Attendance at the Associated Equipment Distributors meeting serves as a strong indication of how good – or bad – dealers are feeling about the year ahead. The annual meeting just concluded in Las Vegas was no different: Attendance was up, as were first-time CONDEX exhibitors.
The cherry on top: Several in attendance at AED Summit – both dealers and manufacturers – said that 2018 sales were starting off strong.
Times are good right now, but boy, most of us in this industry can remember when they were awful. For example, compare the attendance list of the just-past AED event to that of the 2009 or 2010 program. During the time when the Great Recession was still the major topic of discussion, many dealers had only one representative attending the event … if they attended at all. This year, several dealers sent four or more representatives.
The survivors are starting to be the thrivers, as you’ll hear in that best of all information-gathering setting: the table top. Everyone’s got to eat; eating relaxes people, and the stories start to flow. We heard about dealers converting from being an OEM representative to selling used equipment only, and doing good business. About savvy dealer principals grabbing opportunities to take on OEM territories in surrounding states, and creating a unique corporate culture in the process. About a manufacturer forming young-leader dealer peer groups, intent on getting the communication – and ideas – flowing within this critical component of its brand’s future.
Since Equipment World started its weekly Big Iron Dealer newsletter more than a year ago, our editorial staff has placed special emphasis on the Summit’s educational sessions. Ranging from the impact of the new tax reform legislation to how to recruit and keep young leaders, these sessions gave us several nuggets, including the following:
▶Daniel Fisher, AED’s vice president of government affairs, led a discussion on what the 2018 tax code will mean to dealers: “There’s some uncertainty in this bill, but overall it’s good for distributors, their customers and manufacturers.” Other insights: A provision providing a fairly significant deduction – 20 percent – on pass-through income for businesses was key because a substantial number of AED members are structured as pass-throughs. Construction equipment dealers will be able to take advantage of full expensing, for both new and used equipment, under the new legislation.
▶Jill Berg, Spherion Staffing, on the emerging workforce: “Ten thousand Baby Boomers are now retiring every day. Millennials are now 50 percent of the workforce, and one third are now managers. Referrals continue to be the most effective source for attracting talent.” Other tips: Use Facebook to show off your culture, and make it fun. Talk about your culture in the interview process. Once you have a new employee on board, train them in problem solving, interpersonal relationships and how to understand and interpret data.
▶Larry Kaye, Script International, on the case for hiring a rental manager: “Rental equipment is an asset, and one way to be more profitable is to make your assets work harder. You cannot get this through new or used machine sales, nor will you be able to sell your way to more gross profit.” Additional tips: Rental fleet utilization is usually not tied to the pay of a sales manager, who’s more concerned with sales volume and margins. Detail what you would have a rental manager be responsible for, and have him work in concert with your sales manager.
▶Troy Harrison, Troy Harrison International, on the importance of dealer salespeople asking good questions: “Product knowledge is not king today; it’s customer knowledge. One of the most important skills in selling is the ability to ask great questions. One of the best ways to do this is to ask open-ended questions, that cannot be answered by a yes or no. The worst question is the one you don’t ask.” Other tips: Use both big-picture questions (where the company has been, how it plans to grow, current goals) and small-picture questions (who do they buy from, how well are they being serviced, what kind of technical advice do they get?).
▶David Kohar, Edgewater Fullscope, on customer relationship management: “Dealers only have so much time in front of customers to make a difference, so do something awesome. Customers want the dealer to know enough about their business so that they can put it into an ROI context. They want to know how what you offer is going to help them run their business better. Customers want someone to actually teach them something. By taking a 360-degree account management view, you’ll not only have their profile information, but all of their contacts, a portfolio of their equipment, warranty agreements and any related issues.” Additional tips: Set up a program that can proactively remind salespeople of the next step they need to further their relationship with customers. Reaching out before a rental contract expires can boost renewals.
▶Brian Shanahan, president, Shanahan Strategy, on how dealers can modernize their market strategy: “Dealers must identify and research ‘buyer personas,’ delving into what is important to that person so they can better engage with them.” These buyer personas examine who your ideal buyers are by key segment, what their most pressing questions and problems are, and lead you to further understand what makes them tick.
This is the kind of information that offers dealers a chance to reflect on – and perhaps reset or adjust – their own operations.
We’re constantly telling our contractor readers that there’s no better time than now to make their dealer a true business partner. While it’s still true that dealers absolutely want to influence a contractor’s buy, dealers now know they have to dig deep into their client’s operation to even be under consideration. It’s the kind of win-win situation that propels both businesses forward.