Spring 2021 – ERA EXCOM Digest
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Ellen Coan, CPMR
CC Electro Sales
Sr. Vice President/Education
Electronics industry representatives — ever-changing, ever-growing
The lens of the rep, manufacturer and distributor came together thru the lens of the camera. Across the nation (and the world) we joined with our eyes wide open to all the ideas and comments of the current electronics industry — from economic predictions to product line ROI to virtual sales tips to TTI’s Michael Knight’s thought-provoking predictions. And let’s not forget about the apple pancakes thanks to Keynote Speaker Kevin Brown at the Virtual ERA Conference in March. The excitement of the event carries on as many request the continuation of the virtual platform to allow more coworkers to participate in future events.
As ERA evaluates the expense of this request and options available, we also look at the possibility of a mid-year virtual sales training event and the return of the in-person 2022 conference in Austin, Texas. Some of the topics for the mid-year sales training are open to discussion, including traditional sales 101, electronics circuit review, time management, improved listening skills, etc. We welcome your ideas.
The ERA Water Cooler sessions will continue as we continue to addresses real-time issues with relevant panels of peers in the electronics industry. As we navigate the lead time and cost challenges of 2021, we all need to share coping mechanisms and cash flow ideas to supplement this drought that is coming while we listen to the supply chain experts share how they are addressing the product constraints.
Other pertinent education opportunities such as MRERF – CPMR (Leadership) CPSC (sales training) and SPARK@ EDS (virtual option this year in April as EDS continues in late August in-person) will be promoted as we take all this training and discussion back to our company and incorporate it into our own company’s culture. We all use what we hear in different ways as we show our strength as electronics industry representatives — ever-changing, ever-growing! Our choices reflect the value proposition the rep model brings to the manufacturer with our distributor partners held close to us for the adventure.
Some manufacturers have chosen to part ways with their reps to possibly gain financial improvements in their bottom line of today, but the reality of the loss of market share will catch up with them and their long-term goals will be compromised. We plan to educate the manufacturers of the electronic industry beyond our best models (ERA is proud to have a long list of great manufacturers supporting them) and show the long-term, transparent partnership needed to achieve the mutually beneficial goals of the rep and principal. The longevity of the rep in their respective territory and their relationships are not built overnight. The need for the local human-to-human interface while using our new virtual skills where applicable has given us a bigger toolbox to support our customers in even more efficient ways.
As your new Sr. Vice President/Education, I look forward to sharing all the training opportunities I can find for us to continue the professional representative journey to electronics products we have not begun to dream about or know we needed. The ERA community is unique and powerful and I am honored to join the ERA XCOM as we face all the new opportunities together!
WESCO Sales Group Inc.
Sr. Vice President/Membership
The bigger the membership, the louder the voice
It was late last year when I was told I would be nominated for the position of Sr. Vice President/Membership, one of several positions on the ERA XCOM. My mind raced with questions: What were the membership goals? What opportunities existed that hadn’t yet been explored? What was the time commitment? And, what would make this a successful term for our collective? Just to name a few.
I immediately reflected on the past year, which had been decimated in so many ways by two pandemics — COVID-19 and systemic racism. It was a year that caused great uncertainty and confusion, as well as pain and trauma for our Black communities and fellow representatives. The year was also a forceful change agent to the way we did business.
The next two years will be very important for the membership to our association and I am excited about the opportunities that exist and the connections that already exist.
Have you ever looked up the definition of a member? It means “belonging to a particular group” and synonyms include belonging, community, integration, subscribers, associates and representatives. There you have it, the word representative is synonymous with membership.
I’ve spent time thinking about the past 18 months, specifically how I personally leaned on the features and benefits of our ERA membership. During the dark days of 2020, I spoke to many of my counterparts within our association. When times were tough and I needed some insight, these members were the people that I relied on for guidance, ideas, direction and strategy. They shared their experiences built from their tenure in the industry. They provided me an open ear to listen and calming responses that it was going to be ok. This was not only a great comfort during a difficult time, it inspired me to be a strong leader for my own team.
Later in the year, the unfortunate news of my company losing a major line traveled fast, and I’m glad it did!
I soon received encouraging calls from fellow representatives offering to make connections for me with competing lines. I was able to quickly get conversations going, giving me and my team positive energy to focus on the opportunities of the future versus the losses of the past.
