To succeed in material handling or capital equipment selling requires the development of skills, techniques and knowledge in 6 key areas:


This is the most traditional sales knowledge for material handling equipment salespeople. It involves models, features, application information, specifications, competitive comparisons and details about “the stuff.” The danger here is that salespeople sometimes believe product knowledge does the selling. “This stuff sells itself” becomes the cry of some salespeople when new models are introduced with the latest features. No it doesn’t. Product knowledge is only the basic starting point for material handling salespeople. Providing product knowledge training is primarily the responsibility of manufacturers and suppliers of the equipment.


Managing time and organising to sell are critical skills. Many companies incorporate time & organisational tools with database management, customer relationship management (CRM) systems, master calendaring and other systems. As such, salespeople should coordinate their training in this area with their employer, whilst at the same time develop and follow their own personal plans, usually based on a sales target and the activities required to achieve and exceed that target.


In material handling, the success of the salesperson is tied closely to how well he utilises the resources of his own employer. Time should be spent understanding the employer’s strengths, procedures, working relationships, customer service response mechanisms and more. Material handling salespeople need to know who they can go to in their own organisation to get things done, to get pricing on specials, obtain information for proposals, process orders, expedite orders, solve customer service issues, get IT help, etc.


Material handling salespeople must quickly become competent and fluent in all relevant technologies that apply to their specific sales situation. This can include laptops, voicemail, email, online training, digital order processing, calendaring, database management, customer relationship management (CRM), product configurators, online order status reports & management, business system interfaces and supplier & customer electronic interfaces.


Material handling salespeople must orient themselves to the “who and where” of the customers most likely to be high-potential prospects for their products and services. Questions to be answered include:

  • Which personnel should be targeted for initial approach?
  • What is the physical industrial geography of the assigned area of responsibility?
  • What customer & prospect history & database information already exists?

In other words, salespeople must be able to know where to get answers to the big question “Who and where are all the customers?”


This is training in “what it takes” to create sales in the material handling or capital equipment environment.

Selling is a profession. As with other professions, there is a body of knowledge that forms the structure of techniques and skills that are most effective. These skills and techniques are practised in customised ways by individuals with differing levels of effectiveness based on:

  • Their knowledge and practice of these skills and techniques
  • The unique talents they bring to the profession
  • Their circumstances
  • Their work ethic

One method of providing the structure to help sales professionals develop their sales skills and techniques in an organised manner is to consistently work with a sales model. Sales models include:

  • An understanding of the characteristics of a specific sales situation. In this instance, business-to-business sales of capital equipment or material handling equipment
  • A sales philosophy. Examples could include “Nobody beats our price” or “Our products are the best, the BMW of the industry” or “An appropriate sales model has ‘The Customer’ as its focus”
  • Consistent sales approach
  • Good sales language
  • A memory tool such as a diagram showing a clear sales process flow
  • Sales techniques & tools effective in specific sales environments

Following a sales model specifically helps capital equipment sales professionals identify, learn and practise key skills and techniques for their unique sales environment, that is, the business-to-business selling of capital equipment.


The essentials of a capital equipment sales model are embodied in The Four Keys To Objective Based Selling:

  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Build personal, professional relationships
  • Design customer-focused proposals
  • Follow the Objective Based Selling diagram


Asking questions, or what our industry calls “open ended questions”, that is, questions that get the customer talking, is the key to understanding a customer’s needs and objectives while helping the salesperson to:

  • Prospect and qualify prospects
  • Encourage the customer to talk about their company’s objectives, operational situation, purchasing procedures & criteria, decision influencers and personal objectives
  • Understand the customer’s situation in order to make responsive recommendations
  • Create forward motion in the sales process
  • Build trust and rapport with the customer
  • Perform critical sales functions for the customer


While many forces in today’s material handling sales environment are pushing toward depersonalisation, ultimately all purchasing decisions are emotional and made by people. People are still buying from other people; even if they use computers and formal contracts to do so.

The larger the project and the more critical the purchase is to the customer, the more important it is for the material handling salesperson to establish a personal, professional relationship with the key decision influencers. These relationships provide:

  • Access to other decision influencers
  • Information leading to responsive recommendations which are customised to the customer’s objectives & parameters
  • Opportunities to build trust
  • A better understanding of the customer’s decision-making criteria and process
  • Coaching for the salesperson in how to take care of the customer
  • The opportunity to provide a modified, more targeted proposal at the time the customer is actually ready to act. Sometimes referred to as the “second chance”
  • An early warning of the need (and the opportunity) to react, adjust and recover during the implementation phase of a project if things are not progressing as planned

Personal, professional relationships are vitally important in the sales process. When business and personal objectives are in conflict, personal objectives always win. How responsive the salesperson’s proposal is to customer objectives or how attractive the price is or how strong the salesperson’s proposal is becomes irrelevant if the customer does not like, believe, understand and trust the salesperson and his company. The customer finds a way to purchase elsewhere.


All significant material handling purchases involve a written proposal, whether paper, electronic or both, before the customer makes a commitment. Most proposals by material handling salespeople have two critical flaws:

  • Primarily focusing on the equipment or service methods. In the extreme, many material handling proposals are simply a listing of equipment specifications with a quoted price and delivery statement. Not selling, just quoting.
  • No reference to the customer’s objectives & parameters. As such, there is no indication that the salesperson even understands the customer’s objectives & parameters, let alone took them into consideration when creating the proposal. Without these particulars, there is no indication that acting on this proposal will enable the customer to achieve their objectives. It is merely another equipment quote, of which the lowest quote wins the order. Alternatively, the project dies due to ineffectively competing for funds.

In other words, most material handling equipment and service proposals quote rather than sell.


The diagram is a visual representation of the Four Keys to OBJECTIVE BASED SELLING.

The basic concept of Objective Based Selling is that customers make material handling purchase decisions, for both business and personal reasons, to accomplish both business and personal objectives.

Consequently, the task of the material handling salesperson is to determine both the customer’s business and personal objectives. Secondly, the salesperson needs to fully reassure the customer that they can accomplish these objectives by acting on the written, customer-focused proposal.