The face of the outside salesperson has evolved just as the rental industry has evolved over the past couple of decades. Today’s outside sales representatives are more diverse than ever including more women and more minorities. Whereas years ago a new sales rep may have been given a beeper, a pep talk with marching orders from the manager, and tossed a set of keys to a pickup truck to begin their career, today many companies have invested in formal education and on-boarding training programs to set their new reps up for success.
Technology has also evolved with phones and tablets replacing computers making our industry truly mobile with the ability to conduct business almost anywhere. That has not been any truer than the life we are living today during the pandemic of 2020. A sales manager once told me, “The best part about sales is that you can work from anywhere - home, beach, etc… The worst part about sales is that you can work from anywhere - home, beach, etc.…”, meaning you can be contacted 24 hours per day, seven days per week including holidays and vacations. Thus, at times finding a life balance is a challenge. Those who can succeed in thriving in a fast-paced business, constantly taking on new challenges, and being problem solvers for customers can thrive in a sales career within rental.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “In addition to a rising total volume of sales, a wider range of products and technologies will lead to increased demand for sales representatives” in the years to come. This is certainly true of the rental industry with more emerging niche markets and specialty products and services offered that require special training, emphasis, and technical expertise.
If you were to ask multiple sales managers or rental business owners what makes a good salesperson, you may receive a variety of answers based on that person’s personality, personal experience, or their business's strategy. However, at the heart there are a few traits that make-up the foundation for a great prospective sales rep.
At the core of any sales professional are soft people skills. All sales reps must be good with dealing with people. They must learn to be a servant leader first while still being aggressive in doing one’s job and asking for the sale. However, being a servant leader first means having a teacher’s heart by putting your customers’ needs first. Offering solutions and solving their problems - not “pushing” products and services on them that they do not need. Such methodology may be different than other industries and may take a period of adjustment for reps that may have previous sales experience with other products and services.
An executive with a Top 5 company on the RER 100 says that a great rental sales rep is “a service-oriented individual who has a passion for the company they represent as well as a drive to assist people in completing their projects.” Being the best listener possible for your customers and knowing the right questions to ask will give a rep all they need to know to “sell’ a customer. Sell with empathy and enthusiasm to be a partner in your customer’s business. Doing so takes time. One of the biggest rewards as a sales rep can be taking a cold call customer to being a loyal customer and friend over time. This happens by being a genuine sincere person that can be counted on as a true partner.
By following the Golden Rule and treating people the way you want to be treated, customers will be inspired to give you their business and rent from you. You must be dependable and follow through with what you say you are going to do. Also, you must be proactive. In this business unexpected things happen, and things do not always go as planned. Reach out to your customers when a situation arises to help them plan accordingly and not be blind-sided by a late delivery, or a broken machine that needs to be replaced. It should go without saying but honesty is always the best policy. Thus, being an effective communicator is a great tool for success. Communicating verbally and in writing are skills every rep needs. In today’s world, a savvy rep is a good formal communicator yet also one that knows how to communicate properly with relatively new business channels such as texting, perhaps using social media, and virtual meetings on platforms such as Zoom or Google Meet as well.
Having a second-to-none work ethic is also a major trait in the rental business. Sales reps need to take pride in their results. They need to know their territories better than anyone else and strive to provide unmatched superior service to their customers. Sales territories vary as well as what motivates each sales rep personally. Some reps have high volume metropolitan territories where their phone rings no matter what. Other reps have new or dried up territories in which they must pound the pavement every day to make the phone ring. Some reps are driven by financial gain while others love the flexibility the job brings. Either way no matter the situation a rep is placed in, they must hustle and have the grit in them to be the best.
Having that competitive drive will help every rep perform to their highest ability. The best reps are hungry and always strive to be the market leader. Whether comparing one’s personal performance to past performance, gauging against the competition externally, as well as peers internally can be healthy if used with the right perspective. The key is to be creative, leave no stone unturned, and give it your all each day.
One of the biggest keys to sales success is simply showing up each day. Think about the first piece of equipment that shows up at a new jobsite such as a generator for the new office trailer. When asking a superintendent why they chose the particular rental company for that generator, odds are if they did not have a pre-existing awesome relationship with that rep, you will hear the superintendent say, “Well, they happened to be here calling on me when I was working one day out of my pick-up truck.”
Work hard and show up. Having an entrepreneurial spirit in owning one's territory is key.
