Successful sales is about managing people

Building relationships make for better sales people

A new truck grill was getting some negative attention on sales lots, Steven Zwinggi says, and an intern wanted to prove its strength to potential customers.

So he punched it.

Zwinggi, vice president of Peterbilt truck sales at Rush Truck Centers, was evaluating videos of contestants for the Rush Tech Skills Rodeo, which includes sales competitions. The intern didn’t make the cut, but Zwinggi says he’s seen salespeople with less than a year under their belts make the walkaround finals.

With sales, he pointed out, it’s not always about the experience.

“It’s definitely a DNA thing,” he says. And while punching isn’t required, some things are.

Characteristics of a top salesperson

Bay State Truck and Trailer in Rehoboth, Mass., sells and services new and used trailers, including tank trailers, and trailer parts.

Sales Manager Erik Hoskins says good salespeople have a variety of skills, most of which, as Zwinggi says, come with the person. He says the best salespeople are eager, compassionate, goal-oriented, confident, aggressive, intelligent, humble and empathetic.

“The words I used are characteristics that cannot be taught. They are either inherent or they need to be improved and sometimes honed,” Hoskins says.

Jake Greenwood is a salesperson at RDO Truck Center’s Fargo, N.D., location. RDO sells new and used trucks and trailers at 10 locations across Iowa, North Dakota and Nebraska.

He says great sales professionals consistently are honest, customer-focused and driven, all things that play into the strength of the salesperson-customer relationship.

“The best salespeople are the ones who can consistently create touchpoints with customers,” Greenwood says. “They understand losing a sale now does not mean you have lost the next one. They need to see things from multiple views. They need to understand the customer may not always see things the way they do. By being able to put themselves in their customers’ shoes, they can better understand a customer’s frustrations or needs.”

John McCollum, Isuzu salesman for Housby in Des Moines, Iowa, is known for his customer service skills. He was a finalist for the 2020 Mack Service Lane MVP award and won the 2019 Isuzu Service Walk Around Competition. 

"I have the attitude that I'm not just trying to sell them a truck as much as I want to help them buy one," he says. "I always want to be the truck expert, to know their needs and help their business. Be a resource and expect nothing in return. This goes a long ways down the road." 

Teaching moments

There are some things salespeople need to learn. Such as their products, which, like at Bay State, are often niche markets unlike any other.

 “Product knowledge is paramount. You can never know too much about the product you represent,” Hoskins says. “If the person is selling tanks like we do, HM-183 inspection training and even on-the-job mechanic work is important so the sales rep can specific the correct new or used equipment to the job at hand.”

One of McCollum's strongest markets is landscape and delivery vehicles. He says he stays on top of industry changes and body products such as liftgates or new truck bodies. For example, he says a good sales professional would know if landscape bodies will be available early enough in the year for companies to purchase and have the truck fitted out before work starts in earnest in the spring. 

Rush uses product training as part of its compensation program for its sales force, Zwinggi says, which now has levels similar to the way the company ranks its technicians. He says Rush takes advantage of OEM training and also does conducts webinars to keep its sales staff up to date.

“The world around us is changing all the time,” Greenwood says. “If we expect to find continued success, we need to not only understand these changes but adapt to them as well.”

Hoskins recommends manufacturer training as a great way for sales pros to stay on top of evolving technology. Knowing how the equipment is built and works will enable better customer service, which in turn leads to more sales.

“The best salespeople understand their customers’ needs and wants even before the customer might because of the close relationships the sales rap should have with their customer base,” Hoskins says.

Knowledge also builds confidence.

“Confidence is a key trait of successful sales professionals,” Greenwood says. “Many people can often seem unsure of themselves when presenting a sales pitch. Customers are going to have a tough time feeling confident they are making a strong purchase decision if the sales professional does not seem sure of the product themselves.”

Selling in a flat year

Analysts and insiders see 2024 as flat or near-flat, at best, for the commercial truck market. Sales in that type of environment can be tough, especially when compared to the bonanza of the pandemic years, when everyone was flush with cash and freight demand skyrocketed.

[RELATED: Private fleets to stimulate 2024 pre-buy activity]

“You’re going to have to make sure your sales force is tuned up,” Rush Truck Centers CEO Rusty Rush said at the Rush Tech Rodeo in December . “I worry we’ve forgotten how to go to market myself.”

The relationships Hoskins talked about can help a sales team in a less-than-stellar year.

“Get out on the road and shake hands,” he advises. “Thank your customers for the trust they have already shown in you and be sure the customer knows you will be there through the slow times to help solve equipment needs.”

McCollum says to remember you're not just there for trucks. Customers also need service, maintenance and repair. 

"I want to be a resource for my customers when things or good or when they are not," he says. "This may be helping to get their trucks in for service, helping them value their trucks if they need to sell them, educating them on what options they may have to convert their truck to something more sellable or useful to them if business changes." 

Greenwood adds cultivating interests beyond just heavy-duty trucking can not only build relationships but create a lasting relationship, even friendship, that’s fruitful for both parties.

“I try to find common interests with all my customers. Many times, I can use these common interests while reaching out,” he says. “Finding any opportunity to get yourselves in front of your customers during a down market must be taken.”

One of those opportunities is seeing if your customers want to sell rather than buy.

“This shows the customer you are actually a partner in business, not just a hit-and-run sales rep,” Hoskins says. “A sales rep has many connections that could possibly use a piece of equipment another customer doesn’t need.”

Learn how to move your used trucks faster
With unsold used inventory depreciating at a rate of more than 2% monthly, efficient inventory turnover is a must for dealers. Download this eBook to access proven strategies for selling used trucks faster.
Used Truck Guide Cover