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Skills For Material Handling Newcomers

I am new to the material handling industry. What specific
skills should I allocate time toward perfecting and why?

— Tom Quandt, Sales Engineer
Central Scale & Material Handling (Omaha, NE)

• Chuck Frank, President
• John Faulkner, Director
• Steve Fawcett, Director
• Mark Milovich, Director
• Bill Ryan, Director
• Steve Strifl er, Director
• Duncan Murphy, Advisory Board

Chuck Frank: First, approach every opportunity as if it is the most important opportunity you have ever worked on. Customers expect you to feel this way. They do not want to hear about how busy you or your company are—they want you to focus on them and their needs. The objective is to always do more than your customer expects.

Second, learn the industry you are calling on. Clients expect you to know about the products and services you represent, but they will be pleasantly surprised when you are able to speak their language. In the engineered systems world, you need to be able to speak about feeds and speeds, provide alternate solutions and provide budgetary cost to proposed solutions on the spot. You must be able to share success stories you implemented for others within the same industry. You need to be able to provide justified solutions and provide ROI validation. You ultimately want to be known as the expert, having your client call you whenever they have a need and always be able to help them out or point them in the right direction.

Duncan Murphy: Begin with the concept that good sales habits are the same regardless of the industry. Sign up for sales training wherever you can. Get on email lists, such as Jeffery Gitomer’s, for a regular dose of reality and thought-provoking ideas. Develop your ability to communicate with a focus on asking questions and then listening to the responses. Computer skills are a given, so if you feel weak using a popular program, get proficient. Be sure you have a process to organize your time and activities. This extends to information regarding your customer base. Combining several of these skills will make your customer touches personal. Clearly communicate your concern for their issues, their success as a company, and them as an individual. Make all this habitual, because people will see through phony immediately. Tricks and shortcuts will not work, so the proper mix of patience and aggressiveness must be learned.

John Faulkner: The best place to start in the material handling industry is at a dealership. Customer service, sales or the parts and service departments are always good starting places.

asked and answeredAccess the archive of Ask your Board questions by clicking the “Asked & Answered” link in The MHEDA Journal online.

Steve Fawcett: Distributors by their very nature are generalists who know a little about a lot of things. Know your company’s principal lines and make alliances with your company’s key manufacturers’ sales representatives. These factory reps bring superior product knowledge to the table and are always looking to work with distributor salespeople. Your initial goal is to gain knowledge of your company’s principal lines. A secondary goal is to gain the confidence of the factory representative so he funnels leads to you.

Second, learn how to sell. There is such a thing as a natural salesperson, but most good selling techniques are learned behaviors. There are countless good books and resources dedicated to the sales professional. In addition, MHEDA offers plenty of sales training programs free of charge from its website. Click on the education section, and you will see Don Buttrey’s “The Four Pillars of The Sales Professional Podcast Series” and Alan Rigg’s “Sales Insights & Interviews.” These are good programs that we encourage our people at Bode Equipment Company to watch. Ask to ride shotgun with the better salespeople in your organization and pick their brains to see how they became successful. Don’t wing it; learn good sales techniques. Eventually, developing good selling skills will make you a more effective salesperson. In the end, it will make you money.

Third, work harder and smarter than anyone else in the office. Drive, hard work and consistency are normal personality traits of successful people in sales or any other occupation. Outside salespeople are given a lot of freedom. We all know someone in sales who quits at 2:00 p.m. to play golf. You are better to avoid that temptation and make another call late in the day.

Mark Milovich: You want to make sure, especially in today’s economic climate, that you add value in everything you do and at every point of contact with your customers. Not only is value appreciated at the service level by customers, but at other areas traditionally not thought about, such as receivables, receptionists and warehouse personnel. Every employee who has contact with a customer should be thinking “value.” Not only do you want value externally, but internally as well. Creating internal value, or a pleasant place to work, goes a long way to ensure that value will be shown externally. It becomes the image of the company.

Take the time to get to know your customer’s business—the things that keep them up at night. Understanding your customer’s business will help you to understand their needs and give you the insight to offer solutions to their problems.

