Relationships that last, long past the transaction

Written in early 2017.

Why do you work in sales?

Often, an inspiration for a new blog topic comes to me naturally. I like to talk about technical additive manufacturing topics, or perhaps a snippet on how to be more productive at work. But sometimes, inspiration comes at the most unpredictable moments. And for this blog, that moment occurred recently while on business travel, on AA 2548 from Phoenix to Orange County, flying over fire-ravaged areas of Southern California.

I’ve spent many years working in a Sales or Account Management role of some capacity. And I, like most salesmen and women spend a lot of time on the road. It’s not always an easy role. I often spend multiple nights away from my family, and I find it’s difficult to really engage with my community when I have a hectic, ever-changing schedule.

Yet there are lots of reasons why one would want to choose a job in sales. There is typically a good dose of variety and a lot of personal freedom in the day-to-day routine. You're also typically rewarded for your success, which means that the harder you work, the more money you make.

I get asked often about my favorite part of working in sales, and why I chose to work in sales.

But what does a sales role really mean to me? For me, it’s more than presenting my product, generating new business, or closing a deal.

It’s the relationships I get to make along the way.

We’re given the opportunity to meet all kinds of people, from all parts of the world. Each business trip differs from the one before, and each customer we meet and interact with has a supporting role in our stories as salesmen or women.

One of my favorite customers: Neptune Aviation, in Missoula, MT

Yet when I think about some of the key people from the hundreds I’ve interacted with over the years, one customer and one story immediately comes to mind: Neptune Aviation Services in Missoula, Montana.

Neptune Aviation is the primary provider of large air tanker services (aerial firefighting) to the United States Forest Service and has held this honor for more than 24 years. From their Missoula base, they maintain and operate a fleet of 9 BAe-146 and 7 P2V Neptune aircraft (as of writing).

I first connected with Neptune after receiving an email from our group director in Switzerland. He’d met with a gentleman from Neptune’s Business Development team, Nick, while at an airline conference in Ireland. Nick’s contact details managed to get passed to my boss, who then passed it on to me. Nick expressed interest in purchasing or leasing Honeywell ALF-502 engines as spares to better support their fleet of BAe-146 aircraft.

Supporting the ALF-502 engine, no easy feat.

The ALF-502 engine is a geared turbofan engine first produced by Lycoming Engines (then AlliedSignal, and eventually Honeywell Aerospace). The engine had its first run in the early 80’s. In other words, it’s a mature engine.

Nick quickly introduced me to Tracy, the Neptune “Jack of All Trades” and Engineering Leader, and Tracy reiterated their dire need for our help with maintaining their fleet. Unfortunately, due to its age, Honeywell did not have access to any engines in serviceable (flyable) condition and Neptune was struggling to find a solution to support their fleet. With 4 engines per aircraft, and a fleet of 9, Neptune had an important, yet difficult demand.

It wasn’t a lost cause, however.

We couldn’t provide shiny, new serviceable engines, but we could provide engine cores and parts. Lots of them. The parts were beyond sunset (intentionally phasing something out or terminating it) with limited options for a new home; there are only a few operators in the world still flying this aircraft and this engine, and we had tons of aged, spare parts in stock.

A quick call to Tracy at Neptune to share the news and three days later I was on a plane to Missoula, Montana, via Spokane and a scenic, several-hour drive down I-90 through Coeur d’Alene. I still remember when I arrived at the Neptune hangar at the Missoula airport; it was a crisp, windy May afternoon. There were several BAe-146 aircraft lined up on the tarmac, painted red tails, and individually numbered. The avgeek in me was fascinated.


Tracy gave me a tour of their facility and introduced me to the entire Neptune team. Several hours later, we had a plan in place to sell Neptune more than a dozen ALF-502 engine cores, along with a ton of additional spare parts. I could hardly wait to send the email up the chain to report the news. But it wasn’t just the quick, big sales opportunity that excited me, it was also knowing I would be able to directly impact the operations of the nation’s largest aerial firefighting fleet, fighting fires from California, up to Canada, and down to Tennessee.

A couple months later, after managing several large shipments of parts from various warehouse locations around the globe to Missoula, and after a trip to inspect some of the parts in the UK with three new friends from Montana, I received a package at work. It was a framed photo of a Neptune BAe-146 aircraft, with a hand-written thank you letter from Nick. How often do we sales folks receive thank you cards from our customers? I still have the frame on my wall in my home office today.

And of course, no good story is complete without a good ending.

I traveled in late 2016 to Chattanooga, Tennessee. By then, my days of working in sales for Honeywell a thing of the past. As I pulled up to the rental car return location just off the airport, I saw what looked like a BAe-146 aircraft on the tarmac. A BAe-146 aircraft with a painted red tail.

As I walked closer, I realized it was a Neptune plane. Several time zones from home, fighting fires in northwest Georgia.

I smiled a big, familiar smile as I watched it roll down the runway for take-off.

Sure, working in sales has plenty of benefits: travel, compensation, exposure, etc. But I believe the greatest benefit is the ability to make a difference on a larger scale, and form relationships with people you work with, relationships that last far beyond the transaction.

What do you think? Why do you work in sales?



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