We caught up with Brent Bingham, Vice President of Sales at Winder Farms. Brent shares with us what helped him succeed in sales and how majoring in humanities forced him into entrepreneurship and sales. And why that saleshood made a massive difference in his success.Marcia Turner: Tell me a little about your background and how you got into sales.
Marcia Turner: You’re just out of college and you decide to start a company. How did that work out?
Brent Bingham: I started a company called Eclipse Marketing, which I ran for 17 years. I took it from a start-up to a two-time Inc. 500 company. For a time we had the nationwide contract for door-to-door sales for Orkin pest control. So I would recruit, hire, and train sales reps, which were mostly college students during the summer, to go sell pest control for Orkin.
Selling pest control door-to-door was how I paid my way through school. That was my summer job. I’d make about $20,000 in four months to pay my tuition. My plan was to pursue an MBA after college. My college adviser told me to major in anything but business if my goal was to be accepted into an MBA program. So I mastered in humanities.
As I got close to graduation, I started interviewing with MBA programs and learned they wanted two years of post-graduate work experience. I was stunned. I hadn’t planned on having to find a job with a humanities degree in order to be accepted into an MBA program.
Since I had already been working as manager, recruiter – you name it – for a small company in California, I decided to start my own company doing pest control marketing.
Marcia Turner: What did you do to grow the company?
Brent Bingham: To start-up I needed about $50,000. I graduated from college debt-free with $12,000 in my bank account, but I needed $50,000 more for cash flow to get me through the first year of business. This was back in 1990.
I went to my bank to apply for a $50,000 loan and they wanted to see two years of cash flow. I explained that mine was a new company without two years of cash flow. So then they wanted assets. I didn’t have any, so I turned to my great-grandfather and asked him to mortgage his house as collateral. He did and I actually paid the loan back in four months.
That first year went really well despite people around me saying, “The economy is really bad, it’s not going to work.” I was committed. I didn’t have anything else to do.
Marcia Turner: To what do you attribute your success? You helped Orkin grow tremendously and then started and expanded your own venture. What did you do differently?
Brent Bingham: My first client paid us per sale, so they didn’t have any risk. If we didn’t sell anything, they didn’t have to pay anything. But it was going well and I wanted to expand.
I decided to go to the National Pest Control Convention, but by the time I registered it was too late to get a booth. So I just made up these brochures that had a picture of a bug on it that said, “Can we bug you about a new way to get more customers?”
I’d leave the brochures around on tables and I’d also stand in the doorway of classes, like on “How to grow your business,” and I’d hand each attendee a brochure. I think they thought it was a handout.
We ended up getting a little lucky.
The president of Orkin pest control, Gary Rollins at the time, must have been at the convention and picked up our brochure. Or I could have given it to him; I don’t know how he got it. He handed the brochure to his VP of sales and told him to “contact this company. This looks interesting.”
So a couple of months into my second year, I received a letter in the mail from Orkin Pest Control telling me they’d like to talk to me. The next thing I know, I’m in the board room in the Orkin headquarters in Atlanta pitching our services. We were a marketing company, essentially, hired to help Orkin grow.
We got the contract for the following summer, which went well, so they gave us new areas to work in. The next year we worked in two areas, then four the year after that, then eight, then 16, then 24. We were growing like crazy.
We got up to about 25 markets and hired college students during the summer to go out and sell pest control. At our peak we had about 200 employees.
After about 10 years, I wanted to own some of my own pest control companies so I got into franchising with Orkin, where I would build up an area and then sell it back to Orkin. Over time, I didn’t really want to sell them back, so I decided to start my own pest control company. That was after 16 years with Orkin.
Marcia Turner: How did you wind up at Winder Farms?
Brent Bingham: In college I had to read a lot about philosophy and ideas and history and cause-and-effect. After college I started reading business books. They helped me define our company’s core beliefs.
One thing we did right off the bat was to create a culture of being the best. We wanted to help our summer sales people be the best and do well, and we knew it would take hard work. So we were honest about that. We’d see posters advertising summer jobs that emphasized how much fun students were going to have. It was something like, “Friends, fun, and money.” That’s how our competitors depicted the summer their workers were going to have.
We disagreed. It wasn’t all about having fun, so we went a different direction.
We told applicants, “You’re going to give 100%. This is going to be a hard job. This is going to be the hardest job you’ve ever had. And if it’s not, you didn’t work hard enough.” We really wanted to be the best, and we wanted to attract like-minded people.
