Sales Compensation Discussion with Paul Filary of Kramer Tree

Sales Compensation Discussion with Paul Filary of Kramer Tree

Written by Tom Dunn

Paul Filary is the Director of Operations and ISA Certified Arborist with Kramer Tree Specialists (KTS),  based out of West Chicago, Illinois. Before becoming the Operations Manager at KTS, Paul was the Sales Manager at KTS and holds a degree in Forestry from Michigan State University. Kramer Tree provides a wide range of services to its client base including Tree Care, Mulch Products, Plant Health Care, Tree Planting, Urban Wood Products, Safety Training, Consulting and Holiday Lighting.

We wanted to get Paul’s take on important considerations when establishing a Sales Compensation structure for a sales arborist team. 

What are some of the key factors to consider when establishing a sales compensation package? 

The first step before even setting up a compensation package is to do some market research on what competitive annual salaries are in your sales territory. Use this information to determine if the annual salaries are attainable for your sales team and this will help in how you structure the compensation. 

Another important step that is often overlooked is to have a grasp on job costs for the different services your company provides. This will establish what a profitable hourly rate is and will help determine where your commission levels should be set. Job costs can be based on an individual job or a collection of jobs. 

A tiered commission structure based on the volume of business sold versus a flat rate has proven to be a successful motivating factor. If the sales arborists know they can earn a higher commission rate once they reach and exceed a targeted commissionable sales amount, they will not become complacent. 

Determine if you want to have a draw versus commission or a salary plus commission structure is the next tough decision. There are pros and cons to both, but a salary plus commission structure provides more predictability of costs, allows for the sales arborist to establish a customer base and can help smooth out the cyclical nature of tree care business. You may also lose some control over what the sales arborist is doing under a draw versus commission structure which may hinder any training you want to implement. 


How often do you review sales results with your team?

I have tried different intervals with our team and have found that quarterly sales review works best just because there is a little more time to accumulate and analyze the sales data. The key is be able to show the sales arborist how they are doing in simple, understandable reports that identify where their sales are coming from, if they are hitting established sales rations and whether their estimates have been accurate. 

A regular meeting time also provides for consistent two-way input on the types of jobs or maybe particular crews that are causing problems for the sales arborist problems, so they can be addressed in a timely manner and sales tactics can be revised.  


What type of backgrounds or requirements do you look for when hiring or promoting someone to a sales position? 

More than likely they will have some type of background in the tree care industry, but it is not an absolute done deal if they don’t have a tree care background. If they are passionate about the industry, can gain the respect of the crews they will be working with, are personable and have excellent communication skills that is usually a recipe for success. 

What is also important is that they understand being a sales arborist is not a 9-5 job. They have to make it a part of their lifestyle and be available any time they are needed by their clients. 


What do you see as your role as a sales manager?

Develop and refine a sales compensation structure that is flexible and attainable for the sales arborists. Providing regular analysis and feedback that is understandable and has relevant information for the sales arborists. Find opportunities for the sales arborists to attend industry events and meet potential clients. 


Final Thoughts? 

  • Establish a tiered commission structure based on the services offered.
  • Do the sales data analysis required to help the sales arborists develop
  • Be flexible with sales structure as new services are added

If you need further assistance with Sales & Marketing, please reach out to a member of our ArboRisk team. We have many resources that can help you with this, in addition to our Thrive Sales & Marketing Package:  https://arboriskinsurance.com/thrive-sales/ which provides one on one help developing the right marketing message to land the right customer.

Tom Dunn

Knowing Your Numbers for Estimating

Knowing Your Numbers for Estimating

Written by Joseph Toppi

Business is a game of numbers! It doesn’t matter the industry, this universal law is true. As a business owner, it is vital to the success of your business to know, with clarity, certain business numbers. 

In a recent release from the US Department of Commerce, it stated that up to 96% of construction and contracting companies fail in the first 10 years. The top four reasons they noted for this failure rate were: insufficient cash flow, charging too little, lack of agreed upon payment schedule, and insufficient number of profitable sales.

These top four reasons can be avoided at the estimating stage… if the one doing the estimating knows their numbers!

For this week, we are going to first start by looking at the purpose and outcomes of estimating, then look at the numbers to know during estimating so that you don’t become one of the statistics. 

What is the purpose of estimating?

Many people think that the purpose of estimating is to get a job.  Unfortunately, that is not the purpose of estimating, and the reason so many experience one – or all – of those four issues listed above. The outcome of estimating is getting, or not getting, a job.  But the purpose is to recover the costs (the materials, labor, equipment, and job specific costs), recover the expenses (the company’s overhead), and get paid (make a profit) to do the work.

