Saturday, July 29, 2006

Get to know your local salesmen

Whatever your specialty of function in engineering I recommend cultivating a relationship with the salesmen selling items that you use. This offers a number of professional and personal benefits.

A good salesman will be able to match your needs with their products. Now note that I said good. There are salesmen whose sole goal is to make a sale to you whether you need their product or not. You want to keep the salesmen who have a genuine interest in what you are doing and only sell products to help you in that.

For example, I have designed a number of hydraulic systems. Hydraulics, however, is not a full time specialty for me. I will often ask for one of the local salesmen I deal with to review my hydraulic schematic. They will sometimes make suggestions to improve the design or make the design better conform to available products.

Now there is an unspoken quid pro quo. A salesman's time is valuable. If you ask for help there is expectation that you will either buy his product, if appropriate, or at least offer him the chance to bid.

When I have bought large hydraulic power units or specialized hydraulic manifolds (price from $50,000 to $100,000) I have had potential bidders review my draft specification. In order to avoid favoritism in this situation I have all the potential bidders review and offer their comments. This helps to avoid specifying something that is unbuildable or overly expensive. Warning: before you send out specifications to potential bidders check your employer's rules on such contacts.

On a personal level contact with salesmen is good for finding out the local business gossip. They spend their time visiting businesses and meeting individuals all over their sales territory. Consequently they are well connected. They know who is hiring, whose business is down and will be laying off. They know who the good employers are and which employers suffer from high turnover.

Should you wish to change jobs this is good information to have.