Equipment Sales in the ‘On Demand’ Age
Guest writer Alex Kraft Started as an equipment salesperson for Flagler Construction Equipment (Volvo heavy dealer in Florida) in 2004. Tonight he brings his expertise here on the topic of managing equipment sales in the “on demand” age.
Selling equipment used to be so easy. Or that’s what I thought when I listened to the old timers tell me stories of taking a customer out and signing a “million-dollar order on a cocktail napkin”. Then that damn internet came along and ruined everything! Truth is buyer behavior has changed. According to a recent McKinsey B2B study, there’s been an 85% increase in the preference for buyers to conduct online research, and a 238% increase in buyer preference for self-serve looking for information on the companies’ website.
The evolution of the sales profession is not just impacting the equipment world. There is a larger societal shift at play. For example, when I was younger, my perception of a salesperson was the Alec Baldwin character from the ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ film. Baldwin’s character berates a sales team with his hard charging, second place is for losers’ mentality (in the movie 2nd place gets a set of steak knives!). Success was the result of those who simply ‘do not take no for an answer’. Today’s sales culture is much different. Training materials focus on skills such as listening, empathy, and personalizing a solution. I read a blog post today which mentioned the importance of understanding your prospect’s needs and not lumping all potential customers into the same broad category. I’d love to take a trip back with a time machine to see the Baldwin character’s face when someone mentions “empathy” as a key to closing deals!
What does that mean for equipment salespeople? First, it does NOT mean that salespeople are less valuable or that they will be unnecessary. To me, the job has changed. Customers aren’t basing their decisions anymore on who takes them to Ruth’s Chris or lunch twice a week. The most important trait for a successful equipment salesperson is responsiveness. What separates the best salespeople from the average is what they do AFTER the sale. Those that take ownership of issues that arise and solve problems are the salespeople that foster loyalty.
The best comparison I can make is to the medical sales industry. If anyone knows someone in the medical sales industry, you’ll know that a medical ‘salesperson’ typically doesn’t handle pricing. Instead, they focus on managing ‘cases’ or supporting the doctor’s usage of the products. Another industry that we can draw from is real estate. Everyone is a real estate expert today due to the unprecedented accessibility of information, but there have never been more registered real estate agents. Despite this dynamic, an agent that helps a buyer through every step of the process is worth every penny.
Since more customers perform online research, they are more educated on the products than ever before. There are fewer unique brand features that a salesperson can point out to a potential buyer. One area that I see a huge opportunity for salespeople to take advantage of is the focus on telematics data. Every OEM/dealer is touting their telematics data capability and the amount of information available. The problem becomes who’s going to read through all that data? Great salespeople are ‘advisors’ for their customers, and what better opportunity to be an advisor than to use the data available on your customer’s machines to provide valuable insight on how they operate their fleet. How powerful could it be for a salesperson to come to their customer, with 3-5 observations on their fleet performance for a specific job? Do you notice certain operators that can benefit from additional training? Are there potential looming issues on machines due to fault codes? Another area that customers seem to struggle with is when to dispose of a machine. Great salespeople know the market (like real estate agents) and could utilize their network to help customers maximize value for machines as they reach the end of their life cycle, so customers don’t always have to send machines to auction.
In summary, what do all customers seek from their vendor relationships? Value and support. As I’ve outlined above, customers’ definition of value has changed, so it’s time for dealers’ expectations for salespeople to adjust as well. That begins with redefining what a salesperson profile is. Some of the best equipment salespeople that I’ve ever seen were former mechanics. Their technical aptitude became a huge asset for their customers, as they could help troubleshoot issues, relay information to their service department, and in a pinch even turn a wrench themselves. Salespeople who continue operating with the belief that their job is solely to quote pricing, buy lunch, and push all other duties to another department will become very replaceable, very quickly.
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