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Collaboration: The secret ingredient for advancing the electrical industry

By Brad Wiandt, president of Madison Electric Products

In my 16 years in the industry, I’ve realized that the most successful businesses have one thing in common: their leaders know how to build and maintain relationships – not only with customers, but also with partners and competitors. As an industry, we stand to gain from each others’ success.

A quote comes to mind: “Innovation comes only from readily and seamlessly sharing information rather than hoarding it.” – Tom Peters

We as an industry have everything to gain through active communication and collaboration. The only way for the industry to move forward is to share ideas and information. However, I understand the hard truth that we sometimes get too caught up in the daily minutia of our own businesses to notice how critical collaboration is – not just with customers, but also with vendors, employees and (gasp!) even competitors. So what are the keys for achieving effective industry collaboration?

Clear communication across the channel

In order to achieve full industry collaboration, we must understand each part of the channel very clearly. For example, as suppliers, we have to be cognizant of the need of our channel partners. For instance, what can we do to make the sales process more efficient and effective? What can we do to make their job easier?

That said, our partners also need to be open and honest about how we’re serving them. We want to know the good and the bad so we can fix problems and continue to provide a high-level of service. Two-way communication is key in a channel environment.

Think of it this way: We’re functioning like an old wheel with six spokes. Each spoke is critical to the overall functionality of the wheel.  Currently, the spokes are all different lengths—hence the bumpy ride we’ve all experienced in the past. To excel in today’s world, the industry needs to collectively “sync up” – getting each of the spokes working at the same length to create a smoother way forward.

Strike a balance between incorporating technology and doing business face-to-face

We have wholeheartedly embraced emerging technology. The challenge is figuring out how to communicate different messages to different audiences with different levels of technology adoption. For some of our customers, we’re dealing with organizations that employ three generations of workers.  That means we have to take a 360-degree approach with our customer communication. There is no denying that we have to embrace social media, but we also need to maintain more traditional forms of communication – print advertisements, hand-written letters and face-to-face meetings. Social media is a cost-effective form of communication and provides real business efficiencies. However, there are still those in our industry who want to hold a physical magazine or product catalogue in their hands.

More importantly, however, is striking the balance between incorporating technology into customer communication and doing business in person. Maintaining the face-to-face relationship with our customers is vital, especially when it comes to problem solving. If a customer has a challenge, he/she wants to work with a person – a salesman, a manager, etc. That human interaction is critical to building trust and long-term partnerships. While relationships can be nurtured by digital communication, a solid relationship provides the foundation.

Technology will never fully replace face-to-face communication. After all, when our customers purchase our products, they want to be assured that they have personal access to someone they trust. Similarly, a customer’s confidence in a product doesn’t come from reading about it online or seeing a picture; it comes from holding the product in their hands and testing performance.

That said, we should realize that customers are busy, too. So much so that they appreciate when you act faster or respond quicker. There’s still a time and place for a two-hour meeting; however, those occurrences are fewer and farther between. That’s where digital communication comes in handy.

Reach out to others in the industry to exchange ideas

A great example of industry collaboration was the Innovation Roundtable we held last March. In this spirit of togetherness, we invited 40 forward-thinking manufacturers, distributors, reps, electricians, trade association representatives and media to reflect on the electrical industry’s current state, existing challenges, emerging technologies and future opportunities. It quickly became clear that this meeting was just the beginning of a much-needed discussion – a chance to collectively sync up the industry and work together to create a smoother way forward.

I had the benefit of knowing some of the people in the room that day. However, I was taken aback by how thoughtful and insightful the comments were. It was encouraging to witness the passion represented at all levels of the channel.

That day, I realized that open communication and collaboration not only allows us to share our mutual passion for our work, but it gets the juices flowing for better ideas. The more we communicate as an industry, the faster we’ll innovate.

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