The first few characteristics we have discussed have nothing to do with a person’s training, experience, or education. These still matter and we will discuss some of them. However, it is important to point out that the biggest characteristics of a great sales rep come down to them as people. Their personal values and attitudes towards work and helping others are the foundations to success. A person with a big heart and solid work ethic with a willingness to learn can be taught the rental business. However, to fully complete the sales rep package there are some other key ingredients you may want to explore.
Countless sales reps have had extraordinary careers with just a high school diploma. Many grace the highest levels of rental industry executive boardrooms and family-owned businesses that can be found in the RER 100. However, the view on education has changed over the years as the industry has evolved. The perspective on education may differ depending on the sizes of companies, strategies, geographic locations, or the urgency to add reps. A quick job search for rental reps can tell you that many companies these days prefer or require a college degree. Many seek business management and marketing majors but, in many instances, simply having a degree can be beneficial in getting one’s foot in the door. College if nothing else shows that a person can persevere and learn many skills along the way such as communication, teamwork, and problem solving - no matter what major they may have studied.
Many companies scaffold upon a college education by offering formal sales “apprenticeship” programs for new college graduates and career changers new to sales. These programs replace the old days of reps being tossed a set of keys and thrown to the wolves. In the past an inside sales rep perhaps had to work their way into outside sales over the course of many months or even years. These programs compress that time with many exploring and learning all facets of the business over the course of a short period of time, sometimes with a cohort, other times with mentors before embarking on their sales journey. This allows for the rental company to teach new reps about their culture, expectations, and offer formal sales training along the way with the intention of greater retention of reps and greater chance of success for all involved. Even if a company does not have such formal programs in place, a sales rep has a better chance of success with the best onboarding experience possible to acclimate into their new role by going out with a mentor to start with. The sales rep themselves will benefit from bringing an open mind, willingness to learn, teamwork, and a bit of patience along this journey of learning way for themselves as well as others.
Before going solo into a sales territory, a rep needs to have a foundational knowledge of the equipment they are renting. Obviously, the type of equipment and knowledge needed will vary. For general rental equipment a person needs to know numerous cat-classes and applications. This is where the old school thought of working one’s way up through a rental branch over time and various positions will give them such knowledge via on-the-job learning.
On the other hand, a very specialized segment such as pump or generator applications would foster a much different learning experience including perhaps more formal classroom training. Either way such training is paramount to a sales rep’s success and ability to serve and solve customer problems. Such training can be included in onboarding training programs, on the job, or in the classroom. Perhaps, it is hard not to argue that getting one’s hands dirty touching the gears is still the best teacher. New sales reps and the use of technology on manufacturer websites and YouTube channels can also help along the way. It all goes back to the rep wanting to learn, knowing where to seek answers and be a problem solver.
Are sales reps born or are they made? This question has been debated in rental store conference rooms, managers’ offices, and casual chats at the counter for decades. A new salesperson can be trained to be successful if they have a foundation of understanding of the business, solid people skills, and a willingness to learn. A person who is hungry yet can be molded to fit within a company’s culture and work hard can succeed. A diverse background of sales reps from various walks of life all bringing their unique contributions only makes a rental team stronger. The industry has evolved to a more professional industry over the past several years.
As this article is being written the industry is evolving once again as the world is changing literally by the day. Where now creativity, technology, and communication skills are utilized at the highest sense during this pandemic and quarantine - running business remotely, taking a people contact business to one in which in some cases there is no contact at all. Who knows what tomorrow will bring and what our new normal will look like? Whereas the secret formula for a successful sales rep may be up to the eye of the beholder, someone with a solid work ethic that you trust to represent your rental company professionally may be just the right person given the correct tools and amount of support - no matter if they were born to be in sales or not.
And last, check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ definition of a “Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representative”:
Daniel McCoy, MBA, is a business coach and owner of McCoy Consulting serving the rental industry out of Raleigh, N.C. Please visit his website at http://mccoyconsulting.weebly.com/.
Sales Rep Characteristics:
· people skills: getting along with others
· effective communicator: verbal and written
· good listener: sells with a little empathy, partners with customers, doesn’t just sell them
· work ethic: hard working, takes pride in results
· competitive and driven, strives to be market leader and best in class
· educated: minimum high school diploma but college degree many times required in today’s rental world
· experienced: depends on company, perhaps counter experience
· equipment knowledge: understanding of equipment and applications with ability to solve problems, training is paramount for new sales reps to industry
· moldable: ability to adapt to organization’s culture with a willingness to learn and be coachable, especially if inexperienced in sales and/or rental
· critical thinking/problem solving
· entrepreneurial spirit