Every weekday in December, tED magazine is counting down the Top 20 Stories of 2015. Below, the #5 most-viewed story of the year, originally published on March 3, 2015.
For the next few weeks, tED magazine will be interviewing NAED members to talk about best practices before, during, and after B2B meetings. We will examine what works well and what needs improvement to make sure you are getting the most out of the time and money spent to attend them. We are allowing the people we talked with for these stories to remain anonymous so they can maintain their relationships with their channel partners. — Scott Costa, Publisher, tED magazine
by Bridget McCrea
How to create effective outcomes by doing your homework and knowing your stuff before you even set foot in the meeting room.
Gathering a group of people together to discuss two different sides of a business problem, goal, or future initiative is not always easy. From the electrical distributor’s perspective, one manager says certain suppliers present more challenges than others in this regard. In other words, some manufacturers “get it” and others don’t. In most cases, the manager says a lack of transparency tends to get in the way of effective and productive sales meetings.
“Some manufacturers neglect to provide information to everyone across the board. So some attendees are informed and others are not,” he says. “In other instances, the information shared ahead of the meeting just wasn’t uniform. That can present some key challenges when it comes time to sit down and talk.”
Product pricing, for example, can be a particularly sticky point at sales meetings where one person was told one thing, and another person has entirely different information. This issue surfaces occasionally within the distribution industry, he notes, where not all distributors are identical – nor should they be treated as such. “Some distributors are better than others, and some are more apt to perform in certain market segments than others,” he points out. “When suppliers take the time to figure out these nuances and then create joint marketing plans based on those differences, it can be extremely effective for both parties.”
Know Your Stuff
As the person charged with orchestrating meetings and motivating the troops to participate in them, this manager says manufacturers would do well by putting more time and energy into the pre-planning aspect of these pow-wows. For example, he says suppliers often send out representatives that don’t have a clue about the specific issues his company is dealing with. “We’re in specific territories/regions, but in many cases the manufacturers send reps that know nothing about the areas where we do business,” he laments. “They’re trying to save a few hundred bucks on a plane ticket when in reality the resultant meetings are just a big waste of everyone’s time.”
When these time wasters start to surface, this distributor typically cancels the meetings altogether. “No one has any time to waste in this business environment that we’re all operating in,” he says. “Between the time spent setting up the meeting and the actual time spent interacting with the supplier, we could be putting those hours to better use and actually getting something done.”
To help ensure the most productive sessions with its suppliers, this NAED member has developed its own vendor score-carding process. Using just a single 8.5″ X 11″ page, the company tracks sales by branch or area. “We track A, B, C, and D items, the number of churns we have with a particular manufacturer, shipping times, slowest shipping, fastest shipping, and if there were any shipping issues,” he says. The distributor also looks at the “number of shipments per purchase order” metric and then uses that measure to track the supply or basic products.
“Sometimes we’ll cut a purchase order and then ship two, three, four, or five different shipments on a particular order, and we don’t want to be doing that unless we have to,” he says, noting that the distributor also tracks its volume of stock business versus direct business with specific suppliers. “We try to break everything down as much as we possibly can,” he says, “and then use that information to help drive more productive sales meetings with our suppliers.”
Going in Circles
To make sure its B2B sales meetings are as effective as possible, this distributor uses pre-meeting agendas that outline the key goals, points, and expectations of the sessions. “Both sides really need to be prepared for these meetings,” says the general manager. “When someone comes to table unprepared or uninitiated on our business goals and needs, the hours spent together are completely unproductive. You just wind up going in circles.”
Take the myriad meetings that this manager has walked into, hoping beyond hope that the sessions would be brief, to the point, and action-oriented. “I’ve gone to a lot of meetings where the manufacturers just weren’t prepared at all,” he says. “I’ve also had situations where we all had agendas, but then the whole meeting went off topic and away from the agenda.” Finally, he says he’s been to some B2B sessions where there was no agenda at all, but where all of the work got done and plans laid out in a very satisfactory manner.
“It really depends on who you’re dealing with and how prepared they are,” he says, “not whether someone has a piece of paper or an email beforehand. We all have to do our homework before we get together in that room. When that happens, the outcomes are usually pretty good.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net
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