In his second contribution to ‘The Insider’; a popular series or thought leadership articles published in Lift & Hoist International (LHI) magazine. Mike Sparks, regional sales manager at Pintsch Bubenzer USA LLC, advises anyone looking to succeed in a component sector.
Selling or promoting components and parts takes great intuitiveness. It’s not easy. The commonality I’ve noted in those who are successful in this field is an ability to understand a product in itself and, moreover, appreciate its role in a larger machine or operation.
Too many people become niche geeks and trap themselves in an engineering bubble, while others lurch too far the other way and don’t show the screw, nut, bolt, brake, control, whatever it might be, the due amount of respect. A career working with ancillary equipment has taught me a lot; principally what a rewarding and challenging environment it can be—if one gives it a chance.
I’ve worked with varied products: mobile energy supply and data transmission systems; remote controls for industrial equipment; motor mounted brakes; high performance disc and drum brakes for port cranes and other severe duty applications; and more. There have been crossovers—much of the aforementioned equipment can be applied to overhead cranes—but the wares I’ve been responsible for selling and the markets where they’re applied have been varied. The consistent thread has been in the principles I’ve adhered to.
The end goal for a vendor, especially one promoting a small piece of equipment that doesn’t speak for itself, is getting the buyer to understand how it can help. In other words, they need to become a solution provider. Ancillary equipment has a myriad of purposes: some items make work safer, others enhance productivity, while there are those that help a company conform to quality and environmental management protocols. The list is endless and the selling points are sometimes numerous. But the target audience isn’t always receptive to them, particularly if the product is based on technology they haven’t seen before.
Remote controls will eventually become ubiquitous on electric overhead travelling (EOT) cranes, but it wasn’t always the easiest sell to a user that had been working happily and, in their mind, efficiently for many years using a pendant system. Why would I need this? This is for more high-tech facilities than mine. How do we know where to stand to operate it? What if someone else picks up the transmitter by mistake? Why do I need to spend the money—my existing controls work perfectly? I heard them all over the years. And it’s important that the vendor considers their response carefully when placed in a similar position.
Often such reticence triggers an automatic response from the salesperson; they launch into a well-rehearsed speech about how great the product is, how well-engineered it is, how much better it is than anything else on the market, how the technology involved not only addresses all of the prospective customer’s questions, but hundreds more besides. The trouble is such a reaction only puts more distance between seller and buyer. Everything the vendor says might be true but it isn’t tailored information based on the application where the item will be installed.
Key to avoiding such a stalemate is education and research. On the one hand, a vendor must understand their product inside out. New recruits are hopefully given extensive inductions and walkthroughs, followed by mentorship and training. Those who’ve been at the company a while must refresh their knowledge at regular intervals and ensure they know about product development and evolutions that might have occurred since their own on-boarding process. Where engineers have made a product leaner, or shinier, or more water-resistant, salespeople at all levels of experience should enquire as to why, and absorb the information. Oftentimes, they might have led research and development based on information they’ve gathered from the coalface.
On the other hand, it’s a component salesperson’s job to immerse themselves in the marketplaces where the product will be used. Depending on the role, region, market, and other variables, the extent of understanding that is required will vary. This is a crucial, but frequently overlooked, component of a salesperson’s development. For a market to consume a product, its buying decision makers must recognise it as a tool that provides productivity and bottom line or other tangible results. An emergency brake eliminates any chance of drivetrain failure causing a dropped load on a critical lift crane, but widespread implementation will depend on the salesperson’s success in showing steel facilities, for example, why that’s the case.
Do your homework
It’s a good idea for a salesperson to drill even deeper. They should look at their calls or visits for the day or week ahead, and consider their approach for each one. It might be a first-time meeting with a contact in a new sector, or a regular catch-up with someone who’s been consuming the equipment for years. Plan accordingly. Think of the specific challenges of the building, its applications, and the role of the component. Translate each of the product’s features into a benefit for the customer. If the component does X, Y, and Z, what does that mean for the ladle crane, or offshore windmill, or other item of machinery?