In sales, you really either win or lose by the people you have. The team with the best players on the team wins. So that was crucial. And I wanted to attract the right people, people who matched my beliefs and my culture. It was really about building a culture around my core beliefs.
So we attracted people who wanted to work and our competitors attracted the people who wanted to play for the summer. For a time, we really destroyed everybody, even putting some out of business.
We even had some college students earning $100,000 in a summer. It was unheard of back then.
It sounds like training and development really set your salespeople apart. Would you agree?
Yes, I think training helped. We had good training and trainers, but I think it was more our culture and the expectation. I think that trumped the training, because you can have incredible training but if you have an unmotivated team and a culture that doesn’t expect excellence, it’s not going to work.
I would say our biggest strength was our culture and our expectations that unleashed the potential of these individuals.
Marcia Turner: Tell me about your team at Winder Farms. How does it compare to the team you used to manage?
Brent Bingham: Back in 2006, Winder Farms was looking to build up their door-to-door team and contacted me. I met with them but, at the time, I wasn’t interested in coming on board. I was too busy running my own company.
But in 2009, after selling our pest control company to Terminix, I ended up not being able to work in pest control due to a non-compete. So I updated my LinkedIn profile to indicate I was looking for something new and the next day I heard from Winder Farms. They said, “Come talk to us.”
I spent a good two months going to all their different sales offices, looking into what they did and how they did it. What I saw was that they didn’t have much of a sales infrastructure. That’s what I’m good at building. And I wanted to prove that I could be successful in a totally different industry.
There are all different kinds of sales. What I do, my specialty, is door-to-door sales. A lot of people look at it as the lower end of sales. I look at it as the true, pure sale. It’s one-on-one. You have to build that relationship in a matter of seconds. And you get immediate feedback if you’re doing things right or doing things wrong. You have total control over how many leads and people you talk to. You just have to walk faster.
I’ve spent the last six years trying to create and recreate the same type of team and process that I did in pest control.
Marcia Turner: How many people do you have on staff?
Brent Bingham: First of all, it’s full-time, year-round. That’s a challenge because you can hire students for summer work who see the job as a means to an end. They can still aspire to be a doctor or an attorney and sell door-to-door while going through school. But when you’re hiring full-time people, a lot of them are thinking, “Oh my gosh, what has the world come to? I’m going to be a door-to-door salesperson.” It’s a cultural perception that I’m trying hard to change.
I tell them, “It could be the greatest job you’ve ever had. If you’re the right person who fits into this company culture, you’re going to love this job. It’s going to be the best job you’ve ever had.” It takes longer to find and attract the right people.
Marcia Turner: What kind of criteria do you use in your hiring process?
Brent Bingham: We have about 50 in five areas: Utah, which has three areas; Las Vegas; and Orange County, California.
Marcia Turner: What should HireVue readers understand about being a sales leader and creating a successful culture?
Brent Bingham: We use personality profiles and a good old fashioned one-on-one conversation.
Because that profile doesn’t factor in work ethic, or their motivation, or their need, their interpersonal skills. What you need to do is establish a culture that attracts the right people to it, like moths are attracted to light.
Marcia Turner: What is the key to sales success?
Brent Bingham: What I tell my managers is that their team culture is an extension of their core beliefs. Just as Winder Farms has its own corporate culture, you need to build a culture for your team, and it’s got to be an extension of yourself.
So think about what’s important to you. What do you want to accomplish with your team? And how can you manifest that – make it tangible?
I ask them, “How can you tangibly show, ‘I care about you and want you to be successful’?” The answer is that it’s through the things you do and your routine, how you spend your time. It’s also how you physically set up your sales office. It’s on the incentives you offer and how you structure them. You create a physical representation of your core beliefs and your motivators.
It’s important to celebrate successes as a team. We set a weekly goal for the team and it’s important that if you hit that goal, you go and celebrate it, maybe by going out to breakfast or lunch together.
Brent Bingham: I always tell my reps that to be successful in sales, you need three things: hard work, maintain a positive attitude, and skill. Give me two of those and you’ll be good, but do all three and you’ll be great.
About Brent Bingham
Brent Bingham currently serves as vice president of sales for Winder Farms. Prior to this position he was the founder and CEO of Eclipse Marketing for 17 years, taking the company from a startup in 1991 to a two-time Inc. 500 company.
Brent was one of the original founding members of the Utah Chapter of the Young Entrepreneur’s Organization and served as its first president for two years. He also currently serves on the board of directors of the Utah Make a Wish Foundation and UCCU, a local credit union.