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Erica Lockwood's home builder clients think her job recruiting home sales managers should be easy. At least, that's what she thinks.

“The typical response I get is, ‘Well, Erica, you should have hundreds of people to choose from.'” As she sees it, the perception is that, in the wake of all the industry layoff s, there must be sales managers aplenty.

The problem is, there aren't many good ones now, because there weren't many good ones before the crash, say recruiters and sales trainers. The overheated market covered up a lack of basic sales skills, plus the skills a sales manager needs now are considerably different and broader than they were in the past.

“The truth is, there are not any more ‘A' players in the workforce now than there were five years ago,” says the Kingwood, Texas–based recruiter. Plus, most of them remain employed, have become more loyal to their employers during the downturn, and are reluctant to move to a new employer that may be less economically stable, she adds.

“Those people are very sought after,” she says.

That demand is increasing as more builders seek to bring back middle-level sales managers to bulk up for recovery in the new-home market. Not just any sales managers will do. They're looking for professionals who can motivate and train frontline sales agents who have been beaten down by the market and who may have never learned what it takes to sell in a depressed environment.

“The need for top-notch salespeople has increased dramatically over the past six to nine months,” says Lockwood.

TANDEM TRAINING

Lockwood and other experts point out that the best sales managers now must exhibit a wide range of skill sets, some old-fashioned sales tools that were left by the wayside during the boom years and some new ones created by the technology revolution. Plus, he or she needs to be able to demonstrate those skills, teach them to agents, and insist that they use them.

“The salesperson has not gotten markedly better than they were in 2005,” says Jeff Shore, an Auburn, Calif.–based new-home sales trainer. “That's not universal, but it is common.” He says that's because sales training requires more than just an occasional lesson or role-playing exercise. Successful techniques and strategies need to be regularly demonstrated in the field, in a real-world environment, by somebody who knows how to employ them.

“It's coaching, not just training,” says Shore. “These need to be sales managers who work shoulder to shoulder with the sales professionals.”