These calls all came from the ERA network. People I met through ERA and have developed relationships with over the years. Many I’m proud to call close friends. That’s the power of “belonging to a select group.”
I hope that I can take this experience and help other representative firms around the nation understand the value, benefit and strength of the ERA community.
Soon I will present my goals and supporting plan to continue the growth in ERA membership amongst representatives, manufacturers and distributor partners. I will be looking for your support and collaboration as we continue to grow our association in a positive direction.
I look forward to working with you to reach more manufacturers. We offer a compelling value proposition and the opportunity is ours to strengthen our position as representatives in the electronics market. We must increase our voice as extensions of the business development, sales and marketing, engineering and product development teams at the manufacturers we represent. The bigger the membership, the louder the voice.
I look forward to engaging with you and working hard to grow ERA membership.
Cameron English, CPMR
English Technical Sales Southwest
Sr. Vice President/Industry
Arizona ERA Chapter
As ERA’s new Sr. Vice President/Industry, I look forward to providing you relevant industry and ERA chapter activity updates. In this issue, I would like to focus on the Arizona ERA Chapter as it continues to make news in the electronic industry on several fronts.
Intel and TSMC have announced a major expansion of Fab Manufacturing capability in the Phoenix area. In addition, Arizona has become the home of several of the leading BEV – Electric Vehicle Headquarters. Companies such as Lucid, Atlis, Nikola, Tu Simple are moving forward with great strides to carve out their place in the electric vehicle market.
At the chapter level, we were pleased to add Rick Dale of Kruvand Sales to the Arizona Chapter Board of Directors. Rick will be heading up events and chapter activities. Since joining the board, Rick has helped with the chapter’s very successful Water Cooler event and has been coordinating the chapter’s success in receiving the ERA Chapter of the Year award.
In addition to the chapter events, Arizona ERA has worked with Ellen Coan, CPMR, of C C Electro on her new initiative as the ERA Sr. Vice President/Education to build an outreach for the new entrants and younger members of our industry. Arizona ERA committed two young new representative member individuals to participate in the introductory discussion and planning group for this very strategic new direction.
This year, the chapter is excited to get back together face-to-face and is planning to host a gathering to discuss an emerging market centered around satellite/space technology and several accounts that have risen in that segment of the electronics market.
Arizona ERA is looking forward to great growth in the coming year.
Kingsland Coombs, CPMR, CSP
Control Sales Inc.
Sr. Vice President at Large
Emerging with cautious optimism into 2021
The rep model has proven resilient once again, persevering through the 2020 pandemic downturn and emerging with cautious optimism into 2021. The electronic products sector reported growth in March, as orders and shipments continue to trend higher. With spring arrival in the Midwest, we see more inquiries, quotes, projects, and even a few open doors. While I do not foresee a dramatic uptick in business in the near term, all indications are for overall improvement.
From a technology standpoint, the Internet of Things (IoT) market is continuing with rapid growth. Manufacturers are making investments in next-generation products with connectivity using the latest RF technology and cloud computing. We are seeing a burst of innovation in medical OEMs, particularly in surface/hand sanitation and disinfection. The 5G rollout is also accelerating, as evidenced by significant 5G phone shipment predictions and towers going up across the U.S. in major cities every day. The pandemic has pushed factory automation providers to reduce human contact further in “Smart Factory” design. Industry 5.0 combines industrial automation with human cognitive skills and critical thinking, creating remote-operating machines that will revolutionize the factory floor. These industry trends present opportunities for Reps, especially if able to adapt their line cards to fit these markets.
Some of the most exciting opportunities we see in our territory are emerging from medical OEMs who are developing electronic disinfection and sanitation products including robots, stations and handheld devices. COVID-19 disinfection is obvious, but devices designed to sanitize and disinfect surface pathogens will be a growth market for years to come. These medical OEMs focus on high-end electromechanical components as user safety/health is paramount. Designers are looking for the best component/material manufacturers, including electromechanical components, passives, semiconductors, wire harnesses, specialty LEDs and wireless connectivity. The current challenge for these fast-developing products is component availability. The latest lead-time trends are negatively impacting time to market, delaying the positive impact these products will have on public health and our economic recovery.
