AD’s advantages put to use in clean energy push

Part three in a three part series

By Joe Salimando

Beyond whatever difficulties electrical distributors have had understanding energy opportunities, Christian Siebens said in a phone interview with tedmag.com, suppliers in those markets have also had difficulties figuring out how the electrical distribution works.

Siebens, director of the Clean Energy program at Affiliated Distributors, noted that part of his job is explaining the value and national footprint of the electrical distribution channel to these new clean energy suppliers.

“They don’t really understand electrical distribution. Once new clean energy suppliers grasp the electrical distribution model and understand the role that AD affiliates play—not just with product promotion but also through their years of relationships with electrical contractors—having access to this group becomes more enticing. “

“Beyond that,” Siebens added, “we make it easier for the suppliers—they can get involved with more than 100 of our affiliates, and yet deal with AD as a central point of contact. From their perspective, we’re able to get things sorted out in a more efficient manner.”

supplyFORCE helps, too

AD’s partnership with supplyFORCE has been put to use, as well. SupplyFORCE focuses on selling comprehensive (integrated supply) distribution solutions to national accounts.

“Our relationship with supplyFORCE has helped put Christian in front of national accounts, larger customers with national footprints,” said David Oldfather, president of AD’s Electrical Divisions.

And what Siebens has to say may well find receptive ears. “They are interested when I tell them that we can provide financing,” he said. “We have been involved in several multiple installations in which the customer provided no ‘up front’ money.”

Onion’s many layers a problem?

In part two of this three-part series (also see part one), the Clean Energy program was described as having many layers—analogous to an onion. While the many assets and moving parts are intriguing–remembering that they projected a five-times or 6-times increase in 2012 clean energy sales by affiliates—this might actually pose a problem for Oldfather and Siebens.

“We will be holding our (now annual) Clean Energy Summit in July for both our Clean Energy Champions and their upper management.  It’s important to make the program’s advantages clear to the CEOs and CFOs of our affiliate companies,” Oldfather said.

“In our upcoming Spring Network Meeting with those executives, we’ll detail how far this program has come. We’re also showing them how to assemble proposals and sell Clean Energy systems via a few of our financial partners,” Oldfather added. “We will also be outlining all of the tools that are part of this program now—so that these companies can make better use of all of these tools, which will lead to the continued success of AD affiliates.”

Transforming distribution?

On one level, it’s easy to think that, even with the need to better communicate with high-level distributor executives, Oldfather and Siebens have had a minimum of problems. After all, starting a distributor energy products/services marketing cooperative from scratch might have been a daunting task without AD’s existing advantages and ability to build on what its affiliates were already doing.

On the other hand, listening to Oldfather in the phone interview, there was something communicated—more in tone-of-voice than in actual words—that the first 20 months of the Clean Energy program were more of an introductory period. What can be seen now, perhaps, is not the finished product.

“In these first 20 months, we’ve brought Christian on board. And we’ve been able to get a number of our Affiliates energized and trained,” Oldfather said.

Whether there’s more to come or not, it’s apparent that clean energy is making participating electrical distributors a bigger part of the energy equation. It has done this, in large part, by:

  • Building on “the low hanging fruit” in energy efficiency
  • Creating relationships with suppliers and EPC companies in solar
  • Offering financial options that are attractive to customers
  • Ramping up distributor know-how in energy sales

According to Siebens, “When you can connect the dots from quote and design generation software to products, sales support, training, financing and installation, that’s the complete sales cycle.  That’s how AD affiliates are differentiating themselves in the marketplace today.”

Perhaps natural gas prices will fall and electricity prices will go down and stay down forever. If that fantasy does not come to pass, however, it appears that the AD Clean Energy program is the sort of thing that someone in the distribution business would have had to invent if AD hadn’t embarked down this path in July 2010.

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