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.


STAFDA Show Recap

November 12, 2014

stafda

I just returned from the STAFDA show which was held in Charlotte, NC. It was the biggest one in some years.

The show, for the most part, was upbeat, and the economic forecast for the next few years looks promising for the construction market.

I talked to several manufacturers and they seemed happy, for the most part, on the turnout for the trade show. The last day didn’t set any records, but most trade shows don’t.

In talking with several distributors and a few buying groups that were there, they confirmed that they were having great growth in 2014 and expect it to continue into 2015.

It was nice to go to a distributor/manufacturer meeting where both sides were positive. Hopefully the crystal ball will be right.


2013 STAFDA Recap

November 20, 2013

stafda

Just returned from the 2013 STAFDA Show in Las Vegas. According to STAFDA, attendance was up to around 4,900 participants.

The show for the most part was upbeat, and the economic forecast for the next few years looks promising for the construction market.

I talked to several manufacturers and they seemed happy for the most part on the turnout for the trade show. The last day didn’t set any records, but most trade shows don’t.

In talking with several distributors and a few buying groups that were there, they confirmed that they were having great growth in 2013 and expect it to continue into 2014.

It was nice to go to a distributor/manufacturer meeting where both sides were positive. Hopefully the crystal ball will be right.


STAFDA 2013 – Las Vegas Insider’s Guide

November 6, 2013

SON-397_LasVegas-Web

For those of you that are going to Las Vegas this weekend for the STAFDA Show, we put together an Insider’s Guide to Las Vegas by asking friends and business associates about gems in the city that you might not be aware of. It includes Restaurants, Nightlife, Events and more. It’s available here.

We hope you have a good show. See you there.


What Are Your Thoughts on Buying Groups and Trade Associations?

December 19, 2012

I know there’s been lots of discussions on the pros and cons of buying groups over the years, and I’m not here to try to sway you one way or the other.

I recently came back from STAFDA, which for those who don’t know, is an association of construction distributors and the manufacturers that sell into that market. What struck me at the trade show part of the event was it was obvious which manufacturers didn’t belong to a group. You saw plenty of Evergreen, Sphere 1 and NetPlus badges there, but they were concentrating mostly on seeing the manufacturing members of their respective groups. (I’m using STAFDA as an example and I’m not trying to pick on them.)

So my question is for those who don’t belong to a group
(and don’t have a unique product), how do you justify going to one of these meetings? Should the association try to incentivize distributors to stop by new member booths? I feel sorry for those folks who ponied up the cash but not very many distributors stopped by.
Another interesting issue is that most of these buying groups have their own annual meetings and some are incorporating trade shows along with these get-togethers. From a manufacturing point of view, which shows do you go to? Obviously it’s the ones where you get the most bang for your buck.

Associations/buying groups may want to look at their model as things have changed over the past several years.
They need to ask about the value proposition of getting these distributors and manufacturers together. Instead of trade shows (whoever introduces a new product at one of these), maybe there should be a series of round table discussions on how to improve the supply chain for everyone involved.

There are some really smart people out there (on both sides), and I believe a lot more could come out of these kinds of meetings and they could include all members.

Any of you belong to other type groups that have changed the model? I’d like to hear from you.


How Can We Get the Most Out of Trade Association Meetings?

May 1, 2012

I just got back last week from the ISA (Industrial Supply Association) Show in San Antonio, and I have to tell you, if I were a manufacturer, I’d have to think about what I was getting out of that show. Since we represent manufacturers that go to these types of meetings, I thought I’d bring up the subject for some serious conversation.

In theory, it’s a place where manufacturers and their distribution counterparts come together via a format of speed dating where the manufacturer requests meetings with distributors (both existing customers and potentials). Like anything else, there are no shows for appointments. The booth program is a two-day affair and while the traffic was light on the first day, it was almost non-existent the second day.

If I was a distributor and could talk to as many suppliers as I could in a period of a few days, I would think they would want to take advantage of it. The manufacturers, as in most associations, foot the bills. They have to bring in product, booths and their associated expenses. What’s most disturbing is that the ratio of manufacturers to distributors is probably 10 to 1.

I don’t have the answer and I’m not trying to pick on ISA. STAFDA, NAEDNAHAD and many more face the same dilemma. There’s got to be a better way in a shorter period of time to make the most out of these meetings. Back in the day, these meetings were a place to showcase new products and programs, but with internet and all the other tools we have, I would hope at least your current customers would know about anything new.

I do recall that the fall meetings in Chicago for a day and a half at the airport were both efficient and successful. I believe it was due in part because the distributors were in the booth and you did your speed dating, but only the roles were reversed. NAED does this at their regional meetings, and as far as I can tell, the manufacturers like the format.

Any suggestions on how we can get these distributor/supplier get togethers to be better for all parties involved?


Overview of the Construction Industry’s Outlook for 2012

February 14, 2012

Georgia Foley, the executive director of STAFDA, spent a few minutes with us after her return from the World of Concrete show late last month. While there, she met with her manufacturing liaison committee and shared their comments on the state of the construction industry. Listen to it by clicking below. Enjoy.


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