Never engage in scaremongering, but it’s reasonable to point out certain oversights. In many cases, it’s not pointing a finger at a specific customer or their operation, but more an industry sector generally. As alluded to already, Pintsch Bubenzer is intent on raising awareness in the steel sector of the safety benefits of installing emergency brakes on EOT cranes, especially in environments where critical lifts are commonplace. Picture a workplace where cranes can be up to 450 tons or more in capacity and lift ladles of molten metal that are poured into casting machines. If a gear shaft should fracture and a load is dropped, the damage to property and inevitable injury, or worse, to personnel is incalculable.
The consequences of not installing a component might not always be so drastic but they often are. Again, it’s important to present it to the buyer accordingly. In the case of a brake, if it is improperly sized it can inadvertently drop the load (undersized) or place unnecessary stress on other components (oversized). It is also important to understand how it is to be applied and the duty cycle involved. Setting a brake too early can lead to stresses being applied to the crane, while setting it too late can result in load slippage. Perhaps a client is experiencing certain operational issues that are actually indicative of a larger problem they might not know about. This becomes the selling point for the component provider.
The best salespeople, not only in the ancillaries sector, play the long game. While getting to know an existing or prospective customer, it’s advisable to gain an understanding of their short-, mid-, and long-term goals. Where they are on a curve might dictate greatly to their uptake of a certain product or service. The obvious signs to look for are ageing or failing equipment; a site might be about to invest in an overhaul and a vendor may take up position accordingly. Less obvious will be a site’s management’s plans to diversify into another equipment area, expand, or relocate. This information won’t be readily available and will take building the type of relationships only possible if one is prepared to put skin, and time, into the game.
Bias for action
If readers take one thing away from this article, I hope it’s the necessity to show a bias for action. To put it more bluntly: do what you say you’re going to do. And it’s not just a message reserved for the sales or work environment. Imagine being on the receiving end of a declaration that isn’t kept, or listening to a promise that’s been made and broken many times before. Put oneself in the shoes of a facilities manager at a site who’s been receptive to a component vendor and feels they’ve got a good working relationship, only to be let down. Say, the product they acquired was not capable of the task in hand. Imagine the knock-on impact it has. The relationship burns, sure, but the individual still has to deal with superiors and explain why they made the purchasing decision. In incestuous marketplaces, like the overhead crane sector, it’s prudent for a salesperson not to get a reputation for such behaviour.
The guidance above can be widely applied. I’ve not encountered a component or item of ancillary equipment yet that’ll render this practice futile. If a salesperson follows the cycle and sticks to strong principles, results will follow. Within each niche marketplace there are the golden tickets that bolster the wider strategy. It’s often safety. Safe controls, safe bumpers, safe brakes—I’ve sold them all. But there are a lot of folks out there trying to sell something along the same lines. Most sales patter references safety in every sentence. As explored above, it’s about giving that message tangibility in the field.
I’d like to think I could have a positive impact on people at the outset of their journey in a component sector, or those considering a career path with ancillary equipment, versus others that might be distracted by sexier machinery. I’d encourage folks in this bracket to set ground rules for themselves early. Study product literature, ask questions, and get out in the field to witness the products as part of a larger operation. It always amazes me how little nuggets of information can be picked up from installation, service, and use that never seem to make it into brochures or literature. The more knowledge one has, the easier the job becomes. Sales visits are at their worst when the vendor is clutching at straws.
In closing, I’d urge all salespeople to attend trade shows in their industry and the sectors where their products are applied. Too often, marketing professionals overrun events and conventions but those on the front line should at least walk the floor and look at the wares on show. With that in mind, I’m looking forward to the Electrical Apparatus Service Association’s (EASA) convention in Las Vegas, on 30 June-2 July; the Iron & Steel Technology Conference and Exposition in Pittsburgh, on 6-9 May; and the International WorkBoat Show in New Orleans, later in the year. Knowledge is power, after all. Hopefully I get to meet some of my readers in the aisles!
Always remember, good things come in small packages.