Curtis Paradzick is vice president of sales for Vector Resources Inc., a physical security and IT systems integrator based in Torrance, Calif. Paradzick, whose experience includes serving as a regional sales vice president at AT&T, is a specialist in recruitment, training and team building. He joins the conversation to lend his advice on how installing security firms can do a better job at recruiting and holding on to sales and technical talent.
How can security contractors do a better job attracting and retaining quality sales personnel?
It is very easy from a hiring perspective to lean in the direction of a hired-gun sales force mentality. But those hired-gun salespeople also have a tendency to be a bit fickle. Their mindset is very short term. They will switch companies based on the most lucrative compensation plan and even switch industries. They may have been mortgage guys when the housing sector was hot or maybe they were Internet guys back in the early 1990s when that industry was on fire.
I like to hire people who have a track record in sales, know that they like sales, but do demonstrate some longevity at a particular company or loyalty in a particular industry. We can bring them on and adopt them into a longer-term culture. It is appealing for salespeople to get with an organization that demonstrates the ability to adapt to the marketplace, to continue to grow even in tough times. Hired guns have their place, but generally we’re interested in someone with a more stable track record. Part of my job is to try to limit turnover by keeping a very stable commission structure in place. As long as the company remains profitable, I can have stability in that commission structure.
Where do companies fall short in motivating salespeople to keep a vested interest in the organization?
We need to consistently challenge our salespeople with new products and services and advancements in the marketplace, giving them the feeling of some challenge and growth opportunity. If you’ve been selling analog-based camera systems and not adapting to the migration to IP, that salesperson is going to say, ‘My company is not adopting the next best thing. For self-preservation, I’d better move on to someone that is.’ By creating a culture where the company is leading that charge and always trying to find out what the new technology is going to be, you inspire your sales force to get trained on it and learn it and sell it.
In a nutshell, what causes salespeople to turn over at a high rate is boredom, getting a little stale, either with the product they are selling, the marketplace they are selling into or instability in their compensation plans. If you keep those things stable, if you keep your salespeople challenged, you can keep the company growing.
I feel you can get a salesperson to stay with you for 10, 15, 20 years, keep them onboard until we as management give them a reason not to. That is what companies have to avoid.
Beyond a fair paycheck, what other role can compensation play in retaining salespeople?
I have been involved in sales since day one of my career. Salespeople want to feel like the organization supports them. That is done through a couple of ways. I keep harping on consistency of compensation plan. A knee-jerk reaction of management over the years, when the economy gets rough and things get crazy, is they will immediately start looking at cost control. Cost control is fine. I have been in scenarios where your budget for a hotel stay has to be decreased or you have to fly on the econo-flights. I can communicate that to a sales force, but you can’t start changing the rules halfway through the game from a commission perspective. That can drive salespeople away.
Having a stale product line will drive salespeople away. They want to be challenged, they want to feel like they can count on the organization to be consistent in how they treat them. You build loyalty that way. I’ve been in situations at other companies that changed the commission structure when [economic challenges began to affect the company]. They’d say, ‘We are going to raise the quotas and decrease the commission.’ Your hired-gun folks, especially, will bolt on you right away.
How do you foster a work environment that promotes employee development?
I try hard to lay out development opportunities. Meaning, we have manufacturers come in on a consistent basis for training. We have developed an internal training stream that has with it certifications we encourage our employees to complete. If I can create an infrastructure that makes it easy for my employees to take advantage and learn, I guarantee your top-tier folks will naturally gravitate to it and learn it and you won’t even have to ask them. But it is making it available to them versus ‘go find it on the Web yourself and self-teach, self-certify, go get your Cisco certification.’ I can tell that to an employee all day, but if I put that toolkit in front of them and make it easy, it is amazing how your top people get it done without even asking. In fact, they want to get it done.
But you have to make it available for them. You have to provide the infrastructure and the stage and then they take advantage of it. Somebody will take a class, say on VoIP technology, use that knowledge to make a sale and all of a sudden I have three more people taking advantage of the toolkit we provided them. Nothing breeds success like success, but you have to make all those tools easily available.
What quality factors beyond technical skillsets should a company look for when recruiting technicians?
I will tell you first thing, after the sale is made the best tool I can have in my toolkit is a very good technician. Not so much from knowing the technical ins and outs — that’s important — but having some orientation in the ranks of customer service is invaluable from a tech perspective. Calling ahead, keeping the appointment, checking in with who is on their work ticket … those things drive a business.
So when you get a technician like that, I can teach them the technical elements of the job. The hard part in that recruiting process is to identify a technician with what I’ll call the correct bedside manner toward the client. I can then teach him the tech stuff, versus going to somebody who has all of the certifications. I can teach him those things in six months as long as I am willing to make the investment if they have the right bedside manner.
Hiring someone with the right bedside manner, and then teaching the technical aspects of all the certifications, you get a little investment in them, they feel obligated back to the organization and we do get some loyalty there. By far our best technicians are the homegrown guys here at Vector Resources. They have grown up with the company. We are making an investment in them to get them certified in the right product lines.