The relationship you have with your suppliers can go a long way in determining success. An open, frank and honest relationship with your suppliers will build trust between your two companies, forge a strong partnership and in the end directly help your customers as they will see a strong partnership that can satisfy their needs. Not only do you want strong relationships with the suppliers you represent, but you want to have strong relationships with your vendors as well—the people who call you a customer, specifically your bank, medical and property insurance brokers, service sub-contractors and any other major vendors used to run your business. We have enough to worry about without having to struggle with vendors! These vendors can make your life easier… or more miserable!

Know your products and services inside and out. Be able to communicate effectively to your customers or potential customers what it is you do, and why you do it best. Resist the urge to talk down your competition or your competitors’ products. If a sales rep has to sell his product/service by only bashing his competition’s product or service, then he does not truly know or believe in his own products or service. It’s one thing to point out differences, it’s another to only down talk a competitor or competitive product.

For years, dealers in material handling have complained about diminishing margins on sales, yet too many sales reps in the industry today lead with price as a sales technique. Going back to adding value, if your customer can see value in what you do and the products you represent, your company will be able to hold a higher margin on sales. Lead with features, benefits and value, and price will be less of an issue.

Our association is the best place to gain insight into what works and doesn’t work in our industry and to learn best practices. We have a number of industry professionals who have “been there, done that.” Their experience is immeasurable. Make the time to get involved in MHEDA-NET and to attend the webinars, live sessions and Convention. The answers you will seek throughout a career in material handling are right here in MHEDA. Like anything, you will only get out of it what you put into it.

Read more onlineFor more information on skills for newcomers entering the industry, read Robert Tucker’s article, “Are You Indispensible At Work?” exclusively in The MHEDA Journal Online.

Bill Ryan: I would say you already learned step one: When in search of something you desire, do your prep-work, which includes reaching out and asking for help. An old boss of mine once told me, “Do not judge a man by what he has to say, but rather by the types of questions that he asks.” Asking the right questions is the first step.

Step two is learning how to listen to the responses you receive and, more important, “listening to understand.” This usually means having to ask more questions to clarify.

These basic communication skills, once mastered, will put you in a far better position to effectively deal with virtually any and all of the challenges you will face as you learn the technical aspects of the material handling business.

As for the early technical courses you should take to begin to master your new vocation, I would recommend (in no particular order): a basic understanding of logistics and supply chain management, coupled with some project management, along with a primer on warehouse operations. All of this needs to be supported by a basic understanding of cost and return on investment analysis. Product knowledge, while critical to selecting a proper solution for a customer’s problem, is secondary to determining what that customer’s problem, really is. Once you have uncovered the problem, there are always people around to help you configure a solution.

Steve Strifler: Character plus Competence equals Trust. You need to genuinely be concerned with improving the given situation of your customer. Most customers gravitate to those in whom they perceive a strong character.

Are you going to sell lift trucks, general lines, systems automation or all of them? If you know what you are going to do, then you need to be good at it (have competence). At what can you prove to the customer that you are competent: Is it static storage, powered equipment, automation?

Without character and competence, there will not be any trust. Trust is fundamental to developing any relationship. Unless you are going to compete on price alone, you need to develop relationships to be successful with your customers. Character or competence alone can get you in the door. Together, they can get you on the sidelines. Relationships can get you in the game. Be forthright and honest, know what you want to do and be good at it, and genuinely be concerned with making your customer better.

The MHEDA Journal features a question-and-answer column in each issue. The Board of Directors shares its knowledge and expertise by responding to questions posed by Distributor members. If you have a question for the Fall 2011 issue, please contact Rebecca Hein at MHEDA by phone at 847-680-3500, by fax at 847-362-6989 or by e-mail at rhein@mheda.org. Distributors who submit questions and the responding Board members have agreed to have their names published. If you would like to ask the Board a question and have the participating directors respond directly and confidentially to you, please indicate your preference for privacy when you submit your question.


Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association

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