Creating a Winning Sales Culture at a Contracting Business

In the hyper competitive contracting industry, a strong sales culture can make or break your business. Find out five keys to building a successful sales culture from leaders in the painting and subcontracting industry at Summit Services Grand Summit on Leadership Through Culture & Engagement.

David Baars, Marketing Manager at PipelineDeals


 How to manage sales culture in a contracting business. 

Sales is the foundation for growth at a contracting business. One common mistake companies make when trying to accelerate growth is to focus solely on increasing sales quotas and restructuring comp plans. Implementing a more aggressive comp plan will not boost growth however without a fantastic sales culture at your business. If sales is the foundation for growth, culture is the number one ingredient for building a killer sales team.

We recently attended Nolan Summit Services’ Grand Summit on Leadership Through Culture & Engagement. Summit Service’s is a consulting practice focused on developing strong contracting businesses. We listened and learned a lot from business owners and sales leaders at the conference about what makes successful sales culture at a contracting business. Although the contractors varied from painting to landscaping to gutter installation, five common themes emerged about companies with a strong sales culture.

Know the Anatomy of a Successful and Failed Salesperson

Imagine in your mind’s eye the most successful salesperson you’ve ever worked with. What types of characteristics do they have? What makes them so successful? Now imagine a salesperson who failed. Were there any indicators that hinted that they may not be a good fit.

The sales leaders that we spoke to had a clear picture of the anatomy of a successful salesperson. The four most common characteristics we heard were:

  • Humble confidence
  • Respect that others have knowledge and insight you don’t
  • Willingness to Learn
  • A sense of personal accountability  

Interestingly enough, most of the contractor’s indicated that having a strong background in particular area was not a prerequisite for being a great fit. Jason from Performance Painting explains, “You need someone who has a hunger for knowledge and who can be detailed oriented. Don’t be afraid to take a risk on someone who doesn’t have decades of sales experience.”

Equally important for developing a strong sales culture is to understand the common anatomy of failed salespeople. In contracting, as in most sales, past performance is not always an indication of future success. As one contractor warned, “My business doesn’t just consider past sales performance. If a rep doesn’t share my values and the values of the team, they’re not going to be a good fit.” Other warning signs include:

  • Empty Enthusiasm
  • Tendency to shift blame to others
  • Lack of curiosity about the business
  • Consistent over promising and under delivering

Pro TIP – Ask Potential Reps About a Recent Purchase – Your initial interview with an estimator is a great time to probe a potential hires decision-making process. Ask how they went about making their last major purchase (of a car, a house, etc.). Get them to explain how they made their decision and what was important to them. Often times, this can reveal hidden strengths or weaknesses in how someone thinks about sales and getting sold.


Transparent Companies Get Transparent Sales Cultures

One interesting insight we learned from contracting leaders is that the fastest growing teams are also the most transparent. One painting company owner, who has been in the business for more than 30 years, called the shift “radical transparency.” And radical transparency is impacting all levels of the contracting business including how sales goals are created and executed.

Companies with a strong sales culture know the underlying financials of the contracting business and can clearly articulate how individual estimator’s efforts impact the company’s bottom-line. For businesses that are looking to improve their sales culture, a good place to start is through clearly articulating a growth plan for the business. Communicate a vision to your sales team that shows how they help the company achieve a 5 year growth objective.


Pro TIP – Transparency + a compelling mission attracts top Millennial talent – A hot topic of conversation that the conference was how to attract and retain Millennial talent. Studies suggest that more than 60% of millennials want to work for a business with a compelling mission they believe in. Make sure that your contracting business has clearly communicated its’ vision to the team. For example, one contracting company, Warline Painting LTD, referred to themselves as “Game Changers in their community.” Pretty compelling stuff for Millennials, the largest and fastest growing labor force in the country.


EVERYONE is responsible for the success of the business

A shared sense of responsibility for the success of the business is critical to foster a fantastic sales culture at a contracting business. Matt at Painters USA, a large multi-state painting contractor, put it this way, “The culture needs to convey how important sales is to the success of the business. One thing that has made a difference at my company is to tie all of my managers goals to the broader sales goals at the company. My marketing VP may achieve his goals in terms of driving leads to sales, but he won’t receive a bonus unless sales meets its goals.” By tying everyone’s goals to sales objectives, successful contracting businesses stay hyper focused on growth.


Pro TIP – Find cross-departmental goals – It may not be possible to tie every department’s goals together using KPI’s like top-line revenue, estimates to closed deals, or repeat business. Develop cross-departmental goals where it makes the most sense. For example, make repeat business or positive reviews a fundamental goal of both sales and field production.


Make your sales meetings worthwhile

 Make your sales meetings count. 

Yes, every business has sales meetings. Yes, sales meetings can be painful. The best sales teams make sales meetings a good use of everyone’s time primarily by not wasting anyone’s time. How?

First, have a solid process and CRM in place so that everyone has a clear view of the active sales pipeline. This will save unnecessary time in the sales meeting trying to get a handle on the sales numbers, and will free up time to focus on areas of value. Matt at 4 Season’s Colors suggests that you use sales meetings to “solve challenges that are preventing deals from moving forward. I like to role play in the meeting and give everyone constructive feedback.”

In addition to weekly all-team sales meetings, the best contracting businesses do one-on-one meetings at least bi-weekly. For Ken at The Brothers That Just Do Gutters, “accountability and sales tracking is critical. I like to see sales managers dive into a sales rep’s pipeline to figure what deals they’re crushing and which they’re struggling at.” These one-on-one meetings usually help surface up issues that a rep may be having with leads of a certain size or leads from a particular source, and help the sales manager provide targeted feedback.

Build a strong relationship between sales and field production

Just like there is a natural tension between sales and marketing, there is a natural tension (or positive conflict) between sales and field production. One way to cut down on this from the sales side is to ensure that your salespeople are more accurate and detailed oriented when creating estimates. Poorly crafted estimates can lead to delays on the production side.

Having good sales/operations alignment is a big part of finding success in the construction industry. A central part of making this work is to make sure that both teams are always talking and proactively communicating and giving feedback to one another. Without keeping this line of communication open, it’s hard to make sure that everyone is reading from the same playbook regarding how to take care of the customer. Customers today expect that everyone one the team is on the same page and is prepared to go the extra mile. There’s always going to be some tension here because in most cases, sales makes the commitment and then field production has to deliver, but that doesn’t mean the relationship can’t be a good one.


Pro TIP – Use Video to Improve Communication – take a video of a job to supplement your estimate and upload onto the deal in your CRM. PipelineDeals app for iPhone and Android make this really easy. Just take the video using your phone’s camera and upload the video onto the Deal using the PipelineDeals app.


 SunX Solar doubles revenue. Get the case study.