“In 1985 I started out in sales but it was a completely different world then. In fact, few people can remember those good old days.” Retiring after 38 years in the industry, seasoned salesperson Daniel Vanhemelrijck shares his perspective on how the sales game has changed over the last four decades.
Even though my start was only 38 years ago, reflecting now it seems like the Middle Ages. I wonder how a young salesperson of today would perform under the same circumstances.
The way of working was totally different. I got my first 10 kg mobile device in 1988. So no mobile phones, no smart phones with their apps and pictures. No laptops, not even a computer, as I only started using a desktop computer in 1997. And of course no world wide web, which only came a few years later.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed it from day one. Even though I still feel very young, inside, reality shows I am getting old after all.
The first 15 years of my career, working as a young salesman at the local level in Belgium, was when I learned to understand the needs of the customers and tried to meet their expectations.
I started out in 1985 working for the Hyster brand, when Barlow Handling opened its new premise in the Port of Antwerp. After two years I went to work for Clark for more than a decade. I then followed a former colleague from Hyster to the Yale dealership in Belgium for another couple of years.
In 1999, head-hunters contacted me to become sales manager Belgium for the TCM brand, but after some problems with the company I left for TVH to become manager for Daewoo forklifts.
Thanks to Pascal Vanhalst I could later join the European headquarters of Daewoo in 2002 (later Doosan Daewoo in 2005 and Doosan in 2007).
Finally I joined Cesab forklifts, part of the Toyota group, in late 2015 to promote the brand in several European countries, of which Belgium and the Netherlands were the main territories.
Much has changed during my time in the industry.
When I started there was less competition, with only the classic brands on the market being Hyster, Yale, Clark, Caterpillar, Towmotor, Still/Esslingen and Linde. The Japanese brands only came into Europe in the sixties, when we saw the introduction of Toyota, TCM, Mitsubishi and Datsun/Nissan.
Later, in the nineties, the Korean brands came with Daewoo, now Doosan or Bobcat, Hyundai and Samsung, now Clark. Then in 2011 at CeMAT Hannover another industry transition arrived, marked by a complete hall being dedicated to newcomer China.
In the early days there were way less warehouse trucks, Europe was not yet big in warehouses and logistics companies like we are today.
Many brands, including those I worked for in my earlier career, did not bother at all about power pallet trucks or stackers. The Japanese and Korean brands did not bring warehouse trucks, for the exception of Nichiyu maybe.
Nowadays the big four fight for every truck to keep their market share and every truck is welcome. A stacker being much cheaper and easier to sell but counting for one unit after all. Recently we have seen the big four promoting entry power pallet trucks for same reason.
In 1985 price was the number one key buying factor. Nowadays it’s different. As well as price, much more attention goes to parts and service. To be successful the different divisions have to work together. When you look at the world forklift manufacturer ranking, the companies on top are not the cheapest ones, but the ones which can offer a total package for their customers: Toyota; Linde; and Jungheinrich.
Throughout my career I have found that to be successful in sales you have to be a chameleon. You have to be confident with both deciders and users.
A salesperson must show the customer he wants to sell the truck, beginning with the operators when you perform a demo, and ending with the CEO when signing the contract.
Especially today, unlike earlier in my career, forklift operators have more say about the decision than the deciders themselves.
I have found the key is to first convince the operator before then focusing on signing the contract.
That’s how, as a young salesman, I managed to sell 32 units at a transport company working for Ford cars in Genk, Belgium, in 1989 I believe.
I still see some major brands today select their sales force for their ability to convince management, but these salespeople do not feel confident at all when facing the operators.
Of course, technology has changed everything for sales professionals. In the past when a company need a truck they contacted three, four or more companies, or had a look at their neighbour. Nowadays they get on the web and select a number of potential suppliers.
I see two problems here. Firstly, and especially for used trucks, prices appear everywhere and tend to put the prices/profit under pressure. Secondly, purchasers do not hesitate to buy from the other side of Europe, not caring too much about service and parts supply, which is more and more important nowadays.
After 38 years in the materials handling industry I will surely miss the job. I have made many friends amongst my colleagues.
But all good things come to an end, and after almost four decades in the materials handling business I happily retired on 29 September, 2023.
Daniel’s four commandments for salespeople
- Know your product(s), show the customer you are a professional and know what you are selling, no matter what age you are, even before an experienced old guy!
- Show your passion to the customer, from operator to CEO.
- Sell your products, do not sell a price! In time, when the sweetness of a low price is forgotten, it will be the availability of parts and service that will become their main priority.
- DO NOT - never! speak negatively about your competitors.