Canadian Electrical Wholesaler

Building Your BusinessBy Paul Eitmant

It is always interesting to see manufacturers develop new products for the electrical industry. Lately we have seen an influx of hi-tech products that require a special type of salesperson at the distributor level.

Over the past few years we’ve seen CFL and LED lighting, solar energy, wind power, Wi-Fi enabled lighting solutions, and the expansion of industrial controllers that incorporate new features and related benefits.

The challenge for electrical distribution: are you willing to invest time and money in this new hi-tech market by hiring and training salespeople who have the skills to pitch the product and the expertise to answer relevant questions that will arise during a typical sales call?

It is easy for manufacturers when an established platform partner introduces this type of new product to market on your behalf. You know from experience that they will have the correct training tools for your employees. It is not so easy for distributors when a manufacturer whose existing product line represents less than one half of one percent of your total sales walks into your office with a new, improved product for your business to market.  Over the past few years we have been working with hi-tech product manufacturers and distributors that have successfully entering the marketplace. In preparation for this article, I conducted a follow-up survey. The results, appearing below, could help you make this crucial decision for your business in the future.
1. Understand your customer profile and where your company will be 5 years from now
All of us have been through the turmoil of the last 10 years. The question is how will your business survive another downturn in the major product market mix that you currently represent.
To continue growing your distribution business, you must understand where your business comes from and where you want to be in five years. Most of you consider this on an ongoing basis. However, we do know there will always be change. During your next team meeting/planning meeting, take time to look at your business and products into new markets starts.

2. Apply a team approach: top down and bottom up always works
No matter the size of your company and the new product selection process you are currently using, the distributors and manufacturers I surveyed stated (100% agreement) that the only true way to ensure success is to obtain total buy-in from top management and the key employee group that will be responsible for the selection process. In other words, the primary stakeholders. This held true for every success story that was surveyed.

3. Provide training at every level
Regardless of what new hi-tech product was being introduced, both the manufacturer and the distributor team stated that training is the most crucial element in the launch kit for taking a new product to market. They went on to state that training must be provided to the outside sales staff as well as inside sales and customer service. This will ensure that any representative that a prospective customer comes in contact with will be able to answer questions or direct the customer to the appropriate group. Therefore, it is imperative for distributors to implement the entire training package.

4. Prepare your elevator speech — features and benefits for end users
No one has time to listen to a 45-minute presentation. Therefore, ensure every member of your sales team knows the five major features and related benefits for end users. One successful strategy I have seen is to print and distribute product cards with a bullet point list of features and attributes for sales and support staff to keep handy. This is not a must, but it will ensure that everyone on the team understands the new product.

5. Knowledge of competitors’ specs
No matter how new a product, competitors will often have comparable products. Therefore, it is imperative for your entire sale teams to be aware of competitors in this marketplace. Ensure manufacturers review competitive offerings with the sales team during the training process.

6. Identify your target market and supply a product launch kit
All the distributors that were surveyed stated the manufacturer must supply a complete launch kit as well as in-depth knowledge of the target market trading area the distributor is currently serving. A typical launch kit includes:
•    brochures
•    data sheets
•    samples
•    ad campaign material and schedule
•    price sheets and discount schedule
•    a web page
•    Internet access to video/ training modules that customers can view from their location.

7. Conduct joint sales calls
Joint sales calls with the distributor’s salesperson is a must. In every case there is nothing better than a face-to-face sales call to ensure that both the distributor’s sales personnel and the end-user understand how this new product will improve the end-user’s current situation.

8. Team meetings within the first few weeks after the product launch
Stay in constant communication — formally or informally — with team members who are involved in this new product/target market program. Bottom line: you need feedback from your sale team, including any challenging questions they’ve encountered from end users so that you can continuously improve the training process.

9. Publish your first success
Nothing breeds more success than publicizing your first order. I see testimonials as one of the biggest factors in securing new business for the distributor as well as the manufacturer. Some of you may be hesitant to tell your competitor how successful you been. However, in most cases I’ve seen only more success with this when it is accomplished in a professional manner. The distributor can always rely on the manufacturer to handle this process.

10. Offer end user training/introduction seminars
Inviting end-users to attend an in-house training seminar at the distributor location or a neutral location is a practice in use for years. Depending on the product, the interaction between end users will contribute to future success. In all cases I have seen these types of seminars to be very successful and well attended.

11. Know that new hi-tech products will be available at a faster rate in the future
 We are seeing new high-tech products in TV commercials and on web pages every day. The question arises: when will these products be adapted to the electrical industrial/commercial marketplace?

The challenge for distributors today and in the future is to be aware of the current situation and be able to identify new products that will fit your expanding product market mix. At the same time, you must be able to look at your company from outside your comfort zone — “think out of the box” — and be willing to invest time and effort in launching these products into a new marketplace in a way that will enhance their growth rate now and in the future.

Paul Eitmant is President and CEO of IP Group International, which serves the needs of business-to-business enterprises in over 30 countries worldwide by adding specialized expertise to the business planning and implementation process; Tel: 480.488.5646480.488.5646; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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