Specialist – Don’t send your Boss in to a Firefight with an empty Gun
Tricks to prepare your boss for Meetings
Distributor Association Meetings scheduled for the next couple of months loom just over the horizon. While serving as a gathering point for the leaders of our industry, the meetings provide an excellent opportunity for Specialists to do their thing.
Since only few of you reading this article have attended these meetings, let me give you a flavor for what goes on. On the surface the big value of these events arrives in the form of educational opportunity. Nationally known speakers lecture on business trends, new technology and the long range economic outlook. But peel away the fancy graphics in the meeting promotion brochures, skin off a couple of levels of press releases and announcements, and you will find world class business networking.
These meetings offer an opportunity for your boss to connect with and benchmark with the leaders of distribution from all over the country. And more critical to our discussion here, it provides an opportunity for your company’s leadership to meet “mano a mano” with the top brass of your Vendor Partners (manufacturer’s sales executives).
I would never insinuate that your boss doesn’t know what’s going on in the company. But, I would bet that last little well worn and tightly folded dollar bill in my oldest Levi’s that you know more about your product grouping than anybody in the company. And trust me on this; information is power. Arm your company’s delegate to that meeting with the right information – and you will be powerfully effective in your efforts. I recommend a format that provides a short executive summary with short bullet points backed by precise factoids. For example, 15 new customers established or start up issues with the new AC Drive make good bullet points. Then, outside the summary provide details – but remember details are the difference.
Why do this? Let me share some thoughts...
You can single-handedly raise the status of your company in the eyes of key suppliers just by “upping the ante” during the information exchange of the meeting. The kind of information you provide differentiates your company in the industry. Believe it or not, the very top management of Vendor/Suppliers thirsts for information from the field. Do they get it from their own people? Yeah, but often it has been filtered so many times it looses its real flavor – instead of a cool drink from a mountain stream, it tastes like the water from the hospital drinking fountain. What you provide is the best and tastiest of information from an untapped mountain spring.
The right kind of information positions your company with vendors. When new opportunities are discovered, the distributor viewed as the best source of results and feedback gets the goodies. Passing good information to the very top levels of management within the Vendor Supplier allows them to make decisions that are informed and favor you.
Serving up the right information also allows you to shine with your local allies. Here’s how it works; the local Sales Rep does a nice job of handling a sticky customer issue. You provide a report (with specific details) to your boss who passes the word along to the Rep’s bosses’ boss. How willing will that Rep be to help you next time? My guess he will literally jump at the opportunity. It never hurts to have somebody ready to help you.
What’s in this for me?
Finally, I want to close the loop on the old “what’s in it for me” question. The work – reward quotient on this little exercise is huge. Here is a short list:
- When you differentiate your company, you really differentiate yourself. You drive more sales, you make more money, and they build statues in your honor in the company break room (well maybe not the statue part).
- Providing the information in this report provides you with a “wide open” opportunity to showcase your own work without bragging.
- The manufacture support team knows that you have a direct line to their upper management. This fact alone drives better service and increased cooperation.
- Compiling and producing the report is “exhibit one” in your road to future management.
So what information should be included in your Meeting report?
Sales results are critical; numbers essential; but take the time to tell “the rest of the story”. Paint picture with the broad brush of hand selected details. Saying, “we grew the business by a hundred grand” only tips the iceberg. The “real dope” would be, “We grew the business by one hundred thousand dollars after we discovered that integrating your product with our service saved the customer from obsolete inventory.” See the human interest? They say the devil is in the detail, but this time it’s the Angel.
If sales are down, don’t forget to use the same level of fact in your chronicle of the story. Here might be an example; “we lost a $25,000 order at Acme Widget because our delivery time was too long for their needs.” Note how I used “our” rather than your.
Provide a report of major activities conducted on behalf of the Vendor/Supplier organization. Here is a short list of things to think about:
- Number and names of new customers created
- Details on major marketing events – including customer technology updates
- New applications for existing products
- New product launch results
For the sake of illustration; I would like to share (bore you with) a “war story” from my own career. Early in my career, I worked in very rural territory for Rockwell Automation. When you work a rural and inherently low potential territory you almost never set world records for Mastodon-like sales. My boss at the time pulled me aside one day and said, “You are a master of new product launches, you should report your early success back to headquarters.” I did and here’s what I found. In the early life of a new product, the factory was more interested in a hundred dollar sale than they were in a ten thousand dollar sale of an old line and well established product. I was surprised to discover just how interested a Corporate Vice-President could be in such a small sale. Before I knew it, I was regularly being asked my opinion on product launches, new programs and initiatives.
Information on what’s not going so well becomes a valuable commodity. But, repeat after me, without details these reports look like grousing. If you are having issues with expedites, provide dates, purchase orders, customer implications and other pieces of the pie. Issues with quality provide the same list – but also add an estimate of the time and money it cost your firm to fix the problem. It might look a bit like this:
Sept-Oct 07 Welded Part Issue
Specialist Time at customer location
Specialist Time on phone with factory
Estimated cost of overnight shipping
Lost selling time
Good Rep/Bad Rep
This report is a good place to provide (you guessed it) specific details of what’s right or wrong with the local factory sales people. Be fair – if this looks like character assignation, you will lose your own credibility. I personally like an approach I learned from a Distributor Specialist in Indianapolis. He provides glowing details for the people who are effectively working for/with his organization. For the people who are not working with his company, he provides a checklist with a side by side comparison of the effective vs. the not so effective.
Unfortunately our industry has a few distributors who provide little more to the market than low price and a great example of what a distributor should not be. But this “select few” creates issues for the rest of us. Your report should provide a fair and unbiased report on these people. What is especially compelling are stories of you creating new demand, new applications, and selling new products only to be “price scooped” by a bottom feeder.
OK so what’s the next step?
As soon as you read this, I would pick up the phone or type an email to find out who from your company is going to the next association meeting. (Remember there are some scheduled right away.) Then spend an hour creating this report. Send it to the person going and then ask for ten minutes before and after the meeting.
Here’s a parting thought. According to research conducted by River Heights Consulting, 85% of distributors employ Specialists to differentiate themselves with customers. I believe this is only part of the differentiation. Differentiating yourself with Vendor/Suppliers will “grease the skids” for a better tomorrow.