One of the biggest reasons businesses fail to be profitable is because they don’t know what, or how much to recover.  We are going to look at the five numbers that every business owner MUST know to be profitable in their estimating:

Employee Costs 

How much are the employees costing the company? There are many costs associated with employees that are far above their base wage.  These costs are divided into three categories: payroll contributions, employee liabilities, and employee benefits. If a business owner doesn’t know what their employees are costing the company, how do they know what they are charging is enough? Knowing the exact costs of employees is the difference between profitability and insolvency!

Crew Costs

This plays a different role than just knowing individual employee costs. When looking at a crew, there are other costs that come into play, such as: project management and downtime. Generally there is a project manager that is associated with a crew. How is the project manager’s cost to the company recovered? The best way is to recover it proportionately with the time they spend with that crew.  The second is downtime. Every crew experiences downtime – time that they are being paid for, but not billable to the client. How are these costs recovered? Typically there will be a percentage that will be added into the crew costs.

Equipment Costs 

Equipment is essentially for most companies, but most companies are not recovering the costs that come with equipment. If you are running a business with at least one piece of equipment, you are actually running two businesses: an operating business and a rental business. Think of it this way – if you did not have the equipment, you would have to rent it.  If you rented the equipment, you would charge the customer the rental fee. So why are most businesses not charging the customer the “rental fee” on their own equipment? If the customer is not paying for it, then who is? Knowing what equipment is costing a company per hour and per day allows the company to start recovering those costs.

Job Costs

With every job, there are other costs that the company incurs. They might be dumpsters, permits, dump fees, porta-potties, travel, or a whole number of other items. When estimating, it is important to ensure that these costs are accounted for.

Mark up

I want to start this section by addressing three things: 1- mark up is not the same as margin! They are two totally separate things, and they affect the numbers very differently. 2- mark up is not a random number that is added to costs to cover “uh-ohs”, contingencies, overruns, and hopefully profit. Mark up is intended to recover overhead expenses and include profit. 3- mark up is not the same for every company.  It is unique to each company, based on their overhead expenses and the profit the shareholders want to make.

It is important for companies to have an overhead budget figured out, so they know how much it takes for them to essentially “break even”. Much like we talked about with employee costs, if a business does not know their overhead, how will they know if they are going to recover it, or better yet, how do they know if they are going to be solvent? Once a company knows what their overhead is, and the amount of profit they want to make, they can easily figure out what the mark up needs to be (to add to the costs of the job) to ensure they are recovering these items. 

Knowledge is power! If a company takes the time to figure out these numbers, and starts to implement the formula of recovery in their estimating, they can ensure their future is profitable.  It will be the difference between being part of the 94% or the 6%.

If you would like any more help with your sales team, our Thrive Sales & Marketing Package includes four hours of direct one-on-one sales training. For more information, reach out to an ArboRisk team member today!

Tom Dunn

3 Ways to Dig Deeper on Sales Calls

3 Ways to Dig Deeper on Sales CAlls

Written by Eric Petersen, CIC

Many of you probably already have heard me talk about the 4 Knows to a Yes in the past. If not, check out this previous article, that I’ve written on that topic. For this article, I want to go more in-depth and focus only on the first “Know” – Know the Why.

To start, remember that the most important objective in a sales call is to get an understanding of the emotions that will ultimately drive the prospect to make a decision. At ArboRisk, we call this the prospect’s “why”. Once you have an understanding of their why, you will be able to walk through the remaining “Knows” and close the sale.

Below are three strategies to dig deeper on a sales call to truly gain a better understanding of the prospect’s why. Discuss these during your next sales meeting to help increase your sales team success rate.

1. Ranking 1-10, then “Tell Me More” – Directly after the prospect tells you what they want you to look at, you should immediately have them rank the importance of their situation on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the most important pressing issue in their lives right now. Follow up that ranking with the simple phrase, “Tell me more” to learn why they gave it that ranking. The answer they give you will help you understand how to best service them and therefore win the sale. 

2. Restate, then 3 Why’s. – A simple yet effective way to understand the prospect’s why, is to restate what you heard the prospect say and then ask a few probing questions. If what you say back to them isn’t what they really mean you will have the chance to correct yourself and truly understand what they are looking for from you. After you restate their request and they agree that is what they are looking for, then you should dig deeper by asking ‘why’ at least three more times to uncover the true emotion behind their request. As an example…

Sales Arborist: I heard you say you wanted to have the honey locust removed in your backyard, correct?

Prospect: Yes, that’s correct.

Sales Arborist: 1st Why – Why do you want it removed?

