For small contractors in today’s competitive market, sales skills can make the difference between struggling and prospering. Yet many contractors turn up their noses at formal sales training, viewing it as a waste of time and money. Are they right? Or is enrolling in a training program an effective way to improve sales skills — and the company’s bottom line? To get answers, I interviewed contractors who are or have been students of Sandler Training, a sales training company with centers located around the country. I also interviewed several Sandler trainers. While most students gave the training high marks, some objected to the cost, and everyone agreed that getting your money’s worth requires serious commitment and a willingness to try sales techniques that may feel uncomfortable at first.

Donna Shirey, president of Shirey Contracting in Issaquah, Wash., is a former schoolteacher. She had always considered herself a good communicator, but in the 1990s she found herself falling short of her sales goals and realized she needed help. “I didn’t know how to qualify prospects or what questions to ask,” she recalls. “I was spending way...

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