Are Field Salesmen Dead?

February 18, 2015

I recently read an article in Industrial Distribution Magazine by Justin Roff-Marsh that basically said that the industrial distributor field salesman, as we know it, is DOA.

I don’t know what planet he was born on, but it wasn’t this one! If he was, he would realize that to survive against the big national brands, they must have a unique selling proposition and a strong brand promise.

Granted, if you’re a general line house, your survival rate isn’t good. But most distributors today focus on either a market (Electrical, Plumbing, Construction, etc.) or in specific disciplines like power transmission, cutting tools or industrial hose and fittings. They become experts in that field and customers depend on them for not only product, but advice. This is how they can compete with the Biggies like Grainger and Fastenal.

Speaking of the big boys, who’s going to tell them to stop opening more brick and mortar stores and by all means don’t hire any salesmen!

If this guy did his homework, he’d know that in these models, a lot of their customers come to them. I bet he’d be surprised if he were to walk into a STAFDA, electrical or plumbing wholesaler between 6:30 and 9 any morning, that he’d have a pretty good chance of being run over by customers picking up stuff. And they’re not just picking up an order, they’re talking with counter people on how to solve a particular problem. What’s that worth?

Granted, the role of field salesman has changed over the years, and I don’t expect anyone makes cold calls anymore. But the seasoned field salesman is worth his weight in gold. He’s aware of his surroundings as he walks through a plant or construction site identifying opportunities for new sales. You can’t do that on a phone call or an email.

Years ago, I was making a sales call with a salesman who was called into a customer who was having some production problems with cutting tools. I was amazed as this salesman walked onto the shop floor and walked directly to the CNC machine that they were having trouble with (without even being told ) by just listening to the sound of the machine. He suggested a few adjustments to the feeds and speeds and the problem was solved. The point is, they don’t teach that in college or anywhere else. It comes from experience.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is people still like to buy from other people. If you have value and can help them do their job better, you can bet they’ll make time for you. Look at independent buying groups like Affiliated Distributors or NetPlus Alliance. Each year, they post strong sales growth despite the growing competition. I’ll bet field salesman come into that equation somewhere.


Want a Way to Attract Young People? Try a Ride and Decide Job Shadowing Program.

February 11, 2015

For those of you who read my posts on a regular basis, you know I’m concerned about the long-term viability of all the trades because the older tradesmen are retiring at a far greater pace than young folks coming in. I recently read an article in Contractor Magazine that said that out of every 4 people who leave the trades, only one is entering the field.

Gordy Noe, president of Pioneer Heating and Air Conditioning  in Knoxville, Tennessee, has come up with a unique program called, “Ride and Decide” where he hires high school students for summer jobs and puts them to work. It gives them a chance to dip their toe in the water and see what opportunities are out their other than a 4-year degree.

It’s a win-win for everyone. Young folks get paid work for the summer break and get to experience a trade that they wouldn’t have the opportunity to otherwise do. Contractors get to show them firsthand what they do and what the potential earning power is in the trades. Here’s an interesting stat – only about 10% of those that graduate college actually get a job in the field they studied!

This program is a great model that other contractors across the country might want to try. Talk with local high schools and post jobs both in the schools and online via the social media outlets. Don’t try to do it all on your own. Go to your trade associations like the PHCC or NECA. They certainly should have resources that will help you attract the attention of the younger set.

Who knows, you might be able to start growing talent from within. You could hire these young folks, and as part of their training, offer them educational support by paying for classes at a local trade school or community college.

If you liked this post, you might find these of interest:

Education, Recruiting and the Trades – a Small Step Can Make a Big Difference.

Attracting and Retaining manufacturing talent.


Email Marketing: Still a top performer

January 27, 2015

Do you know that the average office worker checks their email 30 times an hour? Can you imagine what the stats are for contractors out in the field?

The point is that emails are very acceptable ways of communicating with each other. The key is to have relevant and timely info for your prospect.

Heidi Cohen gives us several reasons why email trumps social media:

  • Email provides directly measurable ROI - You know immediately how many opened and read your message.
  • Email is content format agnostic - It’s user-friendly and you can use text, images, videos, audio, PDFs.
  • Email can deliver both long and short content – Content can vary from a link to several pages in length.
  • Emails you can control delivery - Whether it’s now or delayed.
  • Emails can be read on anything - Smart phones, tablets, laptops, no apps required.
  • Emails build customer relationships - Once someone allows you to communicate with them, it represents a certain level of trust.

So since you have such a powerful tool, we need to make sure we’re using it correctly to get the best bang for the buck. eMarketer, in a recent article, stated that we all should get ready for more personalized emails and companies plan on spending more money to accomplish this.

