Face-to-face interaction, proper training are critical.
It’s time to check in again with Generation Y.
So, I interviewed a wholesaler (Stephen Smith, an inside salesperson right here at Metropolitan Pipe), a contractor (Jameson Buckley, assistant project manager for mechanical contractor Thomas G. Gallagher) and a manufacturers rep (Chris Gooding of David Gooding Co.) about experiences in their particular industry.
After talking with these Gen Y’ers, I was surprised in the similarity of their answers. In a future column, I’ll dig deeper into some of their answers and address any response to this article.
Josh Brown: What do you feel was the biggest hurdle for you when you started in the industry?
Jameson Buckley: When I first started in construction my biggest hurdle was my knowledge of the field. I think you can only learn so much from a college or training course, but it takes a lot of learning from men in the field to really begin to know what you’re installing.
Stephen Smith: Product knowledge. After working in the warehouse, you become familiar with what you stock and it gets easier to pick something up and know what it is. Customers often are looking for something similar to or a substitute for something you may never have seen.
Chris Gooding: From the rep standpoint I don’t believe we have many avenues of training salespeople other than a couple product catalogues, an account list and a “good luck” slap on the back. Learning product, pricing, buying groups, who to call on, etc., is something we figure out with experience as time goes on. It is very difficult in the beginning to remain patient and persistent. Looking back though, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
JB: What is most important to you when dealing with a customer or a vendor?
Jameson Buckley: The most important thing with customers is making sure at the end of the day they are happy and content with the job you are performing for them. I really like to review and fully understand our scope of work and their expectations so there are little to no hiccups as the job continues. That leads into the most important thing when dealing with a vendor — pricing. Pricing always is an important part, but the main focus is the scope of items we are purchasing matches up with the plans and specifications provided. At the end of the day both the vendor and TG Gallagher own the job per plans and specifications.
Steve Smith: Having a satisfactory answer. Sometimes price is the most important thing on a call and what they end up buying is based largely on that. Sometimes a good solution is more important and the customer would rather know what they are buying is the best solution. As far as vendors go, I prefer knowing what information my customer is looking for prior to making the call. That avoids phone tag looking for more information from the customer.
Chris Gooding: There are so many critical pieces in building a good relationship with a customer and a vendor. We all experience the same or very similar struggles. Proving to customers and vendors that we care and truly want to partner with them to grow all our businesses is extremely important and it’s what we strive for. The experiences we have in growing a relationship are fun. It is what we do and what we enjoy.
JB: How do you think technology is going to continue to change the face of the industry?
Jameson Buckley: As technology continues to improve, the greatest change to the industry will be communication between the general contractor, subcontractors, vendors and foremen. The easier it is to send and receive plans, submittals, changes and RFIs from the general contractor to the field will drastically cut downtime or delays in work.
Steve Smith: Technology seems to make things faster and faster. Simple things such as talking to vendors or emailing a quote or cut sheet simplify the entire process. I’m not sure how much faster things can get because a lot of things are now instant (live inventory checking, online vendor inventory checking, instant quotes via email, etc.). What probably will be more noticeable is the increasing number of customers who can use existing technology. A lot of them can’t and they end up making a trip down to the store.
Chris Gooding: We try to maintain a healthy balance of introducing technology and continuing to grow the personal relationship with customers and manufacturers. We recently outfitted our sales group with iPads and internally download presentations so they are automatically uploaded onto the individual iPads. We believe our greatest asset is the people we work with on a day-to-day basis. We try to take as many obstacles out of their job as possible and have them do what they do best — sell.
JB: Do you find meeting customers or vendors in person strengthens the work relationship?
Jameson Buckley: I find meeting in person absolutely strengthens the work relationship. It makes you feel a bit more comfortable with a vendor when you can put a face to a name, instead of just a voice on the phone.
Steve Smith: Of course it does, if not for the sake of having a name with a face. A lot of times you speak with a customer on the phone for long periods before ever meeting them.
Chris Gooding: Absolutely, no question. The technology we use every day has improved so dramatically that it sometimes makes it too easy not to meet in person, which is unfortunate.
JB: What advice would you give someone just starting in the business?
Jameson Buckley: My biggest piece of advice would be to utilize your foreman in the field to really gain an insight on the system you are installing. Your foreman has been taking these drawings and bringing them to life in the field. It’s good to gain their advice and knowledge on the system so you really understand what you are installing.
Steve Smith: Don’t be afraid to ask questions. There are a lot of things to learn in this industry. You don’t need to know it all. You just need to know where to find it.
Chris Gooding: People appreciate honesty. If you don’t know the answer, don’t make one up. Tell them you are not sure, but you will find out. Be upfront and honest. People remember these things in the short term and more importantly in the long term.
JB: Is there anything you wish someone told you when you first started?
Jameson Buckley: Timelines, critical dates and deadlines are crucial to any and all projects we do, so to really get your time-management skills fine-tuned beforehand will be critical to anyone starting in this industry.
Steve Smith: Nothing that I didn’t hear. For the most part, people seem good about remembering what it was like for them learning the industry and they pass on any wisdom they can.
Chris Gooding: I was fortunate to get a lot of great advice from a lot of good people. One thing I wish I did more of when I started, and I certainly do a lot now, is ask questions. People have an inherent fear of asking a “stupid” question. That needs to be overlooked.
Josh Brown: There you have it. What really stands out to me is the importance of meeting in person and the importance of training people when they’re first starting out. Product knowledge is incredibly important in this business and it seems to be the biggest hurdle no matter what side of the industry you’re on.