What does a Regional Manager do? That may depend on who you ask or the company they represent. Rick Randall, one of a seven-member team covering the United States, explains why he loves being on the road for Duncan Aviation.
“I’m doing what I was born to do,” Rick says. “I realized that in my 30s when I got my first sales job in the field. I liked being out of the office and enjoyed the satisfaction of one-on-one contact. I get a great sense of daily accomplishment–even if it’s something as simple as a raised eyebrow over something a customer didn’t know Duncan Aviation could do.”
The primary part of Rick’s job is engaging with customers on their turf. One of the most enjoyable aspects of his job is finding new work and operators—creating new relationships. He also enjoys nurturing current relationships. Not all become friends, but many do. Some are extremely loyal and never consider taking their aircraft anywhere else.
“Being in their hangars has other advantages,” he continues. “When I’m in a customer’s hangar, I’m much more likely to hear something I wouldn’t hear otherwise. When they’re on their turf, they are more likely to tell me things. I encourage people to speak openly—and be sure they know I don’t take it personally. I need to know about any issues to ensure a great return experience. “I work hard to become a part of airport communities. These guys listen to each other more than they listen to anyone else; they trust each other. Heck, they often work on each other’s airplanes. It has taken years to gain the trust of certain groups. That’s a big time investment, but it’s time well spent and rewarded in many cases with work you don’t expect.”
Rick also takes time to check with customers while they’re at a Duncan Aviation facility. It’s not project management; he just wants to make sure his friends are being taken care of. He is their advocate; he feels responsible for them. He knows that if Duncan Aviation is successful making them successful, they’ll keep coming back. If there is a problem with a maintenance event, it often becomes Rick’s responsibility to discuss the situation with the customer.
“Duncan Aviation has a responsibility to make things right immediately,” Rick says forcefully. “I am never afraid to talk to someone after a less than perfect project. If somebody’s upset, I honestly can’t wait to get there to see them. I find that facing the music immediately and doing what you can to correct issues builds respect, credibility and trust. Customers remember it when their next event comes up.”
As strange as it sounds, Rick follows operators even when they don’t choose Duncan Aviation. He follows operators who don’t fly aircraft we work on, because some day they might. He keeps tabs on the aviation players in his region. Rick says his job really boils down to a simple lesson he learned as a child, “I just remember the golden rule, and that pretty much takes care of it.”
Whether it is an incoming call or e-mail requesting a quote or a follow-up sales call based on a tip from a regional manager like Rick, the inside sales representative handles the next step in the process—the proposal and closing the sale. Simple, right? Well, not really. Gary Harpster speaks to the intricacies of securing avionics install sales.
“Even though we have the title of sales, our role, as I see it, is to advise people,” Gary says. “I believe in honest sharing of knowledge. With avionics systems, often the first thing we need to figure out is what they are trying to accomplish. In many cases, people don’t like to admit what they don’t know. It’s my job to bring down the barriers to open conversation and understand their desired result.”
Gary asks many questions, peeling back layers until he gets to the nugget of an operational goal that advises how he will proceed with a potential customer. If he is successful, the results are almost always positive. This is where the depth of Duncan Aviation’s experience comes in. With the number of aircraft that we see monthly and the number of different solutions we’ve completed, Gary knows that we’ve seen most of the variables flying today. We know what works and, perhaps more importantly, what doesn’t.
“There are a lot of specialists out there, good at one particular install on one particular aircraft, who do the same thing over and over. There are few companies that see as many aircraft as we do. This variety added to our experience and our dedication to seeing the big picture is what we’re about. We look at things for the long-term, a solution that will prove itself a good investment years down the road.”
“We’re constantly learning ourselves, especially doing research on emerging systems,” Gary continues. “Often, a potential customer comes to us wanting to install a new system they may have read about. Many times, these systems haven’t yet been installed or certified. We go to work for them, trying to find out what’s true and what’s false in the industry. Our ability to tell customers that this new system isn’t ready for install yet is sometimes not an easy conversation to have. But honesty counts and our customers depend on us and trust us because we stay on the forefront of emerging technology.”
Despite the challenges, Gary wouldn’t swap jobs with anyone. He loves working with new and return customers and has been doing this long enough that he has made some great friends along the way. He has customers whom he only sees every few years, but when they come in, he says it’s like “old-home week.”
“That first handshake always lasts a long time,” he says. “It’s the customer’s input that makes us what we are. Because of their input, we improve procedures, the products we sell and the way we do business. We must be doing something right to have the volume of life-long customers we do.”
What if you haven’t been working with customers for more than 20 years like Gary? How do you build credibility and relationships with potential customers? Joe Spring, also an avionics sales representative, shares his perspective.
