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In Pursuit of Steak: How Brian Thilges Built a Successful Second Career at RDO

30 Aug 2021

Mankato Sales Professional Brian Thilges’s RDO story begins with a broken window.

He was 15 years into a career working for county agencies where he was operating construction equipment, running lead on road projects, even serving as highway supervisor for Faribault County in southern Minnesota. He was in this role when he took a backhoe with a broken window into the local John Deere equipment store, now the RDO location in Mankato, MN.

The store’s owner at the time, Duke Durfee, talked to Brian about selling equipment instead of running it, and something Duke said during the conversation stood out to Brian.

“He told me, ‘I’d be willing to pay you a ‘hamburger’ salary. If you want ‘steak,’ you’ll have to earn it.’”

The motivation behind the concept struck a chord with Brian. He took the job, leaving his established career behind for new challenges.

Now, looking back on almost 31 years in the sales role, that original motivation for Brian takes shape through RDO Core Values like Build Customers for Life and We Do What We Say.

“As you get more comfortable with the territory, you become customers’ first call – you’re their go-to for anything: service and parts in addition to sales,” he said. It is a quick way to describe the trust he has established with customers, which has taken years to earn and has been no solo effort.

He testified to the mantra, “Sales may sell the first machine, but aftermarket sells the second,” referring to the support he has relied on internally. He credited external support from manufacturing partners, as well, citing an example as one of his favorite parts of the job.

“One of the things I enjoy most is taking customers on tours of the Deere factory,” Brian said. It is a relatively quick trip from his territory and makes for an unforgettable experience for customers who get to see first-hand everything that goes into creating the machines they run.

As much as Brian points to others when describing how he has found success, his accomplishments speak for themselves.

“Brian has built many incredible relationships during his career,” said Sales Manager Blair Scheibel. “Specifically, he has had a knack for understanding and meeting the needs of our governmental customers. And he has held a consistently strong share of the overall construction equipment market in his territory, too.”

Unsurprisingly, with all the trust required to perform at such a high level, what stands out most to Brian as he looks back on his career are the people behind the numbers.

“My customers will still be my friends after I leave,” he said. “They’ll still be calling.”

Leaving is not part of Brian’s immediate plans, but he is preparing for that day. As he looks to eventually hand off the baton, he has tips for those who will fill his shoes and anyone else just starting a career in sales.

“First of all, make sure you spend time with your family,” he said. “When you’re focusing on the job, take advantage of as much education as you can. Don’t be a know-it-all, but make sure you have your facts straight. Then, ask questions but also listen, that’s the most important thing: listen to the customer.”

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We are successful because of our people. Read more about our team members and visit RDO Careers to learn about joining our team.

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