This article is part of a series called “Getting Off-Premises”, which examines how to build an off-premises business.
By Jim Rand, catering practice leader
Catering practice leader Jim Rand visits Arthur “Sandy” McElfresh, Vice President of Catering at P.F. Chang’s. Sandy discusses whether you should promote from within or hire external candidates when building a strong sales team for your catering business.
Jim Rand: So, when you think about building a sales team and the number of people that you have on that sales team, do you [hire] people from outside your organization [who have] sales experience? Or do you [hire] people internally who want to become salespeople? How do you balance that out?
Sandy McElfresh: Yeah, I think it’s good to have a mixture [of talent]. You can make a mistake if you [hire all your salespeople from within your restaurant] because you’re just not getting the outside thought [and perspective of external hires], which is always healthy. You also are not getting that outside experience [of external hires], which can be very, very beneficial. The opposite side of [the coin] is when you look at these [external] people, you have a certain expectation of [the] experience, book of business, clients, and so forth, [that they’ll bring to your restaurant]. They may have a great deal of experience, but not in the catering industry. But that can still be positive because they can learn the restaurant industry and come up to speed. So, I think you need a blend [of talent], you need a little bit of a mixture. You’ve got to realize that hiring highly experienced people probably means a higher cost [for the operator]. And your expectations are that they’re going to come up to speed faster. They have a much higher probability of doing that. But there are no guarantees. You can run into people who were very successful at one [restaurant] concept and [that success] just plain doesn’t translate to your [restaurant concept]. So, you’ve got to understand that.
Jim Rand: So how do you take a salesperson who is new and greener in the organization and help them build their career and move forward?
Sandy McElfresh: Well, you know, you have to start with someone who wants [to grow], is teachable, is coachable, and has that [aggressive sales] DNA to work past the [customer’s initial] “no.” The benefit of doing that, if you work with them and you teach them skills. And you work through the challenges that they have. They’re going to stumble. They’re going to make mistakes, and so forth–and let them understand that those are all good things, right? Those are all opportunities to learn, change, develop, and grow. And what you end up with is somebody who has a substantially higher level of loyalty [to your business]. Once you get down the road–and it takes a little bit of time. [With a less experienced sales candidate], you’re typically investing a little bit less at the beginning, and therefore it’s okay to have [to wait] a little bit longer [for a] payoff. The thing that you’ve got to understand is–especially if you’ve got a diamond in the rough [whose talent can be developed]—that they’re going to get to a point where they’ve perhaps outgrown the company’s perception of them [as inexperienced] and companies can do that. Right? You’re only allowed to take this much of a step each time and if you don’t keep up with them [with promotions and compensation] you’ll lose them.
Jim Rand: Compensation, responsibility, all the things that are important to somebody in terms of growing their own career.
Sandy McElfresh: Exactly. I worked with [an] owner [of a restaurant] group one time and told them, “Look, my job is to take people who are used to earning twenty-five or thirty thousand dollars a year and teach them how to make one-hundred thousand dollars a year. But you’re only willing to pay them about sixty-five, seventy thousand dollars a year. At some point they will realize that there’s a difference [in compensation] and they’ll either move on or they’ll at least get discouraged. So, it’s our job to recognize that and keep on helping.
Learn how to create demand for your catering business.