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Mar 25, 2021

Ken CainBy Ken Cain, Channel Marketing Group

Everyone likes to talk about their successes, and I am no exception. The road to success, however, inevitably has some speed bumps, or what sales and management may call “failures.” Let me tell you about two of mine, but how we turned them into “learning experiences.” 

Education… content matters more than cost to attend

There was a time when electrical distribution was moving at lightspeed trying to break into the data communications industry, and by that I mean the hardware, cables, punch down blocks, plates, fibre optics and more… all that good stuff. Some of that still goes on with some of the major and niche players. 

We had this association, and it still exists, BICSI. They did a lot of great training and in those days, I was desperately trying to figure out how to get the electrical distributor I worked for at the time to offer education as a service to our customers. So, I did what any good marketing person would do: I looked at what others were doing, and I imitated them. 

We planned, and offered, a Data Com seminar on specific topics. We had a great instructor, the perfect course material, and a great venue in a 4-star hotel. We anticipated 600 attendees. So far so good. These seminars normally sold for around $3500 per person because there was certification involved and the level of the instructor had to also be certified. 

Being the brilliant marketing guy that I was I decided to sell it on price. As a distributor, isn’t that what we so to generate demand? I cut the price to $1800 per participant. Who could refuse such a deal? 50% off the competition! Now, drumroll please, we had 100 plus people show up as paid participants. 

I learned a lot from that experience with the help of some good mentors around me, like how to take a room that was set for 600 and make it full with only 100 people in attendance. I also learned that having a room that can be segmented with collapsible walls is not a bad idea. The seminar went well but I was pretty much shattered. And I lost money on the event! I was fortunate that the owner of the company I was working for at the time was a great mentor and had the patience of Job. 

When it was over, I went around to everyone that I thought should have attended. It was a “What the heck” moment. The answer I got was almost uniformly the same. The price was too low. When the customer looked at it because the price was so low, they immediately drew the conclusion this cannot be what they were looking for. They assumed it was an inferior product and for them, training was valuable. Not only did they need the information, their time was also involved.

I have carried that thought process forward for the last 30 years. More recently, with another distributor we developed a comprehensive, multi-course, education program. The initial pushback was, “We cannot charge our customers for education. It will never work.”

It did work, and it worked well. Customers want quality, local, training taught be specialists that they can relate to (and frequently people other than manufacturers).

I keep telling people that when you talk to customers about their concerns price never comes up in the top three. Charge what is appropriate, make a profit, and deliver value for that charge. 

(If you are interested in developing a training offering to differentiate your company and provide additional value to your customers, and make this a revenue-generating venture, Channel Marketing Group can help. We have experience in identifying needs, sourcing presenters, managing, and marketing training events not only for your customers, but for your marketplace, enabling the events to be a new customer generation strategy. Contact me for more information.)

When bad weather strikes a customer outing… react and adapt

We took 150 + people to Nags Head, NC to go tuna fishing for a day. The boats hold about six customers and a couple of employees / manufacturer personnel. You arrive the first night, fish the next day and have a great dinner that night. Meanwhile the fish is being cut up and put in coolers for the trip home the next day. A memorable experience for customers and a great time for relationship strengthening.

What a plan except at 4:00 am the day we are to fish, the dockmaster says the boats are not going out due to weather. Now we have three problems:

• what to do with the attendees for the extra day
• what about the fishing
• how do I get them back on time

Not to mention, what is all of this going to cost?

What to do with them on the extra day was a little challenging. We drove up and down the main drag looking for some place to entertain our customers for the day and into the evening. We went by several places including one that appeared ideal. It was perfect, but the owner had an event scheduled for that day and, although he did not expect a lot of attendance, he felt a loyalty to his regular customers and did not to accommodate us, a one-time opportunity. After two hours of additional looking, we went back to this “perfect place” to try a second pitch. We sat at a table and talked to him. He reiterated that he was not going to budge. 

A lesson then came to mind which is “sometimes a given sum of money is a lot and sometimes it is not.” Depends upon who is considering it.

We offered the fellow a financial sum in addition to paying for all the food and booze. He still said no. His wife overheard the conversation, and we had a “yes” shortly thereafter. (Anybody that tells you women are not in charge has not been married like me for 44 years!) 

The part about the money is important. We had already paid for the boats. That fee was nonrefundable. All we had at risk was another night in the hotel which they threw in at no charge because of our circumstances (it also was off-season). Then there was the money that we were going to spend for the additional venue to keep our customers entertained for the extra day.

At risk was first our customers safety, that always comes first, and we addressed it. Next to consider was relationships with our customers. These folks do not go on these trips unless they are really into tuna sportfishing as well as being willing to spend time with us. Finally, was the additional money. Important, but not more important than the opportunity to build lasting relationships with key customer contacts. 

Then we addressed the issue of the fishing, so we got up the next morning, and they fished like crazy (one day delayed). We brought them back that evening, fed them again and put them on a bus home. What about the fish you may ask? We went out on the open market, purchased tuna, had it prepared for them in coolers to take home. We gave the fish they caught to charity. Again, an additional expense, but we are talking about relationships. We’re investing in the long-term relationship. It has been 20 years and some people still talk about that trip.

The key? Think about your customer and do what is right for them today and invest in the long-term. Be adaptable and creative to solve problems. Money matters but customers matter more. Customers will remember what you did for them and will pay you back over time. Further, relationships matter in the contractor business.

Speed bumps are learning lessons

I can talk about 20 or more speed bumps I have hit in my career. For now, let me summarize. These are words from various mentors that have been key in saving my butt when I get into trouble. (Some still do this today for me!)

Thoughts

1. Every failure is an opportunity.

2. It only costs a little more to do it right.

3. Customer satisfaction is nice, but Customer loyalty is much better. 

4. Get help, both from within and from outside your organization. 

5. Surround yourself with people who know more than you.

I got some great feedback from my first attempt at an article*, and I appreciate each and every one. I will be utilizing many of them in my future attempts. This will be the last article I will write on promotions for a while. I have other subjects that I would like to talk about and share my views, mostly so I can solicit your views in return. I am still learning. In the meantime, if you would like to reach out for any reason you can contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 240-682- 3660. 

What speed bumps have you encountered?

Ken Cain is a member of Channel Marketing Group’s Executive-in-Residence program. Recently retired Vice President of Marketing for Capital Electric Supply (a Sonepar company) for the past 16 years, Ken was previously Vice President of Marketing for Rexel and Vice President of Marketing for Branch Electric before it was purchased by Rexel in 2000. A 41-year marketing veteran, Ken has extensive expertise in the development of manufacturer funding programs to support distributor marketing efforts. Channel Marketing Group’s Executive-in-Residence program is a unique initiative where recently retired industry veterans can share their expertise and relationships to Channel Marketing Group clients. This enables CMG to bring additional resources to support clients. They partner with CMG to develop ideas that generate results; www.electricaltrends.com.

* “10 Keys to a Successful Promotion,”  https://electricaltrends.com/2021/03/10/10-keys-to-a-successful-promotion/