Prospect: It drops too many branches.

Sales Arborist: 2nd Why – Why do the branches bother you?

Prospect: I do not want to continually have to pick them up.

Sales Arborist: 3rd Why – Why do you care if the branches are on the ground?

Prospect: My grandkids come over and play every Tuesday and I want a clean space for them.

It might not go that smooth in real life, but you can see how you get to the actual emotion of why they called you. Now you can directly solve their problem and offer other solutions to help them have a great backyard for their grandchildren to play in.

3. What’s your vision for your yard? – We have an entire article devoted to this question, but it’s such a great way to learn about the prospect’s why that I wanted to make sure and mention it again. This question opens up conversation much broader than just focusing on the original service request and can lead to future work or simply a better customer relationship once they hire you. 

Hopefully those three simple strategies will help your sales team dig deeper with their prospects and connect more on an emotional level with them to win more sales for your company. If you would like any more help with your sales team, our Thrive Sales & Marketing Package includes four hours of direct one-on-one sales training. For more information, reach out to an ArboRisk team member today!

Tom Dunn

Developing Your Business Culture Using Flashlights and Mirrors

Developing Your Business Culture Using Flashlights and Mirrors

Written by Kevin Martlage

In previous articles I have written about using flashlights and mirrors to help develop your personal leadership skills and the leadership within your organization. The concept is simple and helps you review leadership ability by using two different tools: a flashlight and a mirror. The mirror is used to help you see and reflect on those things as the leader you are doing to grow, sustain, or detract from the impact you are making on your team and organization. The flashlight is used to help those you are leading see a unique perspective or point of view when it comes to their ability to help grow, sustain, or detract from their leadership ability and impact. As a leader it is important that you are using both to help enhance your leadership, while also leading and coaching your team to enhance theirs. Using the two tools together can help you and your team grow while building trust using intentional communication which are both fundamental building blocks of any supportive and successful business culture. 

To build a successful business culture using flashlights and mirrors you must first identify what a good business culture looks like so you can then assess how you are supporting or detracting from those goals. Throughout my 30-year career I have had the opportunity to collaborate with some amazing teams and in some amazing business cultures around the world. As a leader it is difficult for me to pinpoint exactly what made one business culture better than the other, however, there are common themes that seem to stick out when I think about the ones that were most supportive. If I were to hold the flashlight up to all the business cultures and environments I have worked in during my career the following strengths would be evident:

  • Roles and responsibilities were always well defined 
  • There was clarity around what is wanted or needed from each other
  • There was an elevated level of trust among all parts of the organization
  • Everyone pursued solutions that were mutually beneficial
  • People did what they agreed to do 
  • Information was timely
  • Communication was open and honest
  • People admitted to and took responsibility for their actions
  • There was timely and constructive feedback
  • There was proper and appropriate confidentiality
  • I felt empowered and trusted to make decisions within my scope of responsibility
  • I was asked for my input when appropriate
  • I had access to training and development
  • Values and principles were followed 
  • Opinions were shared constructively and never negatively

If you look at the items listed they can be combined into the following themes:

  • Shared Values
  • Intentional Trust
  • Transparent Communication

As a business owner if you can hold up your ‘culture mirror’ and say that you are actively living up to and supporting your personal and organization values, are building trust with your team, customers, and stakeholders, and doing so with clear, consistent, and transparent communication you could probably say your business culture is supporting the growth of your organization. In addition, if your employees can say the same thing about you and the organization, you are heading in the right direction. If you cannot say that regarding all areas, that is OK, it just means that you might have opportunity to gain experience in those areas as a leader and organization. 

If you do not have your business culture identified or outlined as an organization, that is OK. However, I would strongly recommend that you take time to identify what good looks like and the specifics of your culture that you are trying to build and support. There are many ways to do this including looking into the New Heights Package offered by Arborisk Insurance or to take the free Culture Assessment being offered this month. Both will provide you a high-level perspective on potential areas for business culture enhancement. Whether or not you do either, it is important to start to discuss, build, and document what good looks like for your organization. 

Once you have built your ‘business culture mirror’ by identifying what good looks like, it is time to bring out the flashlight and see what specifically is enhancing, sustaining, and detracting from your culture. The easiest way to do this is to simply ask your employees. Ask them their thoughts on how defined and effective they feel the business culture is in your organization. You can develop your own questions or use some of the following questions to begin the conversation:

  • What do you feel are our core values as an organization?
  • Do you feel supported in your personal and professional development? 
  • Are there any areas of the organization you would like to find out more about?
  • Do you feel like my communication to you is effective?
  • Do you feel like you are properly informed regarding the direction of the organization?
  • What are you enthusiastic about within this company? Do you feel supported in that passion?
  • What are you passionate about outside this company? DO you feel supported in that passion?

