Anybody responsible for equipment purchases in their company knows it’s a thankless task. If an owner of your own business, you want to know you’re getting a good deal with what you want. But that requires you to talk to and get pricing from competing vendors, some of whom you don’t like. Those vendors then get their hopes up and begin the process of bugging you in person or by phone until a decision is made. If you’re a manager responsible for leading this task, you have to deal with owners and operators, and for industrial managers – department heads, facility management, purchasing, corporate purchasing and maybe even several vice-presidents or a president who all have an opinion on various matters surrounding that purchase before you can issue an order. And on top of all that, you have to deal with the same pushy salesmen. One of them talks too much. One of them always wants to go to lunch. One of them doesn’t know much about their product but always has a really low price. But one of them asks a lot of questions. Pay close attention to that guy.
Change is always happening in this fast-paced technological world, not only with the equipment itself, but with your operations. Maybe load sizes have increased or decreased compared to the last time you bought 10 years ago. Maybe your current equipment sometimes plays too big or too small where you need it. Maybe there are more safety concerns now compared to then. Maybe what you have now works ok, but maybe there’s something better. Don’t just say “give me another one of those”, or “I need a replacement for a model XYZ”. Make the salesman earn your business by acting like you don’t know what you need. If the first thing he asks is, “well, what are you using now,” you’ve got a real go-getter there. What does he really understand about your operation that he would be qualified to sell you anything?
So let’s say we have a salesman asking questions and his first one isn’t about what you’re running now. He wants to know the job it does, the volume, load capacity, work capacity it needs to produce. He wants to know how comfortable you want to make your operators. He wants to know the ground conditions of where this machine is being operated. He wants to know what safety items are important. All or some of this may have changed over these last several years and maybe what he saw working on your worksite or in the yard isn’t what you need now. If he’s taking notes instead of gawking at the girl in the next office, you should put whatever he finally recommends at the top of the list. Maybe he can’t answer your questions or make a recommendation right there, but his notes will speak to the best minds in his dealership for you.
Beware the salesman who happens to have his recommended machine on his lot. Chances are it’s something he is being tasked to move for the dealership and one he gets a little extra bonus from if he sells it. Ask him to list the reasons why it’s the best choice. I have seen wheel loaders and material handlers working on sites that made no sense for the application – too small, too big, wrong tires, wrong attachment. First thing I wanted to know was who sold it to them. But sometimes it’s also the owner or the manager who’s at fault – needed a Ford 350 to do the job but at a 150 price so bought a 250 instead; needed that larger machine tire on a smaller machine to get the price down but now have constant transmission problems; needed that machine to do something it wasn’t designed to do but didn’t want to pay extra for one that would and now never seem to get a warranty claim paid. I could go on, but you get the picture.
Dealers do their best to know their customers and their targets through tremendous data gathering and observation in various industries in their region. Maybe they do have exactly what you need on site. But if they don’t, wait for the RIGHT machine, not just something that will do because you can get it faster. If you need it fast, either something failed dramatically or it was a lack of planning. Planning is part of every owners’ or managers’ routine. Planning equipment purchases is financially and operationally critical. It is more long range and can include a lot of people. Early in that planning process, interview vendors about their current business climate. Understand what lead times are on special equipment and what they might be in the future. Tip them off to your possible timeline. It doesn’t obligate you. But it does set you up to make a better decision at the right time to get what you need and what will work for now and the years to come.
So next time you have the time, and an equipment salesman on a cold call is sitting in the lobby, give him a few minutes of your time. You may not be in the market now, but you can direct the conversation and learn a lot in a short period of time. He may just start you on a path to something that solves a current or future problem.