A Tale of Two Generations

A Tale of Two GenerationsTwo generations of sales professionals talk about the craft of selling.

The differences between the generations in the work force have been well documented. But, surely, those differences don’t transfer over to the gases and welding sales force, do they? Salespeople are salespeople, right? Well, think again. GAWDA Edge tracked down six salespeople–three veterans and three relative newcomers–to find out what makes them tick.

The Younger Point of View
The members of the younger generation interviewed for this story are extremely excited about their jobs. Ambitious, professional and confident, they have big plans for the future. But they know that getting there is going to take dedication and learning. A perfect example of this is Zach Grey, territory manager at nexAir (Memphis, TN). Before Grey went out on the road to visit customers, he spent the better part of a year learning the industry through an intensive training program at nexAir. “I started out on the dock, unloading pallets. Then I worked in the plant, filling industrial and medical gases before I moved on to purchasing. After that, I worked in our local branches. I worked in every department to develop a detailed understanding of our products and processes that I could pass on to our customers.”

But it takes more than ambition and training to be a good salesperson. Facing a much older and more experienced customer can be intimidating. That’s especially true when that customer knows more than you. Grey says, “When talking to an experienced welding foreman or a president who may be 30 years older than me, I can’t waltz in and earn his respect right away. Over time, I have to prove myself and gain his trust.”

Cale Harris, territory manager at nexAir, says that age should never determine the outcome of a sale. “Regardless of whether you cook at a restaurant, mow lawns or sell welding equipment and gases, if you are on time to your appointments and follow through on your word, your age will not matter,” says Harris. “If you work hard and are good at what you do, you will be successful.”

For young salespeople, technology is an integral part of keeping in touch with customers. Brandi Franca, beverage sales consultant at General Air Service and Supply Company (Denver, CO), says, “My BlackBerry is my best friend. I c

ommunicate with colleagues and customers by e-mail throughout the day.” However, Franca admits there is a downside to using e-mail. “There’s a tendency among younger people to rely on technology, and it can ultimately create a disconnect with the customer. Sometimes it’s easier to send an e-mail, but interacting face-to-face with a customer is what builds the relationship. It makes a big difference,” says Franca.

Our veteran salespeople see so many things I don’t see.

Without fail, the younger professionals give credit to the experienced people for their willingness to answer questions and give advice. Says Franca, “The best resource General Air has is its experienced employees. I follow them around and pick their brains to learn as much as I can.”

“It’s amazing,” says Harris. “Our veteran salespeople see so many things I don’t see. I hope one day I will have their scope of knowledge.”

The Veterans’ Perspective
The three long-term salespeople interviewed have roughly 70 years of sales experience among them, so they have grounds to give advice. With their experience, these veterans know that it’s important to be able to adapt. Chuck Meyer, vice president of sales at Lefeld Welding & Steel Supplies (Coldwater, OH), has been to his share of sales seminars over the 13 years he’s been in the business. “There are plenty of sales seminars out there. They can be good refreshers for the sales process, but it’s important to recognize that every customer cannot be approached the same way.”

Part of adapting is embracing technology. That means making the most of computers, smart phones and the Internet. Bruce Nuttall, sales manager at Mississippi Welders Supply Company (Winona, MN), uses technology to stay on top of new products and processes. “There’s so much information right at your fingertips that wasn’t there when I started,” he says. “Online training makes it easy to learn about products and processes.”

Sean Halloran, a sales representative at Mabscott Supply (Beckley, WV), has accumulated 22 years of sales experience. “Compared with 20 years ago, it is outstanding how quickly I can get information these days. I used to spend hours trying to find products. The cost-to-benefit ratio of spending significant time looking for a $30 part is not good.”

Contrary to the belief that younger generations may have a technological advantage, our veteran salespeople have been quick to embrace the Internet as a valuable resource. Says Lefeld’s Meyer, “When I’m looking for answers quickly, GAWDAwiki is a great source of information.” Nuttall also uses online media to learn about the industry. “YouTube is a great place to see the processes in action,” he says.

Although they are on an even playing field when it comes to technology, the veterans do have one thing on their side—experience. That’s handy, particularly when faced with a sluggish marketplace, which the newcomers are likely seeing for the first time. Meyer says the economy is changing the game for sales. “With the economy still on the downslide, price is a bigger factor in the sales process for many customers.” According to Meyer, the key to fighting back in the price war is developing a relationship with the customer. “If you don’t have a relationship, all it comes down to is price,” he says. “When you develop that relationship, that’s when you can sell your service and support.”

