Canadian Rental Service

Editorial: Service sells

Patrick Flannery   

Features Business Intelligence

In my experience, “service first” is the only approach that works.

A recent conversation with an equipment dealer who shall remain nameless brought back to me some hard lessons learned in my previous life as a CNC machine tool salesperson. My friend was describing his frustration with his OEM, which has been, in his view, pulling back from its support for its Canadian operations and making it harder for him to obtain the inventory, parts and service he needs. Now, I have yet to meet the independent dealer who is happy with everything his suppliers do, but for the purposes of this column we’ll assume everything he was saying is accurate. This particular case aside, it’s certainly not unheard of for a manufacturer to lose focus on the day-to-day needs of serving a market in favour of trimming costs or restructuring how things are done for greater efficiency. These moves frequently follow the promotion of a new executive eager to put their stamp on a few quarters of strong financials before moving on the next promotion. The better to pad the bonus, you see.

When you are new to sales, as I was in 1996, you get a narrative about the magical things a good salesperson can accomplish. Selling ice cubes to Inuit is just the beginning. Using your dogged determination; your rhinoceros-like thick skin; your 24/7 work hours; and your charm, wit and cunning, you can get overcome any obstacle to get rich. Only a lack of one or more of these qualities can possibly lie behind any failure. Just look at Tom over here who once set the regional sales record selling a machine with no power supply.

I guess that’s what you have to tell the youngsters. But the fact is, customers are not entirely dumb, especially in B2B sales. After grinding away in the mode above for 10 years with three different companies, I figured a couple things out. (Yes, I am a slow learner.) First, the product is important. Your life with a good product is a lot better. This is because customers have the ability to discern a good product, even through multiple layers of bullshit. Especially after they’ve actually used it. And, of course, they talk to one another. Poison the well with shady sales of bad product and sooner or later you run out of suckers. As an old salesman once told me, the companies he represents can come and go, but the people he serves have to be there for him for the rest of his life. So latching on to a solid product to sell is critical.

But then there’s the fact that there are only so many great products to sell and there is often not a lot of difference between the various brands. Or each brands’ strengths in one area are offset by weaknesses in another. Now service enters the picture. My second big lesson learned was that people will put up with a lot if they get great service. Conversely, they will almost always be unhappy even with the best product on Earth if the service is poor. My epiphany on that point came after I was beaten on a few bids by a lower-quality product. How? Well, the company selling that product had a service truck in my territory that was loaded up with commonly needed parts and available to roll to a down machine at a moment’s notice. I was ordering parts from factories in the U.S. and waiting for them to be shipped across the border.


That won’t come as any great revelation to anyone in the rental industry. We’ve always understood that service is the key to everything. Just look at the name of this magazine. But it’s a point that equipment manufacturers can sometimes lose sight of. When they do, they do so at their peril. 


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