The role of an inside sales person may vary based on a rental company’s specific needs. However, the importance of their position and the most common traits sought after in a counter person are consistent throughout the rental industry. Successful inside sales personnel are vital to any branch and arguably are the foundation of any rental business.
Inside sales personnel are typically involved in every area of the business and are the face of the company to many customers. Whereas the manager may be viewed as the head coach, in many organizations the counter staff are the quarterbacks executing operations day to day. They need to multi-task, be great with people, and have the uncanny ability to be creative problem solvers. The inside sales role can be a great foot in the door to a prosperous professional career in the rental business. Many rental pros choose to make inside sales a fulfilling long-term career in itself. Every branch needs a solid long-tenured veteran to hold down the fort, however starting on the counter may also be a great springboard up the ladder of the industry. Countless current and former rental executives got their start on the counter and have worked their way up progressing through various paths such as outside sales them onto branch manager and district/regional management opportunities.
The rental counter is also a great transition position from other important roles such as drivers and mechanics that perhaps have the skills and desire to develop their careers onto the sales and operations end of the business. Given that inside sales are such a dynamic role, what exactly makes a successful inside sales person? The answer to that question may be as diverse as the position itself but there are some traits that the majority of managers and recruiters would seek out when trying to add an inside sales person to their team.
The education requirement certainly depends on an organization’s culture and typical requirements of each respective position. Does the company typically promote from within and treat the counter as a springboard to future opportunities or are they seeking a quality individual to stake a long-term claim on the counter? Both instances can be mutually beneficial depending on the situation. At a minimum, inside sales requires the ability to demonstrate basic understanding of reading, writing, and arithmetic offered through completion of a high school diploma. However, in today’s competitive world most managers seek at least some education beyond high school with the equivalent of an associate arts degree. Many companies require a bachelor’s degree in business, marketing, or relatable field, especially to have the ability to move up within the organization.
That said, there are several very successful rental industry veterans that blazed their own trail to the top of the field that started by sweeping floors with only a high school diploma. Formal education shows that a candidate is goal oriented, willing to learn, and has a foundation of skills with the ability to learn. A great attitude with a formal education is hard to beat – and can be hard to find for recruiters as well. Many rental pros will tell you that the best teacher is on-the-job training by getting one’s hands dirty over time by working in every area of the business. Many rental companies have even developed formal programs to mold sales and management recruits with various rotations throughout the business in which the counter is certainly a stint or may even be the main focus of the training program. The best inside sales people understand every area of the business, similar to a successful branch manager.
People and communication skills
Inside sales reps are the face of the branch in the same way that sales reps and drivers are the face in the field. They are interacting with co-workers and a variety of customers via multiple channels throughout their day. People skills, including the ability to be a great listener and communicator, are important qualities. The counter staff needs to be able to relate to drivers, mechanics, outside sales, safety personnel, and management. Depending on the business, customers may come from various market segments including construction, industrial, government, special event, and homeowners – and they need to strive to keep all of these stakeholders happy all at the same time. Inside sales speak with all of these groups face-to-face and on the phone. Written communication may be in the form of texting, email, written quotes and contracts among others. Another key to success is the ability of inside sales staff to generate revenue and close sales on their own. The capability to develop sales and negotiating skills are key. Similarly to outside sales, inside sales people must match equipment to customer needs’ while maximizing rental rates, upselling accessory rentals and additional merchandise sales.
One way to help cultivate an inside sales rep’s sales skills and to help generate revenue is to have the counter staff proactively make outbound sales calls by phone as time allows. The goal of such calls may vary including checking on a long-term rental, trying to generate repeat business from current customers, or to generate new business. Some rental counters require this as part of their everyday activities in between other tasks, whereas others may implement such a strategy when foot traffic coming into the branch quiets down or when the business overall is in a slow period. Branch managers can help make the inside sales calls fun with a little friendly competition by creating contests or offering rewards for reaching certain goals. In the end, both the business and the employee will benefit from the experience.
The inside sales team’s ability to overcome rejection over the phone or in person has a direct impact to a branch’s bottom line. A solid inside sales person demonstrates empathy when it is needed and focuses on and confirms details both verbally and written. They can relate to those around them and adapt to any given situation. As the quarterback of the branch, they ensure that all the players understand what is needed to execute a winning game plan and help deliver the right piece of equipment at the correct location, at the expected time for any project or order – no matter how big or small.
Unless a new inside sales person has had prior industry experience, chances are they may have the personal tools to be a successful rental pro but not have a clue what any of the equipment actually is or does. A historical yet interesting quirk about the industry is that new recruits may encounter several different names for the same piece of equipment making their learning curve that much more difficult. The saying holds true that once a person is in the rental business, they learn that “there are 100 different names for a common household hammer.” This is especially true with regional differences and more companies working in larger geographic areas or even nationally. For example, a simple plate tamper may also be called a plate compactor, plate tamp, tamper, Wacker Packer, etc. Time appears to be the best teacher in regards to learning equipment names and applications.
