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NAED Recap Part 1: Harvesting Our Customers’ Intelligence

on May 2, 2012

Every year, top leaders in the industry gather at the National Association of Electrical Distributors National Meeting examine important trends and analysis of the electrical distribution channel issues. Part 1 of this 2-part series will summarize the NAED national meeting and forecast what the next year will look like for both manufacturers and distributors.  In Part 2, I’ll look at why the industry must place a greater emphasis on attracting and retaining young talent.

Let’s start off this discussion first by saying that the Annual NAED Meeting in Washington, D.C. was a roaring success.

The annual meeting offers the opportunity to meet one-on- one with distributors without the local sales agent. Wheatland Tube had over 25 one–on–one meetings with key distributor partners where we discussed a wide range of topics and harvested our customer’s intelligence and insights to become a more effective part of their success.

While we are committed to the independent sales agent model for most markets, not all sales agents are equal – reps are a fluid bunch in that the best reps may start to wither and the weaker reps improve and fill that void; it is my job to identify these shifts and move quickly to capitalize on them so that we can stay one step ahead of our competition. The meetings give us the opportunity to ask the tough questions – and I thank our distributors for offering candid answers about our rep network, both positive and negative.

We received very good feedback from our distributor partners. Some of the feedback was very positive as distributors recognized the recent improvements we have made in improving our service. We had one distributor go out of his way to tell us “I don’t know exactly what you are doing but keep doing it, as you are taking share” – the best part is it looked like another distributor overheard the conversation—I cannot help but wonder what he was thinking. Maybe, just maybe, he is scratching his head and wondering if he is missing an opportunity to grow his business by not shifting more tons our way.

Our distributors frequently talk to us about new products they’d like us to offer.  They’re also interested in planning end-user calls, which provide us the chance to really show our their customers the power of a great manufacturer/distribution partnership.

And we also had distributors enlighten us on where we’ve underperformed. But no one knows better than me that a problem is only an opportunity to shine.

While praises left me warm and fuzzy, had the real issues not been discussed, they could have remained dormant- putting a sour taste in their mouths. I cannot tell you how many times over the years I have had a rep or distributor or regional manager tell me that because we handled a problem quickly and fairly, we had solidified our position with a distributor or contractor, rather than strained that relationship.

So what is the bottom line?

Well, none of us wants to be away from our families any more than we have to. And we often climb in the car or board the plane with a false sense of bravado, enroute to a meeting like the NAED Annual Meeting. But, like EVERY NAED Annual Meeting (and every Regional NAED also), I left with a sense of accomplishment knowing that I had learned a lot about our customers’ needs and what we need to do to be a better partner.

All the talk in the world cannot offset action. As the head of Porsche said at a past NAED (and I have always remembered this), “The best plan in the world poorly implemented will always be beat by a good plan that is implemented well.”

Now the real work begins:  following through on these action items I brought home from D.C.