“I think all of my customers are surprised by my sincerity,” he says. “My confidence in what I know and don’t know. My ability to admit I don’t know something. When I talk with customers, I use my knowledge from my experience as an avionics technician crawling around in airplanes. I am not afraid to challenge customer choices and direct them toward a better option if it is in their best interest. It’s natural to me—I don’t plan or calculate my conversations with potential customers. It’s just telling the truth as I see it and keeping my goal of a long-term friendship in the forefront. I don’t want to be just another sales guy. I keep in mind a goal that this person will be my friend a year, two years, 10 years from now. I’ll always put their best interests at heart.”
Joe knows instinctively that the most important part of his job is his personal interactions with people. It has nothing to do with sales goals or budget numbers—it’s about relationships.
“My goal is to get away from talking about airplanes and talk to them about their family, hobbies, their life. Of course, they like this and it helps me understand them better. I start building trust right away—from the first contact,” he says. “Even if I end up losing a job, if I made a relationship with someone, I count that as a win and I then work to nurture that relationship over time and hope for better results at my next opportunity.”
Some are surprised by Joe’s approach, however, most people expect more from Duncan Aviation. There is a higher threshold for impressing customers for a Duncan Aviation Sales Representative. They’re expected to operate at a high level—better dressed, better prepared and better informed, better at everything.
Joe cites a great customer who is also a great friend, Kevin Boardman, Director of Aviation from Berwind Aviation. “We’re just Joe and Kevin. When I call and say, ‘It’s Joe,’ he knows it’s me; I don’t have to say ‘it’s Joe Spring from Duncan Aviation.’ I’ve nurtured this relationship with his entire flight department—I love calling them and I’m sure they like hearing from me.”
Joe knows that building internal relationships is also integral to his success. “I work on relationships with technicians on a daily basis. I want to pass on my enthusiasm and the relationships I’ve built with each customer to technicians who work on their airplanes. I know I don’t tell them often enough how important their success is to mine. Without my internal relationships, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do externally.”
Joe sums up his sales philosophy: “My sales process is a hunt for my next friend—I like to be out there, face-to-face, looking people in the eye.”
We’ve learned that the golden rule is important, honesty counts and building rapport quickly leads to great relationships. But what is beyond that? What happens when a customer is no longer a customer, but a friend? Brad Lennemann reveals the next level of customer relationships—life-long friends.
“A good Duncan Aviation customer recently sent me some pictures. He told me he had a great visit during his last inspection. He also told me he recently got a puppy and wanted to give him a good name. Guess what he named the puppy? Duncan,” Brad chuckles, hardly believing the story himself; if it weren’t for the pictures, he may not have.
This particular customer has been coming to Duncan Aviation for more than 10 years. Brad is quick to say it’s not just him, it’s the project manager, the tech rep and technicians on the floor that really make relationships work. The puppy story would be enough to show the difference a great relationship can make, but Brad has more to tell. This summer, Brad used quite a few of his well-earned vacation days to spend time with customers.
Brad and a couple of other Duncan Aviation team members recently biked across Missouri with a customer. “We started in Booneville, Missouri, and rode a 200-mile trail to St. Louis. This is the fourth year running that during his summer maintenance event we’ve biked with David Babbitt, a Lear 60 pilot. We’ve biked through Utah and Colorado and now Missouri. David is a gem, a great guy; I count him as a friend who also happens to be a customer.”
Perhaps the best example of Brad’s customer relationships is his long friendship with Mark Stevenson of Goodfriend Aviation. It started seven years ago when someone said, “Hey Brad, you need to go hunting with this guy.” Brad wasn’t sure at first; he views hunting as typically a solitary sport. But they hit it off right away and the friendship has grown. Brad recently took his family down to visit Mark in Knoxville, Tenn. They stayed at Mark’s house, visited a theme park and saw Mark’s new baby. In addition to trips like this, Mark always schedules his November maintenance event so he can hunt deer with Brad. Mark also rides bikes with Brad.
When asked why he vacations so much with customers and has a customer who named his puppy in Duncan Aviation’s honor, Brad shrugs like it’s not a big deal. The truth is, like most members of the Duncan Aviation sales team, Brad has learned how to quickly get to an area of trust with customers. Once you have trust, friendship follows.
“I just slow down and listen,” he says. “You have to take an interest in them if you ever want to connect. Once they feel you are on their side, that you have their best interests at heart, they will open up to you and you can count on those guys. When their next event comes due, they’re coming to Duncan Aviation.”
On the road, on the phone, in the hangar, on the bike trail, whenever and wherever, our sales team knows innately that building and nurturing relationships are the building blocks of friendships that will last a lifetime. This is where they focus. They take the long view and know if they’ve done it right, sales will follow.