Recently I visited a manufacturer rep client and spent time with their salespeople. As typically goes, the conversation “wanders” into what they are observing in the marketplace (the benefit of F2F meetings!). The salespeople I was talking to have been visiting with distributors and contractors while observing applicable COVID protocols and, most importantly, being respectful of the customer.
As a manufacturer representative, the agency, by definition, is entrepreneurial, hence the principal, and the salespeople do “whatever is needed” to serve the customer. They also recognize that visibility is important.
They commented that:
- They’ve been able to visit independent distributors and those that act as independents (CED profit centers and City Electric branches.) These companies are also open to their salespeople calling on customers, especially at the customer\’s request. They are observing the applicable protocols and “using commonsense.”
- National chains, and those that are more centrally managed, are much more restrictive with their sales organization visiting customers and only want virtual sales calls.
- Few, if any, companies are open to manufacturer regional managers visiting.
- Manufacturers with local staff are, in some cases, visiting distributors and end-users, however, the more “corporate” a company is (and it seems all publicly held companies), the less flexible that they are in letting their salespeople visit distributors and customers.
- Contractors are open to visits.
- Large industrial accounts are not open to visits unless they have an issue that will result in down-time.
The agency’s salespeople have noticed that they have been able to pick up share at contractors and distributors versus certain manufacturers and that contractors are moving some business from national chains because of salesperson support.
Then, last week we conducted a virtual focus group for a distributor with a small group of contractors. This distributor was in a different part of the country.
One of the questions related to COVID and asking the contractors how COVID is changing their distributor interactions and what, if anything, from the pandemic could carry into the future when the pandemic “ends”.
Interestingly, all said that they have had distributor outside salespeople call on them to assist with various issues. The “doughnut stops” have pretty much ended but the salespeople are being responsive. They did comment, however, that they haven’t seen much, if any, from national chains and that the national chains have lost some opportunities due to accessibility.
The contractors also felt that Teams / Zoom could replace some visits but, long-term, a mix would be expected and that relationships were key to understanding them, their needs and “creating a competitive difference” at least initially. The relationship part enables the ability to transition to a digital relationship as it creates “trust.” (and yes, these were contractors from 45-60 years old.)
Surprisingly, none had had a Teams / Zoom experience where the distributor integrated the manufacturer (or internal staff) for a 3-way meeting to bring additional technical / project management expertise to an opportunity.
So, some observations / thoughts …
- Is legal driving decisions for larger companies?
- Does incumbency create a sense of comfort? While distributors may be reluctant to do conversions, with most offering options within a product category, more “visible” / active lines may generate opportunities and can take share.
- The pandemic will be here for a bit. Companies and salespeople will need to use “commonsense” and be respectful of their customer, but, to paraphrase the Queen song of The Show Must Go On (and an old circus phrase, “business must go on”.
- For many outside salespeople, transitioning to more of a virtual salesperson, either full-time or part-time, is a challenge because it is different and therefore uncomfortable. It’s an acquired skill set but a necessary one.
- Mark Jewell, energy salesperson extraordinaire, is addressing this issue with a timely training session titled “5 key Tactics to Help Your Sales Team Navigate the Rough Waters Ahead”. The session will focus on tactics to help salespeople achieve their 2020 sales goals. Key topical areas include:
- Doing a truly effective “customer check-in” call.
- Sidestepping budget freezes by reframing energy solutions as essential spending.
- Pivoting from “outside sales” to “inside sales” by leveraging the new definition of “face-to-face” interactions.
- And two more.
This training session, held Wednesday, August 26th from 2:30-3:30 EST, is free. Having seen some of Mark’s sessions and having heard salesperson feedback from his Energy Selling sessions he has conducted for IMARK, I would recommend manufacturer, rep and distributor salespeople and sales managers attend.
While companies, and individuals, may be concerned about flying, the American pastime of road-trips may be critical to helping you retain / take share. This is an advantage that independent manufacturer reps have in the marketplace right now … the ability to make local decisions (and not be encumbered by corporate level decisions … and conversely, these manufacturers have “outsourced” this decision.)
With the pandemic shortly entering its sixth month, adaptation is key to revenue generation and sales goal achievement. It’s important to be respectful, and careful, but companies that will succeed will integrate personal and digital sales techniques to accommodate customer requests. While we know that sales in the electrical industry is a contact support, now, perhaps more than ever, it is important to connect to generate opportunities, retain market share and possibly take share. Integrated customer engagement, and keeping it personal, are critical to taking share when there is less business out there.
If you are in sales, or responsible for sales, sign up for Mark’s session. It may help.