Talking “off the record” with plant owners and maintenance managers, they will often tell me that good pump salespeople are a rare find. Conversely, when I talk candidly to industrial pump salespeople, they will often state that end users, in regards to proper pump selection and operation, don’t always appear to know what they are doing. A conundrum of controversial statements? Yes, and sure to incite some readers to offer opinions and perhaps raise a little ire in the process (while not the intention at all).
So, in our all too polarized culture, who is right and who is wrong? Could it be nobody or everyone? Let’s look closer at the subject matter from a neutral and nonjudgmental perspective and see if we can shine some light on the core issues, because what I witness in my traveling conversations is a little of both. Ostensibly, the world of today demands black and white answers, but if you take the time to look really close, everything is really just some shade of grey.
Many of the problems I encounter could easily be eliminated with better communication, a clearer understanding of the specifications and just a little more pump and system education—on both sides of the equation. I struggled with which tack to use in this column and then decided I would speak to the one I knew best: that is, that good salespeople should teach pump knowledge to the others because there really is no college that offers a certificate or degree in pump design and system applications.
It Really Is the Pump’s Fault
There is a mostly true urban myth that all pump system problems are to be blamed solely on the pump. Further—and it is a fact not missed by most of us in the industry—the majority of pumps do not grow old in service because we usually kill them first.
From misapplication and improper operation, to wrong materials, incorrect sizing and our industry’s stubborn insistence on constantly trying to violate the laws of physics, we all too often insist that pumps do the impossible and then blame them for the failure.
So, what does it take to be a great pump salesperson?
I suggest the successful pump salesperson should possess the following list of skills and requirements. In my experience I have found it is best that he or she be an expert in at least 30 or more formal science and technical subject areas, and, feasibly, a few social and psychological ones, too. The really great pump salesperson will of course be all things to all people. Nevertheless, the successful salesperson must first and foremost be an expert in both people skills and pumps applications. To be successful requires competence in the following areas and disciplines.
Note: Some of the items are subsets of the others but are cited separately, specifically for emphasis. Also, see the list of acronym explanations at the end of the article.
1. Effective listener
2. Deals in the truth with high integrity, moral standards and professional acumen
3. Extensive knowledge of his/her own products and the competitors’
4. Extensive knowledge of the customer’s equipment, processes, products and core business
5. Mechanical engineering
7. Fluid mechanics
8. Fluid dynamics
9. a) Chemistry (organic, inorganic, analytical, physical and biochemistry), and
9. b) Chemical processes
10. Physics (classical and modern)
11. Environmental engineering
12. Mathematics: algorithms, algebra, trigonometry, calculus and statistics
13. Quality control and quality assurance systems
15. Tribology with specific expertise in bearing designs and applications
16. Rheology, especially non-Newtonian fluids and slurries
17. Electrical engineering, with a working knowledge of current NEMA and IEEE requirements/specifications, SCADA, monitoring and sensor technology
18. Motors: single and three-phase, induction and synchronous, (AC/DC) VFDs and drives
19. Engines, steam and internal combustion (also includes gas turbines)
20. NIST measurement tools, gauges and instrumentation
21. Steam and steam systems including condensers, turbines and speed governors
22. Metallurgy and materials science
23. Machining, boring and grinding processes (tooling, lathes, mills and CNC)
24. Foundry processes, pattern and mold designs, tooling, annealing, tempering, cryogenic processing
25. Mechanical seals and packing and associated support systems
26. Couplings, belts, chains, sheaves and jackshafts
27. Portable trailers (includes DOT pertinent regulations)
28. Rail car types, unloading and loading
29. Millwright; accomplished journeyperson knowledge and skills
30. Corrosion engineering
31. Paint systems and coatings and long-term preservation practices
32. Nondestructive testing: acoustic emissions (AE), ultrasonic, radiographic, electromagnetic, magnetic particle, liquid/dye penetrant and visual
33. Piping/piping supports, thermal compensation, valves, strainers, tank design
34. Rotor dynamics (includes balance standards ISO 1940 and 1941)
35. Vibration analysis (includes fast fourier transform analysis)
37. Specifications expert; at a minimum: API, ANSI, Hydraulic Institute, NSF, DOE, DOT, OSHA, ISO, ASME (especially Pressure Vessel Code VIII for unfired vessels)
38. Forensics (failure analysis of metals, carbon- and silicon-based materials, elastomers and electrical components)
39. Civil engineering (foundations, bases and structures including weir and sump design)
40. Packaging, crating and logistics
41. Computer science and computer software—CAD, FEA, CFD
42. Controls and control systems (programing of proportional-integral-derivative (PID) controllers with control algorithms: proportional, integral and derivative)
43. Heat exchangers
44. Unit conversion expert
45. Military specifications (expert on diesel, five types of jet fuel, nitrous cellulose, MREs, saltwater and neutrons)
46. Lawyer or paralegal
47. Diplomat and courier
49. Sports analyst
50. Good joke teller
I personally think that one of the main attractions, and also an alluring aspect of the pump business, is the inherent requirement for multidiscipline knowledge spread over what seems like infinite applications. This challenge is also why a career in the pump field is never boring—because every day represents some new application challenge. For every item on the list above, I can cite an example where knowledge of the discipline has aided in a more reliable selection and installation.
Some pump salespeople may insist that they don’t need but a few items on the list. Perhaps their strengths lie in other areas not listed here. To me, a good salesperson will be able to solve or help solve the pump and pump system problems that a customer is experiencing. I have personally witnessed successful salespeople that possess only a few of these aforementioned skills and knowledge, but what they do have is personal drive, accountability and a backup network of support that knows pumps well.
If you are not helping the end user solve their pump and system problems, you may be perceived only as a supplier of funny anecdotes, donuts, ball caps and calendars. Ask yourself this: do your customers ask you to help solve problems?