Friday, September 21, 2012

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

End of Year Planning Time is Here

The famed return flight of the swallows to the chapel courtyard in Capistrano is celebrated in both art and song.  Each year, their return heralds a new season, a reawakening of life, a mark in time.  Similarly, the desks of distributorland experience a similar return sometime each November or December.  It’s the late afternoon flight of the planning sheet.

Most of our brothers in the wholesale trade compare planning more to the annual reappearance of buzzards in Hinckley, Ohio than the romantic fluttering in Capistrano.  And some distributor folk would rather watch buzzards circle over their sun-blistered body on a Mexican fire-ant hill than face the planning beast.  Truth is: very few people like end of year planning.

If you hate planning, this article isn’t going to change your mind.  Instead, let’s just say it’s a necessity of good business.  And, in turbulent times (like today), a strong annual plan is critical to success. 

We believe that if you break end of the year planning into 6 easy to stomach steps, it’s easier to handle and possibly even a little more fun.  Along the way, you may even discover the quality of your work improves.  Over the next few weeks, we’re going to walk you through the half dozen things we feel are important to end of year planning.

Some of you insist on knowing what these points are so here’s a sneak peak. 

1)      Sales Forecast

2)      Detailed Expense Budget

3)      Employee Enhancement

4)      Marketing Initiatives

5)      Manufacturer Relations

6)      Technology

One thing we promise you will notice as you move through this series of articles is the ever present thoughts around targeting and the measure of value.  Here’s why.  We’ve already said we have better things to do this time of year.  If the activity doesn’t impact our business, let’s head off for some Holiday Cheer.

Distributor Planning Made Easy.  Check out our Distributors Annual Planning Workbook:

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Vampire Hunter's Training Manual

Profit Vampires: Out for more than just blood.
Vampires are everywhere. True Blood on TV, the Twilight books, Return of Dracula at the local Drive-in and now in a purchasing office near you.

Industrial Supply Magazine just featured an article on Profit Vampires. Read the tale of Count Purchasing and his evil gang here.

Friday, September 7, 2012

More Than Just Features vs. Benefits

Skill Six: Product Knowledge

Congratulations!  You memorized all of these manuals. 
How can these products help your client?
Let’s face it, most distributor “sales” training is actually “product” training.  Many of my clients employ salespeople who are technicians, graduate engineers or carry some other high level credential who can often spew the technical ins and outs of their products.   A mentor once coined the phrase “doubledipthonghydristor syndrome” to describe the phenomenon.  They have all this information, but they don’t understand true product knowledge.   

To go back to my own youth at Allen-Bradley, Engineers in training were forced to memorize the six step coating process for solenoids.  Most of my contemporaries could never really connected on the why this may or may not be important to the customer.  Product-centric minutia by itself doesn’t equate to product knowledge.  Instead, we believe product knowledge revolves around understanding how your product can help customers make more money. 

As you go through the metrics of grading yourself, think about the interweaving between product knowledge and other basic skills.

1 – Recognize the descriptions of major product lines.

3 – Have a limited functional understanding of where the product can be used by the customer.

5 – Understand function and application of your entire product line. You understand the relationship between products and sometimes use this knowledge in your sales process.

7 – You can translate the different features of products into function and application and then into measured benefit to your customer.

10- You carefully study the relationship between product types to help look for opportunities to help your customers and increase your own status at the account.

This is the last in our series of articles on the essential skills for distributor salespeople.  We developed this information several years ago and as we updated it for this series of articles, I was shocked by the changes in essential skills.  This drives home one very central point:  it doesn’t matter how many years of experience under your belt, we all must constantly hone our skills to remain at the top of our game.

I would love to hear about the changes you have found valuable.  Send me your thoughts and I will send you a “Post Card from Iowa”.  My address is