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Raising Customers’ Levels of Efficiency

End-user needs: How salespeople are meeting them.

The mission of industrial truck distributors is to help their customers operate their businesses more efficiently, and salespeople play an important role in helping end-users meet their goals efficiently. MHEDA Edge spoke with a random sample of salespeople and asked them about the inefficient practices they’re seeing in their customers’ operations- from practices which could be improved through forklift usage to the way the customer utilizes their existing industrial truck fleet- and how they’re striving to help the customer to meet those needs.

Unsafe Lift Truck Operation
Salespeople continually see their customers engaging in reckless operation, a situation which increases the potential for property damage, personal injury or death.

In some cases, these unsafe practices arise when end-users utilize temporary laborers who have not been trained to operate their lift trucks properly. In others, the problems arise simply because end-users aren’t as aware of safe practices or safety regulations as they could be. Salespeople who identified unsafe operation and equipment damage as concerns said there is a concerted effort to raise end-user awareness of safety issues and an attempt by many distributors to either provide safety training or to refer the end-user to a training provider.

Some customers balk at the idea of safety training, erroneously thinking that a salesperson is simply trying to add to the sale. Salespeople, however, are trying to caution companies that it is less expensive in the long run to make sure their operators are trained, especially as the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) steps up its enforcement efforts. In Fiscal Year 2007, OSHA conducted a record 39,324 inspections and found more than 88,000 violations of safety and occupational health regulations. Users of industrial trucks ranked at number 6 in OSHA’s top-10 list of violations for FY2007.

Frequent Equipment Damage
Many end-users are mishandling their equipment, salespeople say. While partially tied to lack of training, many customers are merely not properly caring for trucks.

Forklifts are built to take a certain level of wear and tear- that’s a given. Equipment damage that exceeds the level incurred by normal use is a frequent issue, salespeople say. Damage can come in many forms- from dents and scratches to battery damage. To many salespeople, it seems great strides could be made in ensuring end-users take better care of their truck fleet. Fleet management software is one option that is rapidly gaining ground with some customers. The software packages can track hour usage and can help end-users establish planned maintenance benchmarks.

An alternative lies in contracting with a forklift distributor to track this data for them. Some salespeople say that this is an attractive service for smaller companies that cannot spare the manpower needed to enter the data.

Trucks With Too Many Usage Hours
Especially in an uncertain economy like the nation is facing in 2008, end-users are delaying their capital spending, including the purchase of new equipment, relying instead on older trucks. Customers are seeking to make costly repairs to equipment that in some cases is a decade old, when it would likely be more cost-effective to rent or buy a newer truck. To combat such instances, salespeople are working harder to help customers understand the cost savings in the long run of either leasing or buying newer models.

Inefficient Fleet Utilization
The flip-side of too much use is also seen; many salespeople say that their customers have fleet sizes that don’t match their true needs, meaning some trucks, whether purchased or rented, are sitting unused, meaning higher expense for the end-user.

In these instances, a careful assessment of the customer’s needs is sorely needed. The salesperson who does a careful once-over of a customer’s needs may find non-traditional areas for increased business and revenue. For example, in a time of economic uncertainty, it may mean working with customers to establish special lease terms. One salesperson sees a lot of business from companies who may hold 2-or-3 year contracts to provide distribution and warehousing for retailers and manufacturers, so a traditional 5-year lease may be a business risk, since the renewal of such contracts is not always a given.

No matter the economic conditions, a salesperson who does a careful examination of a customer’s operations- for example, touring the facility and simply listening to the customer’s needs, taking notes and delaying recommendations- can be of great benefit to customers as they seek to make their businesses more efficient. Sometimes, they’ll know where they need to improve, and sometimes, salespeople will need to point things out. Either way, though, through careful observation and cooperation, distributor and end-user can find a common ground that proves profitable for both.

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