Building a successful sales team


Ennis Fabrics, founded in 1972, is an Edmonton-based distributor of textile fabrics and supplies with over 9,000 products that are distributed throughout North America and globally from four distribution centers located in Toronto, Vancouver, Indianapolis, and Ningbo, China

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In 2006, Ennis Fabrics faced only average sales performance, marked by significant annual employee turnover and associated costs. Recognizing the need for a substantial turnaround, Ennis made a crucial decision to hire a new Vice President of Sales who could offer a fresh perspective.

When the new VP of Sales came on board, he took on the responsibility of assessing the department by interviewing staff and clients alike. Some of the challenges he found were:

  • Sales roles were filled with people that were underperforming for their territory.
  • There were average performing Sales Managers
  • The common but costly mistake of promoting top performing salespeople into management roles.
  • Inconsistent hiring practices:
    • Each manager had their own idea about what a top performer looked like.
    • Unstructured interviewing processes that were not effective at predicting performance. People instead hired whom they liked.
  • High cost to hire (recruiter fees, interview time, travel costs, etc.)
  • High turnover.

As a result of the findings, he initiated significant changes in terms of staffing, management responsibilities and the internal processes of the team.


Executive-level turnover wasn’t as high as in the rest of the company, and new employees at this level were adapting well to the demands of their roles. What was the difference? TRAITS and a more effective recruitment process.

For executive roles, Ennis had implemented the use of the pre-employment assessment tool TRAITS, which enabled them to model the job requirements, compare candidates against the job model , and then predict the behaviour of those candidates in their roles. Therefore, they knew the obvious first step in improving the recruitment process was to integrate TRAITS more often when hiring and promoting salespeople.

In preparation for the new recruitment process, they:

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With all the information gathered from the seminars taken during the preparation stages and some help of the TRAITS consultants, they defined the new recruitment model:

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Ennis started the new hiring process. Job candidates who had been shortlisted based on their resumes, interviews, and skill assessments would be asked to complete the TRAITS assessment.

Candidates whose TRAITS aligned with the behavioural model of the role (the “job model”) would be given further consideration.

This strategy led to a problem: sometimes all shortlisted candidates would have poor alignment with the job model, forcing Ennis to make a difficult decision. Either they ignore the red flags highlighted by the assessment and try to manage those risks and challenges away, or they begin recruitment a new and admit the time, effort and resources put towards recruitment thus far had been wasted.

Ennis then switched to a “TRAITS up-front” strategy, one that the TRAITS team wholeheartedly endorses.

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Recently, the TRAITS team sat down with members of Ennis’s executive team to discuss the impact using TRAITS has had on the organization.

Here’s what they had to share:

  • The Sales role has been defined through TRAITS, so all hiring managers know what’s required for success.
  • The Sales Manager role has been benchmarked and they don’t make the mistake of promoting great salespeople into sales management.
  • The sales team is performing better. With the TRAITS tool and a structured interview process in place, Ennis is much better equipped to identify candidates who are highly motivated by the role and competent.
  • There’s a process in place for how each Sales Manager across Canada screens, interviews and evaluates the candidates. Ennis’ success rate in consistently finding high performers has improved.
  • Turnover has decreased from upwards of 30% down to 5%.
  • Time and resources are saved by not having to spend time interviewing candidates who don’t fit the role and culture.
  • There’s far less need for external recruiters as they’re better equipped on how to spot top talent.
  • The tool is now used across the organization for all roles, ensuring Ennis has the right people in the right roles to achieve their growth plans.


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