Sales Director, Ireland - Components Distributor to the Building Industry

The Company

This independently owned fixing building products distributor has been trading for 30 years.

Currently turning over £9m, the business had been recently acquired by an investor when Collingwood was engaged to find a Sales Director to join their board for their Irish operation.

The investors' plan was to double turnover inside four years.

The business was stable with around 3,500 customers, built through reliable customer relationships. The culture was one of relationship selling. In part, a by-product of this was the business’s lack of robust processes/quality systems to drive customer orders, analyse trends etc. 

It was clear that Collingwood was tasked to bring in a leader with strong gravitas into the builders merchant and electrical wholesale markets. Balancing this, the new person would need to have the foresight and experience in driving improvements through their sales strategy whilst developing a team culture amongst their five strong sales team.

The Role & its Challenges

The previous Sales Director in Ireland had recently left to join a competitor. Although processes were not his strength, he had developed strong relationships throughout the two countries. The business was left potentially exposed without this leader.

The five representatives were largely focused on order taking and so there was a need to drive a more sales orientated culture.

This person had to have a solid sales leadership background and good appreciation of the aforementioned routes to market. This would have been achieved via their network of extensive regional and national procurement level contacts. There was a need for this investment to add value from these in a short period of time.

It was viewed by the existing owner that this person was likely to reside in Northern Ireland, citing the fact that it was easier for a Northern Irish person to sell into the south. This limited Collingwood’s search dramatically.

The short-term requirement was to recoup lost revenues and therefore Collingwood could not afford to present candidates who were overly precious on status. As the team and wider organisation had been built on togetherness and loyalty, this new recruits leadership and management style would be key. They would need a collaborative style and be comfortable operating “in the trenches”.

The Solution

Collingwood’s Head of Building Products, Mark Goldsmith, proposed a targeted headhunt into the sector from within Ireland. Understanding the route to market, he compiled a target list of manufacturers selling into the merchant and electrical wholesale markets. Clearly, the client did not need to offer an astonishingly high package and did not require a candidate directing mainland UK. Mark’s target list therefore included only those manufacturers who were of similar size but, through heavy Irish exposure, warranted having a leader in both mainland UK and Ireland. It would be wrong to say there was not an element of trial and error to this, but ultimately it led to over 60 companies to target from.

Mark was also able to network into his long-established network of senior building product contacts to identify potential candidates and gain referrals to recommended candidates.

Having previously witnessed its success, Mark also developed a social media strategy to raise the profile of this opportunity, along with placing confidential adverts via the larger job boards to attract those who were active in the market. Collingwood’s lion share of results come from direct, proactive approach work (headhunting) but always recommend tapping into the active market to supplement shortlists and provide the client with various routes of attack.

The Result

Inside the agreed five-week window, Mark presented three candidates for the distributor and investors to meet with. Originally interviewing seven, Mark cut this down to three “A-listers” and, upon meeting with the investors to debrief on his findings, ranked their ability according to the original brief taken.

Forward winding, this ultimately led to the business offering their (and Mark’s) preferred candidate. With the chosen candidate having worked for the same manufacturer for 11 years – and not actively looking for work – the danger was always that he may be counter offered. Although this was not the case, promises were made by his current employer which Mark and the client could not mitigate.

Rather than return to one of the other two, it was agreed to readdress some of the headhunted candidates to resurrect interest, along with running the social media and ad campaigns again. This led to Mark and the client meeting with an additional three, with the client pleased with the quality of all of them. One clearly stood out in terms of the many requirements from this role and was ultimately offered the role, with Mark managing the process through notice and acceptance. The successful candidate had come from a strong background of setting up large tool hire companies in Ireland and had a long history of driving growth through both his own endeavours and that of the team and processes he had built.