Questionable Meetings. Are you willing to ask uncomfortable questions?

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With the NAED meeting season coming to an end this weekend and distributors finally done with their planning sessions with manufacturers (more meetings), the issue of the quality of the meetings defined as “probing questions / value of the meeting time” has been a topic of discussion that we’ve recently had.

Our good friend Mike Marks recently resurrected a post he wrote from 18 months ago titled “Why Old-School Distributor-Manufacturer Meetings are a Waste of Time”.

In his article he comments that, what should occur is “when a manufacturer comes in for a joint meeting, the distributor gives a presentation to the manufacturer telling them what’s happening in their markets, including market economics and updates on major accounts. Ideally, this distributor knows five to 10 times more about the market than the supplier does. If they do, when the vendor rep comes out for a visit, they can give them a bunch of information and a PowerPoint presentation with data that the vendor can take back to their boss to effectively negotiate on the distributor’s behalf.” Hence the onus for a quality meeting therefore reverts to the manufacturer to essentially get the manufacturer rep / RSM to be a distributor supporter.

Mike posted this on LinkedIn which generated some other approaches / questions that could be used to enhance the quality of a meeting:

  • What is the one thing that I can do that would help you the most?
  • What message have you been trying to send us that we seem to be unable to hear?
  • Ask manufacturers what their objectives in the market are, and with your? What are their planned promotions, the new products they want to promote that fit your customer segments and what mature products they needed to restore share?
  • Manufacturers should be ASKING the distributor to tell them about their local market, then actually listening to learn not just respond.

At the recent NAILD Annual Conference I did a presentation on Strategies to Increase Share in the Renovation space and prior to distributor / manufacturer strategic planning sessions (they call them OCCs), I suggested that

  • Distributors ask manufacturers “what resources do you offer that can help me create demand for your products in my marketplace?” Or \”How can we create demand together?\”
  • Manufacturers ask distributors “how can we jointly create demand within your customer base for our products?”
  • And manufacturers should also ask \”How can I earn more of your business? (Notice, the word is \”earn\”, not \”how can I get more of your business?\” For many suppliers the answer relates to inside sales, specialists and marketing activities.)
  • Manufacturers can also ask “how do we perform for you and how well exposed is our line to your inside salespeople?”

The challenge for many of these questions is the issue of “honesty”.  At many meetings the parties are more concerned, subliminally, about being diplomatic as they endeavor to maintain a copasetic relationship … no change to protect the incumbent revenue and not to upset the apple cart.

And then the challenge is “action”.  There isn’t high confidence within the industry that timely action will occur from a meeting.  Issues drag on.

So, if this is the case, perhaps before a meeting ends an “owner” of the issue needs to be identified, defined actions determined and a timeline established. Then the issue is, will there be a consequence if there is not a deliverable.

The issues are real.  Is there really a solution or do we meet to talk to hear ourselves and make sure senior management hears what they want to hear? Are companies committed to change to affect their performance, their culture and to deliver for their partner?

These issues relate to industry meetings, planning meetings and more. Consider how much time is spent in meetings. If there isn’t an ROI on everyone’s time, why meet other than to placate someone?

What strategies do you use to ensure meetings with your channel partner is defined as “successful?”

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