By Bridget McCrea
Whether your business-to-business (B2B) meeting is scheduled within a 20-minute window at a national conference, given a 2-hour, face-to-face time slot at your company’s location, or held over a quick lunch while on the road, there are certain steps that you can take before, during, and after the event to make it as productive as possible. In the past, tED magazine has taken on the challenge of helping NAED members and their suppliers create more effective B2B interactions without having to spend an inordinate amount of face- or phone-time in the process. Here, we look at the topic from the perspective of the electrical distributor that wants to eke the most benefit from these meet-ups and in an era where every minute counts. Use these tips at the upcoming NAED Eastern Region Conference, November 9–11 in Orlando, Fla.
Wanted: More Meeting Time
Given his druthers, Bill Elliott would like to see NAED’s national conference extended by one day versus the current, truncated version of the event. “Even though everyone is on deck and attending, we just don’t have enough time to meet with all of them at these events,” says Elliott, president at Elliott Electric Supply in Nacogdoches, Texas. “After the meeting was shortened by one day and the time slots were reduced a few years ago, it was pretty obvious that we weren’t going to be able to get the same benefit from attending.”
Of course, Elliott acknowledges the fact that in today’s time-strapped business world, not everyone has unlimited amounts of time to devote to B2B meetings with their distributors. In fact, he says many of the manufacturer representatives he knows are in favor of the shorter meeting commitments because “they’re away from home a lot and would essentially like to see the number and frequency of meetings reduced.” But where does that leave the electrical distributor that needs to talk business, brainstorm with its suppliers, and ferret out new opportunities in the marketplace?
“It basically leaves us with no time to do the business that we need to be doing at these meetings,” says Elliott, whose firm traditionally hosted a brunch event at the national meeting as a way to thank its suppliers. “This year we had to drop it because the timing conflicted with a number of other events planned by NAED. We have a lot of manufacturers that want to meet with us and we just can’t work them all in.”
Elliott, whose team puts much effort into prepping for, attending, and then following up on the B2B meetings that it participates in, sees the national NAED meeting as a good platform for creating effective interactions between distributors and their suppliers. However, he says the process itself needs to be honed further in order to make it more fruitful for everyone involved. “NAED should be the one meeting where all manufacturers are invited – and that they all attend,” Elliott asserts. “It gives us the opportunity to meet with all of our major partners and it should be the most important meeting of the season. However, if the scheduled meetings get any shorter it will definitely lose its significance.”
Leveraging Regional Opportunities
Brad Van De Sompele, president at Frontier Electric Supply in Bensenville, Ill., attends regional meetings “religiously” and believes in the value of these interactions with his suppliers. Before attending such events, he says he and his team members review the firm’s sales numbers, results, and other data related to its suppliers. “I generally come to the event with two or three things in mind that are most important for us,” says Van De Sompele, “and that are most relevant for future planning with our manufacturers.”
In pondering the effectiveness of the B2B meetings he’s participated in, Van De Sompele says simply paying attention, staying engaged, and keeping the conversation on point can all help create a more productive environment for all involved parties. “We really try to make sure we’re paying attention to the people we’re meeting with, communicating results, and coming up with action points for the future,” says Van De Sompele, who adds that such attention to detail isn’t always a 2-way street. “At times, I’ve found that suppliers just aren’t engaged in the plans as we might think they are.”
When attending national meetings, for example, some distributors have complained (in past tED magazine articles on this topic, for instance) that suppliers don’t always take the time to send the most appropriate representatives to NAED’s national meetings. A regional manager who is unfamiliar with Frontier Electric’s geographic territory, customers, and needs, for example, isn’t typically the best person for Van De Sompele to spend 20 minutes strategizing with.
“For the most part, I’ve found that the national meetings are more ‘social events’ than ‘business events,'” says Van De Sompele, who feels that B2B meetings that take place at regional meet-ups tend to produce better results. That’s because he doesn’t have to spend the first 10 minutes of the meeting explaining Frontier Electric’s focus, mission, and future plans. “At the regional meetings, I find that everyone is just much more focused – again because nine times out of 10 we’re talking to the reps who actually work in our region. That’s not always the case on a national meeting level.”
Challenges aside, in most cases there are true benefits that come from the distributor-supplier B2B interactions that take place at national meetings, regional events, and the one-on-one meetings that occur at various times throughout the year. As both Elliott and Van De Sompele pointed out, one of the best ways to leverage these meetings is by coming to them prepared (by sending out memos in advance via email, for example), sticking to the key discussion points (as determined by both the distributor and the supplier), and then using post-meeting time for follow ups and to kick key action steps into gear. “Even in our busy work environment, there’s always the opportunity to do a little more to deepen those relationships,” says Van De Sompele, “and make some inroads via in-person B2B meetings.”
McCrea is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at email@example.com or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.
Tagged with B2B, business, national, tED