By Judith Stock. Training is a sales tool with a well-established track record. The Ryland Group, Toll Brothers, John Laing Homes, and Centex Homes all put a distinctive spin on programs offered to those who sell options and upgrades. Four years ago, Ryland developed a program called FIRE — For Igniting Ryland Excellence — for sales consultants, sales managers, and assistant sales personnel. The week-long program presents a company overview, home building operations, finance and mortgage, goal setting, and success factors. FIRE heavily emphasizes sales techniques and verbal skills and features a field trip to a jobsite plus a presentation from an architect. Within the year, the builder plans to start a new program for design center managers. Meanwhile, to collect useful feedback that design center employees can use, Ryland contracts with J.D. Power and Associates to survey new-home buyers after their design center visit.

Rather than relying strictly on formal training — which it does provide — Toll Brothers uses a mentoring system to improve sales assistants' skills, says James Boyd, senior vice president of the California division of Toll Brothers. Sales managers bring assistants along until they're up to the responsibilities of the next level.

Hands-on training is the most effective teaching tool in the building industry, believes Michael Brown, vice president of mortgage and design center operations for John Laing Homes. So the design staff at John Laing receives weekly sessions on the newest upgrades and options. "We keep them up to speed and give them more knowledge so they can practice their craft."

To keep Centex sales personnel knowledgeable about new products, sales meetings are scheduled every quarter. "We bring vendors in to educate us on the most popular options, like appliances, flooring, countertops, and tile," says Linda Sargent, director of the builder's sales, marketing, and design center in Raleigh, N.C.

Judith Stock is based in Granada Hills, Calif.

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Published in BIG BUILDER Magzine, August 2002