Recently I was asked for my thoughts on the competencies that every capital equipment salesperson should have. The following are what I consider most important:

  1. An understanding of the importance of profit
    In my mind, the number one priority for salespeople is to bring profitable business to their employer. Salespeople should know how their employer makes money; how prices affect margins (including how dramatically even a 1% difference in price affects net profit); and how profitability influences stock prices, bonuses, salaries, career growth, and available resources.
  2. Hardware, service, spare parts and product upgrades knowledge
    Salespeople should know the key competitive advantages and value propositions of every product and service they’re required to sell (marketing should develop these advantages so they’re clear, straightforward, and impossible-to-misunderstand). In addition, salespeople should know specifically how their products and processes help customers to achieve their objectives.
  3. Writing and presentation skills
    Every salesperson should be able to write a concise, coherent email or letter to a customer or a fellow employee. The salesperson should also be able to give a “why should I buy” presentation to a customer on relevant products, processes, services, spare parts, and system upgrades. The salesperson should also be able to clearly position (in the mind of the customer) his or her employers offerings relative to competitors’ offerings.
  4. How to successfully negotiate with aggressive, professionally-trained buyers who use PICOS and other profit-transfer methods.
    This competency should include more than how to conduct face-to-face negotiations. It should also cover the how, where and why aggressive tactics such as PICOS and its’ variations began; how customers are trained in its’ uses; what to expect in terms of customer behavior; how to develop a sales plan when approaching and conducting negotiations; how to keep the customers’ senior management informed of progress, delays and any misbehavior on the part of Purchasing people; and how to work successfully with individuals who employ these methods, without damaging relationships. 
  5. In-depth knowledge of the customers’ and competitors’ environment (and how to acquire that knowledge)
    This should include training salespeople on what to look for in publications like annual and quarterly reports;  how to find out about key changes in management; how to uncover the customers’ top priorities; current capacity utilization and potential changes in that utilization; customer profitability drivers; the process the customer uses to decide which products and services to buy, along with the people who make those decisions; and any specific pressures the decision makers are under from their customers, management, and investors. 
  6. How to establish and build relationships with customers
    The best salespeople in the company should train the rest in how to provide day-to-day support and superior execution on behalf of customers, over and above what competitors’ salespeople are providing, so that customers actually prefer to give your company more and more business.
  7. Sales and order process knowledge
    Salespeople should know how to establish exactly what the customer wants, and how to translate customer requirements into language, forms, etc. that the supplier understands and can work with; how to follow up to ensure that the product or service is moving through the manufacturing process on schedule; and how to prepare the customer if things don’t go according to plan.  
  8. How to manage sales time
    There will never be enough time to handle every demand on a salesperson, and certainly not enough time to do handle those demands equally well. Salespeople need to know how to rank the to-do’s on their plate; how to handle email and other dailies so they don’t become the “all dailies”; how to schedule and make regular progress on long-term initiatives; how to determine when “good enough” is; and how to decide what to do first thing on Monday morning.
  9. How to sell services
    Selling services (where typically no explicit need exists, resistance from the customer is common and demand has to be built carefully) is very different from selling hardware (where demand usually exists and the objective is to position your product favorably against one or more competitors).Many capital equipment salespeople (including me when I first started in sales) tend to view service as an afterthought. But with system margins under constant pressure, suppliers need to take every advantage of their ability to improve the performance of a customers’ installed base, and get paid well for doing it.
  10. Consultative and interpersonal skills
    Sales people need to know how to develop trust with people, and how to use that trust to deliver value to the customer through their knowledge of the business, products and services. They should know how to ask the right questions and discover real needs; how to work with customers as opposed to working for them; how to make customers feel comfortable; and how to offer and deliver real, provable value that solves real customer problems.

If you have questions, or would like to discuss these competencies further, please feel free to contact us at 650-862-0688 or at

Thank you.