Nuttall agrees that service is the most important part of a sale. “In order to survive and be successful, we have to focus on customer service. It’s what separates us from the competition.”

In the evolving industry that is gases and welding, veteran sales professionals admit that selling is not an exact science. But there are some universal truths, according to Meyer. “Honesty is always the best policy,” he says. “It can take years to build a relationship, but if you take advantage of a customer, that relationship will be over in ten minutes.”

No matter how much experience you have, that seems like sound advice.

Young Salespeople

Cale HarrisCale Harris
Territory Manager
nexAir (Memphis, TN)
Age: 30
Sales Experience: 4 years
Cale Harris has devoted four of his seven years at nexAir to sales. “As a salesperson, I like to talk,” he says. “There’s something to be said for knowing when it’s not your turn to talk. If you don’t listen to your customer’s needs, you’ve significantly reduced your odds of success.” So far, Harris’ astuteness has served him well. “About four years ago, I was with our sales team and we drove past a bottled water company. I suggested that stop, but the other salespeople scoffed. It wasn’t common knowledge like it is today, but I knew that nitrogen is used to make the bottles firm. We got a nice sale out of it.”
Zach GreyZach Grey
Territory Manager
nexAir (Memphis, TN)
Age: 29
Sales Experience: 3 years
Zach Grey has been with nexAir for three years. He chose the gases and welding industry because of an interest in how things are made. “I’ve always had a fascination with manufacturing and welding,” Grey says. In the time he’s been in the industry, Grey has learned that loyalty is not always what it seems. “One competitive account said he would never change suppliers and he had known the supplier rep since they were children. I walked back in three months later only to find out they aren’t using the supplier anymore. They had an altercation, and that was the end of their relationship,” he explains. “I’ve learned that things change over time. Everybody’s loyal until someone comes in with a lower price.”
Brandi FrancaBrandi Franca
Beverage Sales Consultant
General Air Service and Supply Company (Denver, CO)
Age: 27
Sales Experience: 5 years
Brandi Franca recently came to General Air with five years of sales experience. She specializes in carbon dioxide and nitrogen sales for the restaurant industry. To learn, she takes every chance she can to learn from General Air’s cryo-techs. “I am a girl who is not afraid to grab a wrench and get my hands dirty,” she says. “The best way to learn is to jump in and get hands-on.” Being in outside sales, Franca uses her BlackBerry to stay connected. “I wake up to e-mails and voicemails. My phone keeps me connected with my job 24/7, but it’s great because I enjoy my job.”

Veteran Salespeople

Bruce NuttallBruce Nuttall
Sales Manager
Mississippi Welders Supply Company (Winona, MN)
Age: 55
Sales Experience: 25 years
Bruce Nuttall has gained 25 years of sales experience at Mississippi Welders Supply, and close to 30 years in the gases and welding industry. For Nuttall, who went to school for electronics, landing in the gases and welding industry was rather fortuitous. “My father was a welder, and I always had an interest in welding,” he says. Nuttall takes pride in helping his customers. “Whether it’s saving a customer money with bulk gases or introducing a different welding process that produces less spatter, it gives me great satisfaction when I can increase a customer’s efficiency and quality.”
Sean HalloranSean Halloran
Mabscott Supply Company (Beckley, WV)
Age: 46
Sales Experience: 22 years
Before coming to Mabscott Supply three-and-a-half years ago, Sean Halloran racked up almost 20 years of experience in sales, most recently in automotive parts sales. He draws on his mechanical background to help him in his job. “I have an understanding of welding and I have 60 hours of training in computer numerical control (CNC),” he says. “Knowledge of the products is the best tool a salesperson can have.” Even as a veteran sales professional, Halloran says he learns from his colleagues. “We have employees who have been in the industry for over 30 years. When they walk into a shop, the customer gravitates to them because they are so knowledgeable. I would love to get to that point.”
Chuck MeyerChuck Meyer
Vice President of Sales
Lefeld Welding & Steel Supplies (Coldwater, OH)
Sales Experience: 13 years
Before coming to Lefeld 13 years ago, Chuck Meyer was the purchasing manager for a plumbing and heating distributor where he worked for 7 years. At Lefeld, Meyer has learned to use product manufacturers to his advantage. “I work and travel with manufacturer reps. They have an in-depth knowledge of all products, so I welcome them to join me on my sales calls.” Over the years, Meyer has built solid relationships with his customers. “When I started, I had a small territory and a small existing account base. At that time, 90 percent of my calls were cold calls. 13 years later, 10 percent of my calls are cold calls and 90 percent are established relationships.”

Gases and Welding Distributors Association