The Specialist Management Alignment Session
In previous articles, we talked about developing monthly reviews for your sales team and management. A monthly review grows mindshare - but in today’s electrical business, regular in depth planning is a must. Suppliers change, strategies mutate, there are personnel changes, and competitive pressure fluctuates. Regular alignment with your management team facilitates solid agreement and concerted action.
Besides the changing business issues, other topics need to be explored in detail. Remember, your manager probably does not understand all of the subtle nuances of your product line – that’s why she/he hired a specialist. You have observed the individuals on your sales team in action on dozens of occasions. You know who “gets it” with your product and who doesn’t. Your insights provide coaching opportunities and improvement strategies. You deal more intimately with critical supply partners and local manufacturer’s representatives (on a daily basis) than your manager. As company specialist, you are paid to understand the best opportunities of the future.
Forward thinking specialists find management alignment meetings held quarterly provide outstanding results. In candid conversations around the industry – I hear specialists say, “I see my manager 3 times a week, I don’t really need to schedule a special meeting.” When pressed for the substance of these “drive-by” meetings, most admit they cover only the urgent matters of the day, as opposed to, the long range issues facing their assigned “slice of the company”. Alignment sessions get past the urgent and into “heavy weight” topics of long term importance.
The alignment session lasts from 45-60 minutes with distractions minimized. If your manager lives in “the eye of a hurricane” – I suggest you arrange to have the meeting out of the office (breakfast, lunch, coffee shop, etc.). An agenda and printed copies of all reports and discussion materials maximize effectiveness. The agenda should be configured to cover the following topics:
· Review - where are we today – the “numbers”
· Perspective – the competition, the vendor partners, the sales team
· Opportunities for growth – new products, product launches, target accounts
· Needs - training, demos, equipment, people oriented
· Action Plan
To jump start your efforts; let’s take a look at each of these agenda points in detail.
The most straight forward portion of the meeting is the review. If you do a written monthly review for your manager (and I recommend you do), this section will come very easily. Sales (and Gross Margin) number trends should be discussed. This is not a data dump – think (instead), news and commentary. For example, you might say, “here are the gross margin numbers sorted by sales person, it is obvious OEM-centric sales people have a hard time launching this product.” Another example might be customer type vs. gross margin numbers. This should be your professional observation (and opinion) supported by sales figures (data).
The niche fighters of the Electrical Distributor arsenal are Product Specialists. If you are a Lighting Specialist, you face competition from not just other “full line” Electrical Distributors but from a variety of niche players (lighting specialty houses, catalog houses, internet based lighting providers, and others). The same is true with Automation Specialists, Data-Com Specialists, and Motor Specialists – you square off with niche organizations daily. If a competitive tactic becomes effective or needs to be challenged, this should be discussed. Again – don’t think data dump - come armed with opinions and ideas.
Vendor partners have a bigger influence on your product lines than the company as a whole. The bond between vendor and distributor can be good or bad, weak or strong, but your relationship with the local sales team makes things work. As specialist in charge, you drive behavior by using your manager for both positive and negative reinforcement. When the local rep helps with a tricky commercial issue, ask your manager to send him an email thanking him. Spending too much time expediting delivery of a new product? You can provide details and sample wording for an email to the Vendor Partner VP of Sales.
Critiquing your own sales team is a sensitive subject, but the payoff is huge. We have discussed sharing Sales – Gross Margin numbers by salesperson and salesperson type, but the analysis could go deeper. Discussion starts with specific training recommendations – this salesperson could benefit from a 2-day fundamentals class being offered by a vendor partner. As the dialog grows, other topics might include:
· Comments on the quality of joint calls
· Salesperson specific comments on organization and time utilization
· Ability to work within your product responsibility
As you think about your sales force, I suggest you make relative comparisons – who is most effective with your product line, and why? Who is least effective and why? This will prime the pump for future conversations.
Opportunities for growth
Special promotions, new product launches and complementary product lines present themselves to Product Specialists regularly. Voice your opinion - which will be most profitable and what are your plans to capitalize.
Target accounts. New research indicates “World class” targeters are 47% more effective in meeting their growth goals. Target accounts and the progress of these product level targets are too important to be left to chance. Investing time in target based discussions with your manager pays big dividends because a manager who understands your target process can ask probing questions of the sales force to further focus your efforts.
Distributor managers need to plan and prioritize expenses. Providing her/him with detailed lists of what you need and the expected payback will lay groundwork for growth. This discussion time provides a framework for helping you understand process for investment and payback in your company.
What are the “big rocks” of your action plan? Sharing this information allows your manager to provide better support and guidance through the process. Your action plan becomes more effective when your manager understands what you are doing and why. She/he may choose to focus the attention of others in the organization on assisting you. Action plans assist managers who must meet periodically with upper management teams from the vendor partner world. Being briefed on your plan provides fodder for big picture discussions as they take place. (Note: An alignment session just prior to NAED and marketing group meetings is especially profitable.)
Do you have quarterly meetings with your manager/management team to discuss the biggest of opportunities and most important threats? If not, clip this article and use it in a short meeting to lay the ground work for the process. Keep these points in mind:
1) Come to the Management Alignment meeting with fully digested data. Managers in electrical distribution don’t need another “bucket full” of data. They need your professional analysis with data to back up your opinion.
2) Begin today thinking about what you could provide to your manager and what you could ask for if you prepared a mini-business plan.
3) Set a meeting date only after you have carefully thought through your plan for the meeting.
Frank Hurtte (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a consultant to distribution, the sales channel, and manufacture’s agents at River Heights Consulting. He has 28 years of real world experience and is available as a speaker and executive coach. He has written a number of articles and white papers on management, distribution, and the selling process. Frank has developed a presentation called the Specialist Playbook. Contact us for a free preview copy of this report. You can contact Frank at 563-514-1104 or through www.riverheightsconsulting.com.