Expedite appeals allowing these projects to jump the queue ahead of other customers with fewer health/safety-critical products are happening, and many component manufacturers are heeding the requests. It will be interesting to see how long this will continue.
As 5G makes its way into the mainstream, we see opportunities emerging as component manufacturers design and produce products capable of maintaining electrical characteristics in this high-frequency application. If a rep’s customer base is laden with OEMs with 5G-related portfolios, then aligning their line card with 5G capable components is essential, though not simple to accomplish.
Our biggest challenge continues to be the many global ramifications of COVID-19. However, as vaccinations continue, customers are easing visitation rules. Larger customers are more conservative, projecting August or September for opening their doors, while smaller customers are allowing visitors now. Vaccinations bring in the next adaptation phase in which reps will be blending virtual and physical sales calls into their daily activities.
Virtual calls must remain focused and efficient to remain effective as physical meetings slowly ramp back into style. When virtual calls are required, it is best when the customer agrees on a plan, and the presentation is as focused as possible on the current or next program in development. A time allocation of 20 minutes max per one or two topics is usually optimal for the customer. Content presented by the principal’s subject matter experts (SME) is the most effective and recommended.
Video fatigue is genuine and nothing is better than a face-to-face meeting; however, the productivity benefits from the accelerated adoption of cloud software for collaboration and project management are confirmed. As our customers and principals went through large scale, sweeping reorganizations to adapt to remote work during the pandemic, the reps kept pace and invested as well.
Sr. Vice President/Manufacturers
Working together to navigate disruption in the electronics industry
The one major topic that every manufacturer in the electronics industry is currently experiencing is how to handle the current increased demands that are coming from our customers. It is forcing manufacturers to find ways to address this growing crisis. Unfortunately, this disruption in the supply chain is coming now, as we are finally starting to see some positive signs that the COVID-19 pandemic is beginning to become more under control globally as vaccine distribution increases.
With economic activity growing at record levels not seen since pre-pandemic times, more and more issues need to be dealt with daily. Suppliers continue to struggle to meet increasing rates of demand due to COVID-19 which are impacting and limiting the availability of parts and materials. Extended lead times, wide-scale shortages of critical basic materials, rising commodity prices and difficulties in transporting products are affecting all segments of the manufacturing economy. Also, worker absenteeism, short-term shutdowns due to parts shortages, and difficulties in filling open positions continue to be issues that limit manufacturing growth potential. This continues to expand every day which increases stress to all three segments, manufacturers, reps and distributors, of the electronics industry.
Here is where you need to ask yourself, “How can I help to improve the situation?”
For many manufacturers’ reps, this is a great opportunity for you to provide your principals with valuable information on key customer demands that can help them to schedule and plan within their factories the best possible scenario to meet those needs. This gives reps that chance to show their value once again as a key channel partner that could help alleviate costly expedites or line down situations. Reaching out to the key customers in your territory before the need and panic arise, can vastly improve how each situation can be handled. Working closely with the key distributors in your territory who are responsible for holding inventory and forecasting with the customers will also help to build a solid relationship that many of your manufacturers expect from their rep organization.
Qualified and reliable information is vital to many of us to plan emergency demands in a very organized manner. Manufacturers are always internally fighting to handle customer demands globally and usually, those regions or countries that can supply their factory with a good forecast and a real commitment from their sales channel to products needed will get the most attention. When these types of shortages arise, priorities are set as to which will be the first to receive products. Therefore, solid data can only help you to get the focus you expect for your customer.
However, time is running out! There is a greater realization that manufacturers feel the stress with the recent increase in order intake and are frustrated in not having the needed workforce for production or the materials required to build to the demand. This is exactly why it is important to work closely with your customers and communicate as much as possible with your manufacturing partners. A little effort can really go a long way to stopping future panic. It may be nearly impossible to please all customers and extremely difficult for them to provide this data, but if successful, you will have a much better opportunity to satisfy those with a critical situation.
Looking ahead a few months down the road, many manufacturers will have the ability to replenish some of the lost resources due to the pandemic and thus continue the process of rebuilding and restoring production to levels that will meet these higher demands. However, this can only be successful with great communication between the manufacturer, rep and distributor partners. Providing acceptable solutions to the problem will improve future opportunities and increase revenue for all involved. It is important for all of us to continue to move in a positive direction in 2021!
