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Elevator Sales 101

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Building a team of top-notch “Sellavators”

In Minnesota, there is a story about the owner of a lumber supply house that specialized in exotic and hard-to-find woods. As his business grew, demand for his time took away from the time he needed to develop new business. One of his employees, who knew as much as he did about the company’s products, volunteered repeatedly to be his salesman. The owner was reluctant because, as knowledgeable as this man was, he lacked education and experience. But, since the owner had not yet hired a salesman, and, out of desperation, he sent the man out to see potential customers. At the end of the week, the man returned with two sizeable orders. The owner congratulated him, and the new salesman remarked, “Yesterday, I couldn’t spell salesman, and today, I are one.”

What is the moral to this story? Actually, there are several. For one, the employee had tremendous product knowledge and, secondly, possessed a passion for what he was doing. Passion is a powerful motivator: the person who is most successful has a passion for his or her occupation and is generally the happiest at work, regardless of whether he is janitor or vice president. However, finding experienced sales personnel who understand the industry’s products is one of the problems elevator contractors face today. Many companies were started by elevator technicians with nothing more than a couple of service accounts and a lot of chutzpah. With this in mind, this article deals with the state of sales in our industry – specifically, hiring, educating and managing a sales force.

Passion is a powerful motivator: the person who is most successful has a passion for his or her occupation and is generally the happiest at work, regardless of whether he or she is a janitor or vice president.

The elevator industry is comprised of contractors of every size and description. Contractors – the industry’s lifeblood – build, modernize, service and repair passenger and freight elevators, escalators, moving walks, dumbwaiters and limited use/limited access solutions. Dependent on these contractors are suppliers, consultants, state and local legal entities, lawyers and a host of other business enterprises that sell to them. A contractor’s success hinges on several factors, including whether it:

  • Sells a quality product
  • Provides superior support and service
  • Offers competitive pricing
  • Possesses an innovative and industrious management team with vision and motivation
  • Has an aggressive marketing department
  • Is involved 100% in the success of the industry as a whole And, above all,
  • Possesses high moral and ethical standards

Does that describe your company? Famed business management guru Peter Drucker reduced the elements of a company to what he considered its two most important components: marketing and innovation, which, in essence, amount to winning new customers and finding new and better ways to serve them.

To keep pace in a very competitive and technologically challenging world, marketing requires vision.

Marketing in the 21st century is a challenge, in that it does not have the same function as it did just a short while ago. In fact, it is in a state of flux. To keep pace in a very competitive and technologically challenging world, marketing requires vision. Marketing today should include website management, creative advertising blasts and research, among other things. Time management in marketing has become a science in and of itself, and it is incumbent upon members of a sales force to manage their time around technology.

This brings us to the topic of achieving success in sales. To be successful, a good salesperson must possess:

  • Good organizational skills
  • Self-motivation
  • Sales knowledge
  • Product knowledge
  • A pleasant personality
  • A strong work ethic
  • Attention to detail
  • Thick skin

I would like to add he or she must also have a modicum of common sense, and be equipped with the latest electronic tools, such as smart phones, laptops, PCs with the latest sales-management software and printers with faxing and scanning capability. Since I do not like writing “salesperson,” and to be gender neutral, I have coined the term “sellavator” to refer to a salesperson in the elevator industry. Hence, “sellavator” will replace “salesperson” for the remainder of this article.

To build a sales staff, a manager may opt to hire an experienced sellavator, a professional salesperson with no elevator experience or a person with no sales or elevator experience. Today, most contractors hire professional salespeople who have no idea how elevators work or what they are made of, and then must educate them. There is nothing wrong with this approach. Ideally, one would hire a sellavator, but there simply are not enough knowledgeable ones out there.

When I first started in elevator-contractor sales, I had been working as a licensed elevator technician. Because I also had sales and sales-management experience, the owner of the small elevator company for which I worked recruited me into sales with a fair proposition. It worked out well for both of us, mostly because I was productive and required little supervision. This represented an ideal (but, unfortunately, rare) situation. It is possible you have a technician working for you with this ambition, and that you may give him or her an opportunity in sales if your company’s budget and policy allow it. This story is not meant to pin a rose on me, but to point out a sales department with as much elevator-product knowledge as possible will increase production exponentially, and in turn ensure sellavators are equipped to do their jobs with little supervision and be rewarded accordingly.

