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Specialists – A Visit with Mr. Obvious


So, This is How I can be Proactive.


“Mr. Obvious, you’ve got to help me.  A monstrously ferocious animal has managed to take up residence in the drain pipe under my kitchen!” the caller reports as the show’s host asks some calming questions.  The hosts goes on to narrow down the problem.  It turns out the animal “down the drain” makes a deep and snarling growl every time the caller’s wife tries to turn on the light in the kitchen.  “And, that thing has razor sharp fangs,” exclaims the caller, “Just look at how it bit me when I tried to shoo it out of the pipe with my hand.”  Mr. Obvious coolly instructs the mystery man on the phone – that’s no animal – it’s your garbage disposal.  Bada-bing-bada-boom, so ends one of America’s most beloved radio comedy sketches.


For the next few minutes let’s explore a similar question faced by Electrical Distributors and the Specialists charged with making the business grow.  


Mr. Obvious, I am so busy – I just can’t seem to have time to be proactive.

Many of this industry’s Specialists routinely work 50 hours a week (and more).  By the time they handle the day-to-day job, there just isn’t enough time to be proactive.   Motivational and efficiency experts (Steven Covey, Zig Ziglar, Tony Robins and my friend Dr. Phil Hall) all spew forth with a variation of a familiar theme.  Call it what you will - the power of the proactive mind, the fourth quadrant or the leadership myth - all pontificate the abject reason theory of “Proactivity”.  They just cannot carry the message to those of who eke out a living as Distributor Specialists, but today we will try.


Not all customers are created equal.

Contrary to American credo (“All mankind is created equal”), all customers aren’t created equal.  One very successful distributor CEO told me that the key to his business success was weeding out the customers who kept his Specialists from really concentrating on the guys who paid the bills.  His first rule of the day was simple and clear – we don’t have enough time, money or energy to provide our service to everyone.  Let’s start with this thought.


Do you know who the top customers are?  The easiest measure of “top customer” is volume.  Do you know names of the twenty five customers who purchase the largest volume from your company?  If not… find out.  An even better way of gauging customers in the distributor world is Gross Margin – same deal as sales volume.  If you don’t know who they are it should be easy to determine who they are.  The absolute best customer metric comes from Profit Contribution.  Profit Contribution is the measure of how much money your company really makes from each individual customer.  This method takes levels of service provided, size of orders, how many people are involved with each order and other variables – right down to how long it takes for the customer to pay his/her bill – into consideration.


So how does customer ranking apply to Specialists?  As you go about your day, what percentage of time do you spend servicing and selling to the crème de la crème of your customer mix?  Many Distributor Specialists find themselves being drug into time consuming situations with customers who provide little profit potential and little room for growth.   They call, you are there and instantly the Specialist finds himself in the distributor version of a “tar-baby”.  If you are running out of time in the day, I suggest you look to trimming away some of these “why bother” customer activities.


Sometimes the “why bother” guys show up at the counter – and a counterperson suggests you spend time with them.  Or, a new salesperson anxious to prove his worth asks you to schedule a call.  Is this a tricky situation?  You bet!  But, the person most responsible for your own success is you.  Don’t be rude, don’t grouse, but immediately following the activity - take the time to discuss the issues of the situation with your co-worker.  In many instances, a procedure can be developed to avoid future such events.


But some of the so-called top customers don’t buy any of my assigned technologies.  It is possible that some of your companies top customers are not currently buying any of the products or technologies assigned to you as a Specialist. 


We need to fix that situation.  Right?  Selling to an existing customer is easier – some would say 5 times easier than finding and ultimately selling to a new account.  Accounts that already do a great deal of business with your organization, but not in your particular area of interest should be easy targets.  The salesperson responsible for their business already knows their model and should be able to maneuver you into position for the sale.  I suggest you schedule a meeting with the salesperson responsible for this business and talk about why you are not seeing them on your own list of sales.


But not everybody with potential is currently buying from your company.  Targeting is the process of determining who should be on the top customer list (but unfortunately, is not).  New research shows that organizations who are “world class” in their targeting activities are 47% more effective than those who do not target.   In June 2007 we did an article on Target Accounts for Specialists (Check out the archived article list on line at  For the sake of our current discussion, you need to develop and control a target list for your area of responsibility.  This list should be broken down based on the following criteria:


  • Which know customers buy products like yours (in quantity) from a competitor?
  • What individuals who were strong supporters of your company and products are now working for a company which is a non-customer?
  • Which known customers would best benefit from the product or technology?
  • Which known customers use your types of product in other locations but not in your territory?


Each of these lists should be developed with hit lists.  Andrew Jackson told his men not to fire at the Red Coats until they saw the whites of their eyes for a reason.  When bullets are scarce, it’s far more effective to have targets than to fill the air with lead and hope for the best.


As a final idea to help you save time and effort, let me suggest multi-tasking.  No not the kind where you talk on the cell phone, drive through traffic and type on your lap top at the same time – this is dangerous and not all that effective.  Instead, look for ideas that bring multiple customer contacts into a single discussion.  Here are a couple of suggestions:


·        Discuss your products with multiple customers at the same time.

I like lunch and learn sessions – You and a salesperson visit the customer during the lunch hour armed with pizza and a demo unit.  Invite the Engineering Department, Maintenance Group or some other congregation of customers to all meet you at the same time.  You demonstrate your product or technology and answer questions over lunch.  A half dozen customer contacts learn about your product and the value you provide in the same time normally required for a single sales call.


·        Set up your demo and invite customers to your location.

Let’s face it, demo set up and tear down is time consuming.  Further, the complex nature of some types of products – especially the automation stuff – means there is a risk of having an unplanned “static demonstration” – the kind where some key feature is not working.  Instead, work with your salespeople to set up a number of customer invites – maybe one in the morning, one in the afternoon and one at lunch.  Not only will you avoid the travel time, you will avoid the set up time.  But, wait there’s more, a customer who is in-the-house, gives you an opportunity to show off your facility, your support staff and, maybe even, visit with your management team.


·        Take advantage of a local trade show

I know, it’s nearly impossible to really sell anything at a local trade show.  But, I know of a number of Specialists who take advantage of the show in another way.  Instead of spending all their time with tire kickers and competitive guys fishing for information, they rent a hotel room near the show.  With the demo and private space established, they invite good prospects back to their room for a more in-depth look.  The result is multiple deep selling appointments taken care of in the course of a single day.



A parting thought

I don’t want to sound like Mr. Obvious; none of these translates to free time and a four-hour work week.  But, all of these provide you with just a couple extra tools in your arsenal of better efficiency and better results.  Some ideas will work for you; some will work for others.  The point is progress – and no one can guarantee perfection.  I do guarantee progress.







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