A Day in the Life

April 12, 2005
To get a feel for the rental salesperson's day-to-day life, I took a short trip to Midwest Aerials & Equipment's St. Louis branch to spend a typical day about the town with a salesperson. Joe Alonzo, director of sales, and Linda Weber, sales manager, let me tag along with them for a day on the job.

To get a feel for the rental salesperson's day-to-day life, I took a short trip to Midwest Aerials & Equipment's St. Louis branch to spend a typical day about the town with a salesperson. Joe Alonzo, director of sales, and Linda Weber, sales manager, let me tag along with them for a day on the job. With more than 40 years of combined experience, the pair gave me an inside view of the seasoned salesperson's rental sales world.

Meeting at the company's downtown location at 7:30 a.m. we got the early start Alonzo thinks is necessary for his sales staff. And considering the amount of work to do in a day — knowing the details of what's going on in the territory, making calls, following leads, educating customers, preparing quotes, checking Dodge Reports — it pays to get that early jump on the competition. “Most of the successful ones are out there at 7,” Alonzo says.

I learned quickly that the successful salesperson should not be easily intimidated. Instead, he or she should be able to walk up to a jobsite sight unseen, walk into the trailer and see what's going on. It is also helpful to be able to chitchat with the best of them, as often the conversations aren't even about the sale or equipment.

“You'll spend an hour talking about everything but rental and sales,” Alonzo says. “Then as you're leaving you'll say, ‘What have you got coming up?’”

However, shooting the breeze with a customer or potential customer is an important part of building the relationship with the client. When a salesperson is in the same industry for many years, faces become familiar, and working with the same people again and again is inevitable.

“It's truly unlike a retail sales job where you have to be a hard closer to get the deal and you go onto the next deal, because the deals are with the same people over and over again,” Weber says. “You really look at it as a long-term relationship where you solve their problems and try to help them.”

While the face-to-face contact is essential, all is not lost when the salesperson happens upon an empty construction trailer. This is when marketing materials — kept stocked in the truck — come in handy. Midwest Aerials newspapers with equipment specs, business cards and even sticky notes allow workers returning to the trailer to know that Midwest Aerials stopped in. These materials help customers know they were checking in, and it helps to get their name out there with very targeted advertising. Staying fresh in customers' heads and having a constant presence is important in the business.

It becomes obvious that this is a job for the go-getter — the one who doesn't want to sit in an office all day, but would rather be out and about, wearing a hardhat. With cell phones ringing and Nextels going off constantly, there is never a dull moment. “It's stressful,” Weber says. “But it's not boring.”

From the empty trailer on one jobsite, we head to Kaiser Electric, a company that splits its aerial business between two independent aerial rental companies, one of which is Midwest. We waited in the lobby until Tony Rose, director of purchasing, was able to see us for a few minutes. Rental plays a key role in the company's business, and Rose's philosophy is that he doesn't want the additional burden of servicing the equipment. “I don't want to own lifts — that's your job,” he says. “I can stock a million things out in the warehouse and not have what I need, so why have any of them?”

Rose's penchant for locally owned businesses and Midwest's dedication to superior service make the two companies a good match. As Rose says, if you pay $100 less for the rental, but the lift shows up four hours late, a company is not saving money. George Azzanni, president of Kaiser Electric, shares the same philosophy. “Drop the ball and you won't get the business,” he says. “Prices are important, but there's no substitute for service.”

Leaving the Kaiser Electric office, Alonzo and Weber notice a jobsite next door. We grab our hardhats and go over to see what's going on. After talking to someone on the site, Alonzo calls the territory's salesperson to let him know about the job. Alonzo emphasizes communication between all people involved in every transaction — communication with customers, as well as communication with other salespeople about jobs they may not know about. The salespeople should work as a team for the benefit of the company as a whole. “There is no competition between our salespeople,” he says.

And although everyone in the company communicates to help the others out, there are bound to be missed sales and plenty of setbacks. Even the most successful salespeople deal with rejection, which is just a part of the business.

“You deal with rejection, a lot of it,” Weber says. “You develop thick skin and you're just persistent and you persevere and that's really the difference between a successful salesperson [and an unsuccessful one]. You're self-motivating and able to handle that rejection because it's very hard. Everyone gets rejected. They're not selling if they're not getting any rejection.”

“When you're first getting started there is nothing but rejection,” Alonzo says. “You've got to establish yourself because you're going to be around and that's what people want. They don't want to establish a relationship with somebody that's not going to be there six months from now, a year from now.”

And while rejection isn't easy to swallow, the rejected salesperson should try to make it work to his or her advantage. Alonzo recalls being asked to leave a jobsite after blocking a concrete truck from getting into the site. “And that's the ultimate rejection,” he says. “But it was how I handled it. I didn't like it, but I waited a week and then I went back and apologized and from then on we started a relationship and I made a positive out of it.”

Especially when facing tough customers or big problems, Alonzo emphasizes facing the customer and being available. “Do you dodge a problem, or do you face them and fix it?” he says. “It's an opportunity to build a better relationship.”

An integral part of this important relationship with the customer is being involved and having knowledge of every aspect of their customers' business needs. Depending on customer preference, the salesperson may be the primary point of contact for the customer.

“I've had customers that I've had from the early '80s that will talk to nobody but me,” Alonzo says. “Then there are others who deal with inside people. But salespeople are encouraged to be in the middle of everything.” As Alonzo says, most successful salespeople want to be involved and genuinely care about the customer. It's not uncommon to develop friendships with customers, and Alonzo says that many of the people in his social circle are also customers.

Rejection isn't the only bump in the road for salespeople. A salesperson can put a lot of time in, building a relationship with a customer, and when they finally make an order the customer's credit doesn't check out. Or after working hard to get an order, the equipment they need isn't available when they need it.

“I find that harder to deal with than rejection,” Weber says.

But fulfilling the role of problem-solver, the salesperson should learn to never say no, but try to help out in any way he or she can. “We don't ever want to say no to them,” Alonzo says. “Even when we're out of equipment we try to utilize something else.”

After visiting a Schnucks grocery store jobsite and a Home Depot being built, I notice that being a salesperson isn't about touting products and equipment, it's about the customer, and the relationship between the two companies. The days are spent troubleshooting and solving problems, maintaining relationships and trying to start up new ones. And it takes a lot of energy, a full tank of gas to get to those jobsites, and a little bit of luck. And, as Alonzo says, “The more calls you make, the luckier you are.”