These triggered and transactional emails can be part of a nurturing campaign. The key is getting the right message in the hands of the right people at the right time. You need to ask the right questions to see where they are in the sales funnel so you can address that immediate need.

If we use and target emails correctly, whether you’re going after a contractor or a plant manager, the result improves with the more segmenting you can do. So do your homework and take advantage of a great marketing tool.


From MAGNET: Attracting and Retaining Manufacturing Talent

January 8, 2015

Each month we be feature a blog post from our friends at MAGNET (Manufacturing Advocacy & Growth Network). MAGNET’s mission is to support, educate and champion manufacturing in Ohio with the goal of transforming the region’s economy into a powerful, global player. You can visit MAGNET online at manufacturingsuccess.org.

Attracting and Retaining Manufacturing Talent

By Judith Crocker, Director of Workforce & Talent Development, MAGNET

Recent surveys of manufacturers consistently identify one of their top three priorities as workforce issues. Companies— regardless of size— recognize that a highly skilled, qualified workforce is critical to their success. Whether manufacturers are seeking to develop new products, enter new markets, or improve overall productivity, their workforce will be key to their ability to remain competitive and achieve their goals.

Companies that are successful in attracting and retaining talented people  realize they must be pro-active and become part of their workforce  solution.

Fewer young people are choosing manufacturing careers. They don’t know  the opportunities or the educational requirements.  Coupling that fact with  smaller numbers of students in high school means a smaller pool of qualified candidates for employment.

To overcome that obstacle, smart manufacturers are actively engaging with educational institutions in their communities, informing students, teachers, guidance counselors and parents about the many stable and well-paying jobs they have available.

Starting with middle school age students, these manufacturers are sending young scientists, engineers, technicians and machine operators to visit local classrooms and talk with students about their work.

Students, teachers and parents are also invited to open houses to see the inside of plants and facilities they likely drive by on a daily basis, but have no idea of what is actually taking place inside. They tour the facility, are introduced to the young professionals in the company and see for themselves what takes place at that facility.

Many manufacturers are also sponsoring teams for the FIRST Robotics or Robobot competitions giving students valuable hands-on experience and also the opportunity to work as team members with engineers, technicians, and scientists to solve technical challenges.

Promising high school students can be provided shadowing opportunities that could lead to summer work-based learning experiences and possibly part-time employment during the school year.  The students learn the company culture, its products, processes and customers and can contribute to the overall company goals.  Many students who start out as part-time workers in high school often progress to achieve consistently higher company positions, becoming supervisors, managers, and executives.

October will once again be celebrated as Manufacturing Month in Ohio. This would be an ideal time for you to start your proactive campaign to build your workforce of the future by sponsoring an event in your local community. If you start planning now, you should be able to hold a successful community event at your facilities this October.

Click here to read the original post.


Top Posts of 2014

January 6, 2015

Looking back on 2014, I thought I’d share the 10 most popular posts. Enjoy.

5 Ways to Improve Construction Productivity

Trends in Distribution and What it Means to the Distributor/Supplier Relationship

Tradesmen Take Note: Earnings by College Major Compared to Precision Machining

How will Professional Tradesmen Jobs of the Future be Filled?

Trade Shows and ROI Measurement: 5 Key Metrics

Customer Loyalty: Does it Exist Anymore?

Manufacturers: 6 Tips on How to Hire Independent Reps

B-to-B Marketers: How Many Calls Does it Take to Make a Sale?

 


Happy Holidays from Sonnhalter

December 18, 2014

The Sonnhalter team will be taking some time off over the holidays. We hope that you enjoy this holiday season and time with your family and friends!

Holiday PoemWe’ll see you in January!


Manufacturers: What are you doing to improve the customer experience?

December 16, 2014

Today more than ever, customers are expecting, and in some cases demanding, a better customer experience. These types of experiences have to start in the C suite and trickle down. The customer service department may be on the front line, but they can only mirror what management has in mind.

Do your top-level folks really understand the needs of your customers? If not, they certainly can’t help formulate or lead an initiative for a great customer experience if they don’t know what that is! I was surprised from a recent article in eMarketer that showed over 33% of senior managers weren’t aligned with the customer experience.

I think we can all agree that everyone needs to be on board to truly make the customer experience meaningful and real. For any of you who have flown Southwest or shopped in an Apple store, you know what I mean about customer service. The culture starts at the top and both of those brands know that other choices exist for their product and services.

The two takeaways I’d like to leave you with are:

  1. Listen to your customers - Find out what they want and how they want to get it.
  2. Under promise and over deliver - give them more than they ask for and make the mundane a memorable experience.

If you liked this post, you might want to read:

Customer service: What are you doing to retain customers?

Customer service: Is your company obsessed with it?


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