Since most sellavators, when hired, have little product knowledge, a sales manager must know not only how to manage a sales force, but possess sufficient elevator knowledge to answer questions. Generally, sales managers do yeoman’s work (selling, managing, planning, training, handing public relations, and so on). In other words, they wear a lot of hats. To add chaos to confusion, there are different classifications of elevator sales, such as service, repair, modernization and new construction. Each has become a specialty of its own, and, in many cases, has its own sales manager (construction sales, service sales, repair sales etc.) For these reasons, careful planning and time management are imperative for a sales manager to reach goals. Though the amount to learn may seem overwhelming, product knowledge and sales management are, nonetheless, keys to making sales in this industry. The question then becomes how to incorporate product education into sales planning, and where to obtain that information.

Though the amount to learn may seem overwhelming, product knowledge and sales management are, nonetheless, keys to making sales in this industry.

Our industry is steeped in elevator-product education, both at the national and local levels. Among sources offering programs are the National Association of Elevator Contractors, local elevator contractor associations, governmental agencies, ELEVATOR WORLD magazine and many others. Product seminars provided by suppliers represent one of the more effective educational tools available to contractors. Most suppliers are glad to provide seminars on how their products work, what problems could occur and how to fix them. Old timers out in the field who are continually educating younger technicians, especially about older equipment, are another, often overlooked, source. They possess a wealth of information, and one way to utilize this information is for a sales manager to interview a technician about his experiences. The manager could then present the information as part of a sales meeting. Most importantly, such information will give the sellavator another notch in his or her knowledge belt. The one constant is the continual need for product information. No one in this trade knows everything.

Our industry is constantly evolving. Older equipment will eventually be replaced, but the reality is there is a lot of older equipment out there still functioning. What this means for the sales department and the sellavator is they must recognize what this equipment is and how it works before writing an estimate for service, repair or modernization. One example is a motor-generator’s (m-g’s) power supply, which is being replaced with a solid-state power supply. There are still thousands of functioning m-gs around that require service and repair. Fortunately, there are companies that still provide parts and equipment to keep this old stuff running. Modernization sales departments are always on the lookout for older equipment to replace, but this very equipment also represents a good opportunity to educate sellavators on how this old stuff works, and how to repair or service it. The customer is best served when the sellavator can explore with him the best options for fixing, replacing or modernizing old equipment.

The one constant is the continual need by everyone for product information. No one in this trade knows everything.

Putting things into perspective, you (the contractor) will get the most judicious use of your marketing dollar from sales when you put together a sales plan that educates and puts people out on the street (so to speak), so they produce for the company as soon as possible. What I call the meat and potatoes of sales rests with the sales manager, who manages sales and/or a sales force. He or she feeds information to marketing and management to win new customers, retain old ones, and, equally important, identify new and better ways to serve customers. The sales manager’s job is to motivate and mold members of a sales team into sellavators by regularly providing interesting and informative meetings. Such meetings could include educational seminars provided by suppliers and/or someone with expertise in a particular area, lessons on the science of selling (motivation, making phone appointments, sales follow up, sales presentations, etc.) or roundtables during which people share recent selling experiences. Naturally, the sales manager is also responsible for ensuring sellavators manage their time effectively, and offering help in cases where it is needed.

I hope this broadside, at the very least, prompted enough questions to motivate you to find out if your sales department has all the right ingredients working for it to achieve company objectives. Selling is a science, of sorts, and should be treated with respect and rewarded since it is the basic tool of communication in every conversation and every transaction.                                            

I could elaborate forever on selling techniques, sales management and psychology, but I am reminded of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, in which Sawyer went to church with US$5 in his pocket he had earned white-washing fences. As the preacher began with the sermon, Tom Sawyer was so impressed, he thought, “I am going to [put] the whole five dollars I have in the collection basket.”  But as the preacher went on and on, he thought “Well, maybe I will just give a dollar.” But the sermon continued. When the collection plate finally came around, Tom took US$0.50 out of the collection tray. Sometimes less is more. I bid you adieu!

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