What to Look for in a Machine Tool Salesperson

Tim Thiessen

In many industries, including the machine tool business, it’s common for a salesperson to disappear after the sale, not to be seen until the next time the customer might be ready to buy. Now, this is not always the case (and of course it doesn’t happen here!), but it’s a scenario that’s far too common. The good news is, you can avoid getting involved in these kinds of opportunistic relationships if you know what to look for.

When it comes to Okuma and our distributors, I’ve seen a wide variety of personality types become successful at cultivating great customer relationships. This tells me success does not hinge on any particular “style” or approach or even experience in our industry. But I do see a particular mindset that provides the basic building blocks for productive long-term relationships. When it comes to looking out for the best interests of you and your shop, I suggest seeking out a machine tool salesperson who possesses the following characteristics.

Will Be a Champion for You

Look for someone who goes the extra mile and puts energy into being a champion for you, and don’t settle for less! They should make it their personal mission to stand behind the machine tool they sell, and make sure it’s productive for your shop. Expect to see lots of post-sale follow-up. A true professional will realize it’s imperative to make sure the machine is the right fit and ensure it will become a wise long-term investment.

Truly Cares About Your Business

When looking for a machine tool, it’s important to look beyond just the technology, though it will be tempting to focus there. It’s wise to build a relationship with someone who truly cares about your business, your employees and even your family. I know firsthand that many of our distributor salespeople attend Little League games with their customers, go to the same church, and run into each other at the bank or restaurants. They know you not just as a decision-maker for the shop, but also as a fellow member of the local community. If (when) times get tough, this is the kind of person who will go to bat for you, perhaps finding ways to help you get through a couple months of reduced cash flow, or whatever may happen down the road. This type of relationship is invaluable for you and your business.

Is There to Help When You’re NOT Buying

Let’s say the machine is not down but it is giving you headaches, or perhaps you’re struggling with tooling and workholding, or maybe you are looking to find work to put on your machine, or maybe looking for places to outsource work temporarily. Who can you call? Better yet, wouldn’t it be great if you had a partner to consult with on these challenges?

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When you put the word out that you’re buying, of course all the salespeople will come running to see you. But it’s the exception rather than the rule that a salesperson will give you his time for these other things you may need when there’s no sale in sight. Salespeople for some builders can’t afford to do this because they might be spread too thin, and they honestly don’t have time for these kinds of activities or don’t know your business or industry that well. I think this is where our distribution model really makes sense, because our resources are nearby and in place to make sure you’re covered.


Speaking of distribution model, there’s another important factor you should consider. How about longevity and staying power? Throughout my career I’ve seen plenty of change and upheaval in distribution systems, and I bet you have too. This can cause a lot of chaos and aggravation for customers. Okuma’s distribution network has not changed in more than 40 years, and we’re committed to it for many reasons. When your salesperson and distributor share experiences and successes with you along the way, through a decades-long relationship, you have a vast amount of tribal knowledge to tap into, and this provides enormous value.

Read: We believe in distribution


When a salesperson contacts you, listen carefully to their initial approach. Are they going straight to “now is a good time to buy” or “have I got a deal for you.” Or are they more oriented toward “how are things in the shop”? or “I have some ideas about that problem you shared with me last week”. There’s an ocean of difference between these two modes of operation. Look for a salesperson who takes the time to not only hear what you want to buy, but to understand more about what you want to accomplish and how “we” might get there together. In the end, this kind of discussion should influence what they quote for you (and it may not be what you were initially thinking about).

If you and your salesperson work together as problem-solving partners to achieve the optimum solution, you’re going to be wildly successful. This is the reason “leading with a servant heart” is one of the key pillars in Okuma’s corporate values.


When I first got started in this industry, at the age of 23, I spent the first year being trained by other applications engineers. As I accumulated some knowledge, I have to admit, my chest started to pump out a little. I was thinking, “man I really know some stuff now.” Then I would walk into a shop and meet people intimidated by this new machine that just came in, with this fancy control, and I know how to make it sing, it’s human nature to start thinking you have all the answers.

Then all of a sudden you realize (as I did!), this shop has been in business 30 years, and knows far more about how to make this part than any expert engineer coming in off the street. As the years have gone by, I’ve come to have huge respect for our customers and their hard-earned talents. The best partnerships are built when the salesperson and the customer share a high level of mutual respect for each other’s experience and knowledge, and leverage the best of what each side has to offer.

The bottom line is, it’s worth it to look for the right partner to walk with you as you build your business and go after your dreams. It’s not hard to find, as long as you know what to look for.

About Tim Thiessen
Tim Thiessen is Vice President Sales and Marketing, Okuma America Corporation.
Connect with Tim on LinkedIn.

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