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Piling Canada Q4 is here!

Canadian contractors tell us what convinces them to buy

By Lisa Kopochinski

 “There’s a sucker born every minute,” is a phrase that has been closely associated to P.T. Barnum, the American showman from the mid-19th century. And while that may hold true for numerous industries, many will argue that the construction industry isn’t one of them.

Those in the deep foundation construction industry know a thing or two about what works – and what doesn’t. The stakes (and expenses) are simply too high to act impulsively – especially when making a purchase – particularly if it is for a large piece of equipment in a project located in a remote area.

We all know what a bad sales pitch is. When the sales rep offers a one-size-fits-all presentation; is too aggressive; doesn’t listen to what you say; and basically annoys you so much that you can’t show them the door quickly enough.

But what makes a good sale pitch?

In today’s extremely competitive business climate, an effective pitch isn’t really a “pitch,” but rather a two-way street – a conversation where the sales agent listens to the buyer, asks real questions and offers a solution to a challenge their prospective customer is experiencing.

Piling Canada recently sat down with four contractors across the country – Jeff Rakochy, safety and resource manager for Formula Contractors, which has three offices in British Columbia; Banain Cote, vice president of Innovative Piling Solutions, which is based in Martensville, Sask.; Joe Trottier, president of Trottier Piling in Winnipeg; and James McNally, equipment manager of Deep Foundations Contractors Inc. of Stouffville, Ont. – and asked them what has convinced them to buy from a particular sales rep or company.

“Our business model is built on going the extra mile, so I always come back to those people who go the extra mile right from the very start.”
– Banain Cote, Innovative Piling Solutions

Each gentleman was unabashedly candid about what seals the deal for them or turns them off. Here is what they had to say.

What does your company most frequently purchase or rent for your job sites?

Jeff Rakochy: We mainly purchase materials, third-party services and consumable/tooling items for our job sites. Common materials such as bridges, large treated timbers, structural steel, buildings, internal structures, all forms of piling and concrete. The services we purchase include waste management, all forms of freight, engineering services, environmental monitoring, NDT inspections, equipment certifications, fleet repair, insurance and traffic control.

We also rent small compaction equipment because typically these items are expensive to purchase and tend to have a lot of problems due to the constant vibrations. We have seen the rental price of these items climb in the last few years due to the maintenance costs associated with ownership. With respect to aerial work platforms, there are many sizes available and usually you will select a specific machine for a specific job site. So, rather than own each size class, we choose to rent the ones we need. Generally, I will look at the expected cost of rental and the price of equipment, and if we are considering paying half the cost of a new tool in rent, then I will think about buying the tool, taking into consideration the number of rentals in the past and the potential for more use in the near future.

Banain Cote: All of our projects require some sort of material handling – whether it be earth, pipe or timbers – so they are generally at the heart of our operations. A lot of our equipment is custom made or very hard to find, so renting anything else is typically out of the question.

James McNally: Our most frequent rentals are small auxiliary equipment (compressors, pumps, pneumatic hand tools, welding machines) that are only needed for certain activities. It is easier for us to rent and return this type of equipment when needed instead of purchasing and maintaining it within our equipment fleet.

Joe Trottier: Basically, my company’s needs are what makes me purchase the equipment we have. I find there are many different aspects and ground conditions in piling that dictate equipment needs. A pile installed in Calgary may take different equipment to install in Winnipeg.

What do salespeople do that convinces you to sign on the bottom line? What makes you want to buy?

Banain Cote: Our business model is built on going the extra mile, so I always come back to those people who go the extra mile right from the very start. I have seen the rewards that come from having a salesperson or client rep with the right attitude and who is always willing to go just a little further than what is expected – whether it be replying to emails at ungodly hours, to driving parts out in their personal trucks. For a lot of people in the construction industry, if you go above and beyond, it usually isn’t forgotten. Having said that, I once had a biodegradable hydraulic oil salesman come to our office unannounced and “vanish” a pail of hydraulic oil in water. It stunned almost everybody in the office. I definitely purchased some after that!

James McNally: A purchase is dependent on our requirements, not based on how savvy a salesperson is. Depending on the type of equipment, we may already have certain preferences or criteria that makes us seek out certain vendors or manufacturers.

Joe Trottier: If you go buy a wheel loader, there are 20 manufacturers that will meet your needs. [But] if you are going to buy equipment to install a type of pile in certain conditions, sometimes there is only one manufacturer that suits [you] best.

Jeff Rakochy: First off, purchasing is a business decision and price will always play a major role in this process. If a vendor supplies consistently high quotes – as compared to the competition – then they will not be on the bid list for too long. That being said, we do communicate with our vendors and let them know if they are high priced so they can be better prepared to compete at the next opportunity.

It’s also important to have a strong understanding of the products being sold and the inventory available. Even if the information is not readily available or known when questions are asked, it’s okay to ask for time to reply correctly. The important thing is to get it right because there is nothing worse than putting in an order only to find out the availability is not what was discussed. Some vendors that supply materials will even go the extra mile and ask for drawings to confirm quantities we are requesting. This is value-added service that is very appreciated. There is a lot of competition, so nowadays it’s service, availability and friendliness that wins repeated business.

What do some salespeople do that annoy you or turn you off their product?

James McNally: Relentless pursuit of a sale. Once I have received the product information and initial pitch, I will follow up if and when I want to purchase the product. Random visits, phone calls and emails more than once are an annoyance more than anything.

Banain Cote: Unnecessary persistence. We have a couple of salespeople who have returned after being asked to leave or told that we were not interested in the product, and that immediately turned me off of the product for good.

Jeff Rakochy: Be professional and don’t bash the competition too much. It’s okay to toss in a joke about the competition, but to outright say yours is better … this usually falls on deaf ears. Do not over promise and underperform – especially with shipping dates and quantities. Inventory control is very important and it’s important to get it right. Often space is limited or jobs are located in very remote locations and our shipping opportunities are carefully planned. Waiting an extra day for more materials to arrive can sometimes delay an entire project, thereby costing time and money.

What’s your best advice for salespeople pitching you?

James McNally: A great product sells itself. Educate me on the benefits of your product and how it may fit into our fleet. Allow us to digest the information. If it fits, we will pursue it further.

Jeff Rakochy: My best advice is to schedule appointments if you want to come see us. This is especially important during busy times of the year. Be courteous. Saying ‘good morning’ or ‘good afternoon’ is often an overlooked step in a conversation. A simple question about how things are going (personal and/or work-related) goes a long way to determining where people may be at in their day. Then we can talk business knowing where each other is at. Bring your best pricing and support offers to the table because – as purchasers – it is our job to find the most cost-efficient option for the company.

Banain Cote: Don’t push. If you push the product too much, a lot of people will see that as desperate and it really makes us shy away. If you’re confident and factual, and actually give the company some time to decide, then we are usually more receptive to follow ups. Or, donuts. The office staff always remember the salesperson who brings donuts! 

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Piling Canada is the premier national voice for the Canadian deep foundation construction industry. Each issue is dedicated to providing readers with current and informative editorial, including project updates, company profiles, technological advancements, safety news, environmental information, HR advice, pertinent legal issues and more.