Fasten your seat belts, folks!

Fall 2016 Executive Commentary

Fasten your seat belts, folks!

by Walter E. Tobin, ERA CEO
p: 617-901-4088

Visiting customers together is a main tenet for good rep companies and distribution branch sales personnel. Nothing can replace this unless we allow ourselves to be replaced by digital marketing and websites.


The last word of the theme for ERA’s 2017 Conference is accelerate!

Boy! How much faster will the changes come flying at us, or by us? It seems as if our industry continues to change and evolve at a faster and faster pace.

Which category do you find yourself in?

  • Those who make it happen?
  • Those who watch it happen?
  • Those who wonder what happened?

I am sure that all of us THINK we are in the first category at all times. But, do we ever find ourselves in the second, or (perish the thought) the third category?

The evolution (or revolution) of our industry just continues to accelerate. Who among us could have foreseen the major changes in the channel over the past 60 days? CEOs, presidents and vice presidents get demoted and/or depart. A major distributor gets bought. Consolidation continues among the manufacturers, and the new management broom sweeps clean … all as a means to satisfy Wall Street and shareholders EPS expectations.

Everyone seems to be looking to cut costs and improve the bottom line. But what price are they paying over the near/long term in market and customer penetration and sales initiatives? What has been the impact to OUR customers throughout all of this? Does anyone care?

What does this mean to the local rep, the local distributor branch or the local/regional manager for a manufacturer? LOTS!

Your customers value consistency of service, continuity of supply, consistent (lowest?) pricing and NO surprises. Nothing is more upsetting to any of them (or us) than to get notified of a change in their account coverage, missed delivery or unforecasted cost increases. So how do we avoid these throughout all of this industry chaos?

It is not an easy solution, is it? Day-to-day communication between the reps and the distributor branch offices on the latest new product introductions (NPI), lead time changes and pricing visibility has become more complicated. There are many CRM and MRP systems that need to be navigated and coordinated BY PEOPLE who then meet and TOGETHER visit the customer to show alignment on behalf of the manufacturer. Nothing can replace this human interaction.

Yet, you hear all of the time about the phasing out of the in-person sales call … how it is all digital now … NOT TRUE!

Earlier this year, ERA announced its Distribution Membership Initiative on July 1. This was done to help facilitate, under one organization (ERA) an open and ongoing dialogue between the local rep office and the local distribution branch office, all to help better support their common customers for common manufacturers. What a concept — talking to each other, visiting the customers TOGETHER — to help grow sales for our manufacturers through excellent coordinated customer service. The rep and the distributor salesperson become stronger when they coordinate their efforts TOGETHER at the customer’s desk, and both the customer and manufacturer benefit! This benefit should translate into increased sales and commissions for all.

Let’s not complicate a ham sandwich here. Visiting customers together is a main tenet for good rep companies and distribution branch sales personnel. Nothing can replace this unless we allow ourselves to be replaced by digital marketing and websites. We need to show manufacturers how we use their digital campaigns to augment our customer meetings and how we are in fact an extension of their efforts, not separate from them.

So, what’s ahead? Your ERA continues to reinvent itself as these market changes require.

  • We have transitioned our ERA National headquarters to a “virtual office,” saving our staff many hours of commuting time, thus allowing more time to service our members.
  • COLT training is scheduled for this Fall — a huge benefit to chapter leaders to help them lead and direct their local chapter activities.
  • We increased membership by more than 100 NEW members in rep, manufacturer and distributor categories.
  • 2017 Conference planning is well underway — this will be a “NOT TO MISS” event.
  • We will participate in electronica 2017 in Munich in November — we have become truly global with membership in both EMEA and Asia.
  • Consultants have been added to our “Kitchen Cabinet” team of industry experts who bring to ERA years of valuable experience in sales, engineering and channel management. Watch this space for further additions to this valuable team!

In summary, changes will continue. We need to manage the change and not let it manage us!

As always, I am open to your thoughts, comments and criticisms on what YOU see ERA needing to do — this is YOUR ERA, not mine. My email is and my phone (617-901-4088) is always on!