There are hundreds of questions you could ask, but the most important thing is that you are asking them to help shine the light on opportunities and specifics of what is important to your employees. As these conversations continue, you will start to shine the light on those areas of opportunity where you can further align your leadership approach and business culture with the expectations of your employees. Through frequent, transparent, and intentional communication you will also build trust among the team and within your organization which will help to ‘power the flashlight’ as you continue to identify, build, and assess the right business culture for your organization. 

If you are interested in learning more about how to identify, build, assess, and nurture your business culture, please feel free to take our culture assessment which can be found at the following link:

Company Culture Assessment

Once completed, a Thrive Consultant will review the results with you and develop a high-level action plan of next steps. 

For additional help with growing your company, contact a member of the ArboRisk Insurance team! If you’re looking to improve upon your communication skills or want to help one of your key team members develop personally, sign up for the Thrive Leadership Development package today! Additionally, if you find it difficult to find or keep quality employees, check out our Thrive Hiring & Recruiting Package.

Remember, Peter Drucker once said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” What are you doing to identify and develop your business culture as you provide your organization the opportunity to advance and surpass the strategic goals of your team?

Tom Dunn

Entry Level Driver Training

Entry Level DRiver Training

Written by Eric Petersen, CIC

Effective February 7th, 2022, the federal government put into effect certain requirements for new drivers looking to obtain their Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) called the Entry Level Driver Training (ELDT) mandate. The goal of the ELDT is to standardize training of new CDL drivers across the country to help make the roads safer for all to travel on.

While the focus of this mandate is geared towards the trucking industry, tree care companies that have CDL drivers and vehicles are affected by this as well. 

So, how does ELDT affect your tree service? 

First off, ELDT is a federal mandate to ensure all new CDL drivers (or drivers looking to add another CDL endorsement to their current license) receive training on the same topics, however, it is important to note that each state may have their own way of implementing the ELDT mandate. Remember, the individual states are the entities who approve and issue the commercial driver’s licenses. So, your first step is to check with the state that your driver(s) will be licensed with to understand their take on this mandate.

The training is broken into two distinct parts; Theory (written/classroom) and Behind the Wheel (BTW). The theory part has thirty one topics ranging from basic commercial vehicle operation to non-driving activities like post-crash procedures. For a list of topics visit Samba Safety’s ELDT page. The BTW portion has two components with both range driving (closed course) and public road driving. The pre-post trip inspections are typically taught during the range driving and the practical experience of being on the road with the commercial vehicle is done within the public road training. 

A driver can do either part (theory or BTW) first, however, they cannot apply to take their physical CDL exam until they have been registered in the Training Provider Registry (TPR). Once they are listed on that national database, then they will be able to take their physical exam to obtain their CDL. From the conversations that I’ve had on this, how new drivers get into the TPR can vary from state to state, so check with the state your driver will be licensed in for specifics. 

That is the basic framework for the mandate, however, if you’ve dug into this in any manner, I know you have more questions, so I’ve compiled a sample of questions that we have received from tree care companies on this new mandate.

  • Can I still train my drivers in house? – Yes, you can, however, your driver will need to be registered in the Training Provider Registry (TPR) showing that they have completed ELDT before scheduling their physical exam to obtain their CDL. How they get registered in the TPR will be state specific.


  • Are there online resources to help with training? – Yes, there are a number of vendors who are selling online packages to help employers do in-house ELDT. As an example, JJ Keller offers online material to help companies train in-house. They have a Trainer manual ($129) plus online courses ($1,413 per person) for all topics. A quick google search of ELDT materials will produce many options for you to choose from. 


  • Do I need to register as a training school? – If you want to be able to do only in-house training for your new CDL drivers, then yes, you’ll need to have at least one registered instructor and be listed as an approved Training Provider (school). Again, check with your state on what the specifics are to do this as each state may differ.


  • How many training hours are required to comply with ELDT? – The ELDT language does not specify the number of hours for training the theory (written) part or behind the wheel. They only require that the driver can pass the written test with 80% proficiency and pass the physical exam. How many hours of training it takes to get that done is up to the training provider.


  • How do I record training hours? – There is no guidance or specific format to track training hours, only that you must track the hours spent on each section of the training.

For more information on the ELDT visit the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s FAQ’s.

If you need help with driver safety and/or fleet management, contact ArboRisk to learn more about their Thrive Risk Management Safety Package!

Tom Dunn