However, there are several tools most companies offer that can speed up the process from orientation training classes to the old school method of studying the company’s annual rental catalog to more modern technological driven apps and online learning modules. Although perhaps not necessary to get their feet wet on the counter and begin contributing, the faster an inside sales rep can learn equipment the more comfortable and confident they will feel. This will lead to better, faster, and more accurate service to customers. There are countless cat-classes of equipment in the rental industry and some companies have more than others. On the other hand, some companies have more of a niche fleet of equipment that may require very technical training such as applications and installations of large generators, pumps, air compressors, climate control, and more. Either way it typically takes years to be considered an expert for all equipment applications within a business.
Although an inside sales rep does not necessarily need to be a mechanic, a basic understanding of tools and how to perform simple tasks will go a long way. An inside sales rep with a basic understanding of equipment operation, service, and repair operations can be very beneficial to keeping customers up and running faster without having to involve busy mechanics or service managers if possible. As the front-line employees of the business the inside sales rep can help get a customer out of the yard faster if they notice and can fix a simple problem while helping a customer load up a piece of equipment. In addition, the ability to provide quality safe instructions for equipment operation and routine maintenance checks is very helpful. They can also help troubleshoot service calls over the phone some of which they can easily solve without a service call needed by asking the right questions. For example, perhaps on a busy spring Saturday morning a homeowner comes in to rent the last power washer and while the counter person steps outside to demonstrate safe operating instructions the pull cord breaks while starting the machine. If the counter person can replace the cord without waiting for a mechanic to be free the customer can get home and begin their project much faster and the inside sales person can head back to the counter sooner. Additionally, if that same customer gets home and calls the rental store because the power washer will not start, good inside sales teams understand how to try and troubleshoot problems over the phone by asking questions and guiding customers through step-by-step instructions to correct operator error or simple machine faults without involving the time-consuming task of involving the service department.
Despite the best attempts of showing the customer how to use the machine, perhaps in the haste of repairing the broken pull-cord and rushing home the customer simply forgot to turn the power switch to the on position that was hidden under the gas tank or open the fuel valve. The same principle holds true for service calls that may come in on the jobsite such as an early morning call for a scissor lift that won’t move because it turns out it was not charged the night before or a generator not running because it is out of fuel. Simple problems that can be avoided but are common to the rental world. Any time saved by a good inside sales team goes a long way as a win for everyone.
Whereas some larger regional and national companies have integrated centralized dispatch services with dedicated personnel, many rental companies still assign the task of dispatching to an inside sales person. This requires additional multi-tasking and organizational skills beyond inside sales but is still typically viewed as a basic rental counter function. Dispatching in itself is multi-faceted. The best dispatchers know how to prioritize loads and other tasks. They are good at working with their drivers and understanding their needs, personalities, and unique skill sets as individuals. Dispatchers also have to develop and rely on their own understanding of equipment and trucking knowledge, knowing what equipment can and cannot fit on a truck together. Additionally, knowing how long it should take to accomplish a delivery or task is vital to estimating correct delivery times and planning throughout the day. In planning trips, GPS and online mapping tools are great but good old-fashioned map reading skills always comes in handy. A good understanding of DOT rules and regulations are also beneficial for dispatchers to comprehend and stay up to date of any changes. This helps to plan deliveries but also to help manage drivers and keep everyone safe and running legally. Good dispatchers also work well with the outside sales reps and are both flexible and creative to handle unique situations or to handle unexpected urgent matters which happen practically on a daily basis. Communication once again is key and having the sense of urgency to be proactive especially when things are not going as planned to let everyone know the game plan - most importantly the customer.
Above almost any other characteristic, many managers would simplify the key characteristics of a rock-star inside sales rep to come down to having a strong work ethic, a willingness to learn and a positive attitude of just helping out the team as needed. A rookie counter person with an intense desire to succeed by service to others, being dependable and taking ownership of the counter and showroom are traits that will contribute to the success of the business and to the success of their own career. The best, brightest, most welcoming showrooms have a great team caring for them. Even the greenest of rookies with zero equipment knowledge can deliver a big smile and warm welcome to customers as they come through the door and call on the phone. An inside sales person with a competitive desire to be the best, taking pride in a job well done, helping other people internally and externally, making sales, being a good teammate, and working safely while continuously learning, can create their own map for a career path for success to develop into one of the best rental pros.
Daniel McCoy, MBA, is a business teacher and owner of McCoy Consulting serving the rental industry out of Raleigh, N.C. Please visit his website at http://mccoyconsulting.weebly.com/.