Representor Spring 2020 - Feature Article

2020 ERA Conference Wrap-Up

by Mike Swenson, CPMR

Mike Swenson, CPMR, is President of Mel Foster Company and 2020 ERA Conference Committee Chair. Swenson can be reached at

ERA asked the 2020 Conference Committee Chair Mike Swenson to share his insights about this year’s conference, including what were some of his experiences in his role as conference chair, and what are his key takeaways from the event? Here is what he had to say.

How would you rate the 2020 ERA Conference?

The 2020 ERA Conference gets high marks for being informative and vibrant. The content crafted by the Conference Committee hit the mark with applying topics to street level challenges and opportunities. A primary focus for many of us is winning business and how we can improve to drive higher success rates. This conference helped us interrelate with people we work with, provided technology tools to make deeper connections, and offered breakout sessions tailored to deliver the most current industry information and a deeper understanding of technology trends.

What were some of the key takeaways for you from the 2020 ERA Conference?

There are several key takeaways that I took from the conference. Connie Podesta’s keynote presentation showed us that we need to understand what type of person we are working with (squiggle, square, triangle or circle) and adopt how to work with them based on who they are. Sam Richter gave us strong insights into ways to prospect and know our customers better to help foster deeper engagement. The ways he showed us to get information were enlightening. Michael Knight and Ali Sebt helped increase our knowledge of new technology developments. This will help us understand customer trends and the type of products/solutions we should represent in the future.

What sessions were the most beneficial to you and your business?

One of the primary goals of the conference committee was to give member tools and ideas about working with industry disruptions in a dynamic market. I attended several breakouts that addressed what are the key industry disruptors and gave insight on what we can do going forward. Steve Cholas did a great job outlining what some of the major trends are, and with the help of a strong panel, the session delivered a lively and very informative discussion. The panel and audience participants offered active feedback and ideas on how to work with these changes in the market. I especially liked the discussion around the changes that have occurred with our customers who work in a more digital environment, and how we can drive relevancy and reach these customers to provide value. The RDM Pulse Check session, which had manufacturers, distributors and manufacturers’ representatives run separate sessions to voice each constituents’ concerns, gave all members a forum to convey their issues. These issues were captured to review and provide direction on what we can do about them going forward.

What makes this conference the must-attend annual event in the industry?

By providing high-quality content, excellent speakers and delivering practical business information, this sold-out event has become the go-to conference for the industry.

As the 2020 Conference Chair, what did you learn about ERA and the conference during the planning process?

The Conference Committee structure consists of a core committee, sponsorships committee, breakout sessions committee, general sessions committee and keynote committee. As the Conference Chair, I was awestruck by the level of volunteerism to make this a successful conference. There were over 50 volunteers who served on these committees to produce this great event. Their dedication to ensure that the presentation topics were strong and relevant was uplifting. Having manufacturers, distributors and manufacturers’ representatives volunteer together to come up with relevant presentation topics is a winning formula.

What would you say to those who have not attended the conference recently?

I think with the challenges, opportunities and disruptions that are happening at an accelerated pace in the industry, there is no better time to join ERA and advocate for the rep function to drive efficiency and best practices within rep organizations.

This conference has evolved since I first attended to become an event that draws more industry leaders and has become a must-go-to event with high-quality topics and speakers.