Miami and had the pleasure of sitting in on a presentation by Daniel Swift, president and CEO of Des Moines-based architecture group BSB Design.
A Tale of Two Elizabeths
Take a good look at your sales force. Spend some time considering how they affect your firm.
Contact Scott Sedam
via e-mail at scott@TRUEN.com
The Project. 10:00 A.M. Beth, in her 4-year-old Cadillac slowly turns into Fairfield Glen, passes the entrance monument, cruises by the models and down the paved streets of phase one. Entering phase two, the pavement drops a couple of inches and the Cadillac bounces. The 60-ish driver feels the shoulder belt tighten against her body, shakes her head, grins and says to herself, "You'd think after seven years I'd learn!"
Beth pulls up to a big cul-de-sac of homes at various stages of construction. As she pulls to a stop the Caddy emits a friendly "honk-honk" but you notice three or for guys walking her way even before the car is in park. One breaks into a run and a couple of others grab to hold him back — and miss. She gets out with what looks like a big blanket in her arms. Beth is conservatively dressed — nice clothes but not quite stylish.
By now, 10 men have gathered around Beth and all are smiling. She opens the blanket to reveal a large Tupperware container that is still warm. She pulls the cover off and hands eagerly grab 2 or 3 oatmeal raisin walnut cookies — her specialty. The men seem more like little kids as they fuss over both the cookies and Beth. They all thank her and a couple even offer hugs. After a few minutes of chit-chat, all but one walk off to their jobs, happy and wiping crumbs from their mouths and beards. The one that lingers is Russ, an HVAC foreman. He is pointing between two houses, using his hands to gesture out the distance between a compressor pedestal and a large side window. He shakes his head and makes rapid, fluttering motions with his hands. He is concerned about something. Beth nods her head in understanding, pats his arm in a reassuring gesture and they part.
Back in the Caddy now, Beth slowly cruises the rest of the project, thinking how she'll have to wash the car again today. At 10:15 she stops by the construction trailer and goes in with another, smaller container. She emerges 10 minutes later with a big smile on her face and a roll of plans. Driving back toward the models, she stops in the middle of the street to have a car-to-truck meeting with a 30-something guy wearing a shirt with a logo that matches the one at the project entrance. She appears to be recreating the gestures of the HVAC foreman. The truck driver nods, asks a couple of questions with a pained expression on his face, then performs a few banging-his-head-against-the-steering-column pantomimes. She says something that makes him smile and they agree to talk later. At 10:30 Beth unlocks the model, flips on her computer, picks up a bottle of Windex, some paper towels, a pen, a pad of paper and starts her patrol. At 10:45 she is picking up phone messages. At 10:55 the overnight e-mails have been reviewed. A couple of quick messages to the home office and she gets up to greet the first prospects of the day — a young couple entering with a crying 2-year-old in desperate need of a Kleenex. "Oh, what a beautiful little boy! I had two, myself!" Beth exclaims, and invites them to sit down in her office and relax. Beth hands the mom a package of tissues.
The Home Office: 10:00 AM. Liz, a tall, perfectly manicured and impeccably dressed woman in her late 30's charges through the building. You can almost see the energy field that surrounds her. She drops a stack of papers on the sales administrator's desk and barks, "Mandy, those need to be copied before I leave here!" Mandy has finally found the nerve to confront Liz about her constant errors in paperwork and has picked today to have the meeting. "Liz, remember you said we could talk this morning? Well, I ..." but Liz is already gone, strutting down the hall, telling Mandy that they'd talk before she leaves.
In the next office she finds her quarry, Ken, the head of purchasing, on the phone. She looms large over him, staring down, tapping her foot. Ken refuses to look up and acknowledge her. In frustration, Liz turns to the estimator who is engrossed in a massive spreadsheet on his computer screen, squinting and entering numbers. "Lonnie! You tell Ken that there is no way the Mitchell's are going to believe that this Corian upgrade costs double what they can get it for at Home Depot. That's a bunch of bull. I need this fixed today! I'm gonna lose this sale!"
Liz's next assault is on Mike, Director of Construction. She first ticks off about 10 favors she has done for him and then asks how he possibly has the nerve to impose the cut-off date for color selections on a client who has now bought three homes from her. Mike tries to bring up the new agreements every department head signed off on just last month that cut-off dates will not be violated. Liz just rolls her eyes and turns to leave. Looking back over her shoulder she offers her parting shot. "Mike, pardon me, but you know what Dan's boss told him about closings by the end of the quarter? Dan's living in the real world now and so am I — care to join us?"
Down the hall now Liz spies Dan, CEO, coming out of the restroom. He looks at his watch, sees that its 10:30, thinks about the time it takes to get to Liz's model even with her lead foot and wonders what will happen if she gets one more ticket and loses her license. Liz has been his biggest producer for 3 years running. Even if she is "high maintenance" he can't afford to lose any of her sales this year. He'd probably have to hire a driver for her. Liz startles Dan back to reality.
"Dan! I need help with these lot premiums. If we cut the view lots by ten grand, I can sell 5 more this year. And if we get a loan program like Capital's that'd be another five. This having to push our own mortgage firm is killing me. And I want to talk to you about upgrading the appliances at The Ridge. How can I sell against Kaiser when they made everything KitchenAid — standard! And my new superintendent ...what's his name ...Joe? Jim? He can hardly talk and spit sunflower seeds at the same time. Boy, our trades are gonna have fun with him! And now that you brought that up, why do we get the worst trades in town at our best project? And one more thing. I heard that certain management team members were carping about my "discounts" again. Well, you tell them if they'd do their jobs and get this stuff built right, priced right and in the right locations, I wouldn't have to discount! And one more thing ... "
"Liz!" Dan, stops her. "You have 25 minutes until your model opens and it's a 35 minute drive!"
Liz scoffs, "Not for me, its not. I'll call you later!" As she flies out the door, Dan mutters to himself, "Just sell, baby, just sell — and try not to kill anybody."
As Liz starts her Lexus, parked in the handicapped spot, Mandy comes running out the office door, clutching a stack of copies in one hand and a trophy in the other, vaguely reminiscent of an Oscar stature. "Liz! Your copies! And we got your sales-person-of-the-year trophy back! Just like you wanted it — "Elizbeth-with no a!" Liz grabs it, looks at it and sighs, "Mandy, with all the money I make for this company, don't you think they could provide me with something made from real metal? Liz stands trophy in the seat next to her and drives away. Waiting for the light to change, she tenderly pats its head. After making three "orange" traffic lights, driving 90 mph on the expressway and cutting off enough people to elicit 3 gestures from drivers who seem to agree that Liz is "#1," she arrives at the model, breathless, at 11:10. A sophisticated looking couple in their late 60's is waiting out front. Fumbling with her keys while opening the door, breathless, she offers, "Sorry I'm late! Big traffic jam on the freeway! We have a big discount going on our premium lots right now, did you know? Let's go in and talk!"
In the next issue, we'll discuss the impact of the "Two Elizabeths" on their company. Meanwhile, take a good look at your own sales force. Do you have similar people representing you? Spend some time considering how they affect your firm. Next month we'll compare notes.