Sr. Vice President/Distributors
If 2020 was the year of the pivot, what will 2021 be?
In a time we will hopefully soon forget, the past 13 months has forced the world, our country, our industry, our companies, our families, and ourselves to adapt to one of the biggest challenges we have encountered in this millennium — a global pandemic. I am not sure that we all thought that this would even be possible but, as we now may realize, it is possible and could occur again in some form.
In the electronics industry, there was one word that seemed to take hold to describe the actions needed to meet the many new challenges created by the pandemic. That word is pivot. The year 2020 may well be known as the “Year of the Pivot.” Companies in our industry — customers, representatives, manufacturers, logistics suppliers and distributors — all had to pivot to protect their employees. This pivot required employing new safety measures to ensure that essential workers were protected while on the job. Industry office workers had to pivot to work remotely, often from home. Families had to pivot to accommodate a new world of remote working, remote learning, educating themselves on the dangers of COVID-19, and taking difficult steps to ensure family safety. Homebound took on a more critical role in avoiding the virus. Going to the store was a potential danger and many families had to pivot to utilizing food delivery services to avoid the crowds in the stores. The list goes on and on, both personal and professional. Barbers, hair and nail salons, the library, the dentist, the doctor, restaurants, the golf course, EDS, ECIA Executive Conference, customer meetings, supplier meetings, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, the gym, QBR’s, Product Training.
Some of the pivots seemed relatively easy. Working from home provided some benefits; no commute but, no opportunity to interface live with your co-worker; people that you spend almost as much, if not more, time with as you spend with your family. But here is the pivot: Microsoft Teams, GoToMeeting, Zoom, Google Meet, and FaceTime were utilized to replace in-person interactions. Meetings could happen again with many people at the same time or just one-on-one. With some relatively minor, or occasional glitches, these all worked well.
These same tools enabled the pivot to virtual meetings with customers, supplier and representative meetings, distributor and representative and manufacturer meetings.
So you get the idea, that the entire industry, country, world has used the pivot to keep going.
But what now? Vaccines are well on their way in the U.S., so how will the changes of the past 13 months impact our lives going forward?
For distribution, it will be a challenge. Distribution is a contact sport. Live connection with customers, representatives, suppliers, co-workers and even competitors is critical to our success. I believe that the distribution will require a reset. Some of the pivots that occurred will stay, some may disappear, while some may get stronger. Many will require a reset.
• Internal company meetings that require participation from people in different physical locations will continue via MS Teams, GoToMeeting, Zoom, etc. These meetings will enable more participation and perhaps less travel. However, some of these same meetings will return to in-person meetings. That’s a reset.
• Customer meetings have changed to virtual for the most part, but will it stay that way? Customers benefit from opening their company to their suppliers. Customers rely on distributors for the timely delivery and availability of products. That is our primary service. But working together to understand and assist customers on new equipment designs, to address logistics and cost-containment needs is a key aspect of our value. I believe that the type of problem-solving required is best fostered in person. Virtual enables some general discussion or specific known problems to be addressed, but problem-solving before a customer even knows that they have a problem requires in-person. That’s a reset.
• Working from home has both positives and not-so positives. Companies that have been able to operate remotely are fortunate and it is a testament to the company’s planning and investment in technology, the company’s office workers (and their families) ability to adapt, the advances in bandwidth of home connections, virtual and video platforms.
As Michael Knight, TTI’s SVP for Business Development & President of TTI Semiconductor Group, noted during this year’s ERA Virtual Conference, our businesses would not have been able to function on such a high level five years ago. The technology had not been developed to accommodate the demand. But will all workers always be remote? The knowledge exchange and daily teamwork that occurs inside a distribution sales office or within various departments within our companies is very effective today but will it stay this way? I think that companies will need to evaluate their situation, but I think it will require a reset.
I am sure that the next year will bring continued challenges in managing our businesses and growing our industry. Amazing developments in technology help improve customers’ products and are utilized in their equipment design. Suppliers will continue to develop and deliver leading-edge products for us to introduce to our sales teams and ultimately to our customers. I look forward to the continued exchange of thought on industry issues, new developments, and continued progress.
I think we all look forward to embracing the pivots that occurred in the past 13 months, and I welcome you to join me in considering what needs to be reset to drive us into the future. It will continue to make us continue to improve together.
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