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As Doors Close, Windows Open

Opportunities for incremental sales during slow times

As Wall Street panics and prices climb, the market for distributors continues to get tighter. Companies are holding onto their capital budgets, and long sales cycles are turning monthly forecasts into guessing games. In the face of this economic climate, however, there are still opportunities available to supplement equipment sales.

This is an important time to solidify old relationships, cultivate new ones and plant seeds for future business. One way to do this is to broaden your presence inside your existing accounts with additional customer services. With new equipment purchases being pushed out or cancelled, the need to maintain aging equipment tends to jump up on the priority list. There is also a trend in many companies to view attrition as a budget saver and not replace maintenance staff lost through retirement or otherwise.

The combination of older equipment and less available maintenance employees opens up avenues for distributors to help customers maintain equipment, and thereby production, through the current downturn. More importantly, that provider also will be positioned as first in line for new equipment sales during the next rise in the economic cycle.

Incremental Sales Opportunities

1. Independent audits of operating and maintenance conditions and practices

2. Preventive maintenance service on existing equipment

3. Updating mechanical components and controls methodologies

4. On-site maintenance and/or operations training

Here are some ways that a company with even a moderate level of technical skill can offer expand- ed services to customers. Equipment manufacturers can help by providing low-cost training, documentation and online resources to build the skills needed to perform most of these functions.

Maintenance Audits
Perform an independent audit of equipment operating and maintenance conditions and practices. Take photos and produce a report highlighting areas of concern. Offer solutions for maintenance, parts and safety issues using your own capabilities or in conjunction with equipment manufacturers.

Preventive Maintenance (PM)
Offer preventive maintenance service on existing equipment. Basic adjustments and lubrication go a long way toward equipment longevity and reduced downtime. PMs are being skipped on a regular basis in many companies as the staff is fully utilized just “putting out fires.” A PM is also a great opportunity to find openings for parts sales and system improvements. This is a good area where a manufacturer can provide an expert to train and coach your staff.

Equipment Modernization
Look for opportunities to update mechanical components and controls methodologies. Highlight areas of energy savings, uptime improvements, safety enhancements and throughput gains.

Perform on-site maintenance and/or operations training. A great deal of experience is lost through attrition, particularly through retirement. Often, intimate knowledge of the equipment goes out the door along with the gold watch. Too often, that knowledge has not been passed on to junior operations and maintenance staff. Classroom and hands-on training (perhaps in conjunction with a PM) is a great way to ensure equipment longevity and to avoid costly mistakes.

Expanding your company’s capabilities can offer the additional benefit of building new relationships with your existing customers. The broader your network inside the customer hierarchy is, the better the chance that one of your contacts is in a decision-making position at some time in the future.

Equipment manufacturers have a strong vested interest in peak-performing products at existing accounts. They want to be the provider of choice when the dollars begin to flow more freely. Your capabilities in the area of aftermarket support directly impact the reputation of their products. Look to them to help you build and maintain those capabilities.

As opportunities for new equipment sales become scarce, the door opens for distributors to adapt their business models to allow growth in the area of service and also to become the “problem-solver” for the customer. Nursing older equipment helps nurture the customer relationship. They know you are interested in selling them hardware. You want them to know you are also interested in their entire operation and how your company fits into and helps that operation.

Come to think of it, that’s a great idea during economic booms as well.

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association
Tim DeMarse Meet the Author
Tim DeMarse is manager of lifetime services at TGW-ERMANCO, located in Spring Lake, Michigan, and on the Web at www.tgw-ermanco.com.

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