Fall 2021 – ERA XCOM Digest
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Kingsland Coombs, CPMR, CSP
Control Sales Inc.
Sr. Vice President at Large
We need to have a conversation about virtual meetings. From my perspective, there are far too many virtual calls that still have the feel of a technology thrust upon us during dark times. Something reasonably effective, but a temporary substitute for “real” selling. Alas, we have come to realize that virtual calls are here to stay no matter what happens with Covid. They are efficient, effective and many customers PREFER them. So, why haven’t we 100 percent embraced this medium and become experts?
Aren’t we in the business of selling our brand, our manufacturers’ brand? How is that accomplished if we don’t present ourselves in the best possible way? In the ERA Virtual Sales Training classes, a lot was discussed about best practices for virtual meetings. I will share three main thoughts with a focus on customer sales calls.
We are now selling our brands through a virtual medium that is an invisible barrier to personal connections. Before Covid, our skill set included ways to maximize our physical presence with firm handshakes, food, eye contact, vocal tone, body language and carefully reading a room. Are these skills suddenly less relevant? In fact, the opposite is true! We must enhance our skill set to create a virtual presence that achieves the same personal connections that our physical presence once did.
This begins with how we present ourselves on camera. Must the camera be on? Even if the customer is not? A thousand times, yes! If you were invited to a face-to-face meeting, would you join via a conference call? Customers want to see your smiling faces no matter whether they have their camera on or not. Professional dress, personal grooming, and bright, flattering lighting will make you camera ready. Frame yourself so that your head and shoulders dominate the screen. Make sure the sound is clear. Your appearance matters in person and matters virtually as well.
Put everyone at ease by being relaxed and confident on camera. This can feel awkward at first, so practice. Smile and make eye contact by using the camera, not the monitor. Use hand gestures for emphasis and vary your vocal tone to keep your audience engaged. Share your personality by telling stories that help form connections and memories. Eliminate all distractions like notifications or noises to ensure your focus.
Importantly, bring your positive energy and enthusiasm. You may have to amp it up for it to translate virtually! Be willing to try new things and seek feedback and coaching.
The best salespeople prepare for a call. Virtual calls require extra planning to compensate for the loss of the natural conversation when meeting in person. We need to replace the quick glance around the customer’s office for clues about common interests and the impromptu factory tour that provided more ways to sell our line card. Instead, we do more research before the call.
Ask questions, review websites, scrub your CRM data. When reviewing websites, focus on the customers’ products you are confident are designed in your area. Try as best you can to break down the product in your mind and how it relates to your line card. A block diagram visual is a method to help focus your thoughts. Then, prepare meaningful visual content and possibly invite a technical expert from the factory to join the meeting. Also, leverage modern search tools to learn about your audience and find personal connections through previous positions, companies, achievements, or interests.
Virtual calls are time-sensitive. Create a meeting agenda in 10- to 20-minute increments with time to establish rapport and wrap up. Be prepared to shrink or expand call length depending on last-minute customer requests with a plan B, C and D.
You have one chance to make a first impression and fumbling through a virtual meeting is not the way to gain confidence. Practice, practice, practice all aspects of virtual meeting technology. Nothing is worse than an unforeseen delay that causes participants to drop off the call.
Know the meeting platform ahead of the call or be sure to practice before the meeting. Master the virtual meeting essentials: seamless screen sharing, file sharing, and website navigation via a good connection with fast internet speeds and clear audio. If you are hosting a larger meeting, why not include Chat? Chat allows a level of participation often not seen in face-to-face meetings.
The sale is the same, only the tools are new. Now you can meet with more people in less time and do it from almost anywhere. In the long run, virtual technology will gain you access to more stakeholders. It is time for account sales representatives to be THE experts in virtual sales calls.
Ellen Coan, CPMR
CC Electro Sales
Sr. Vice President/Education
Education is the process of facilitating learning. Everyone learns differently and applies what they learn in their own way.
The ERA community regularly comes together to share best practices in their industry, locally and nationally, to continue their mission of providing programs, services and activities that educate, inform and advocate for manufacturers’ representatives, the principals they represent and the distributors who are representatives’ partners in the marketplace.
This happened Sept. 21 – 23, 2021, on a virtual platform. The attendees (reps, principals and distributors) listened and learned some new sales techniques and are now implementing what they heard.
Some of us had interruptions that could not be ignored and the presentation, that was recorded, will be watched later. Some of us tried to focus on the presentation but will re-watch it again later. We all heard different things and how we apply what we heard is what makes our industry thrive.
The ERA community that assembled this event and other events like the ERA Water Cooler series, ERA Talks and the ERA Conference continue to grow. New ideas are shared and all this makes our industry stronger than ever. The ERA staff is motivated and professional and we would not have these programs without them. They keep us thinking and looking for new ways to keep moving forward.
I want to thank the ERA staff and the ERA community for all they do for each other. This community shares attitudes, values and goals that pull us through the craziest times we could ever have imagined. We all have our corporate culture where we adapt the ideas we learn. Each day as the sun comes up, unknown challenges await us and we dig in.
I encourage you to watch Ted Lasso on Apple+ TV. It gives us all hope no matter what the situation of the moment is. There is humor (sometimes quick and shadowed by a British accent – I suggest turning on the subtitles) and great examples of playing, working and coming together on the right path. I feel like ERA is our Ted Lasso. It is nice to know we are not alone.
Sr. Vice President/Distributors
Not just during football season, but throughout the year, distribution is a contact sport. However, let’s recognize that contact has a different meaning now than it did in 2019.
Now we make contact virtually, by Zoom, MS Teams, email, text, phone call, MS Teams text, video chat, FaceTime, Facebook, LinkedIn and, occasionally, in person, self-distanced, masked and vaccinated.
The last two years have been unlike any other. More contact with more situations that have never been experienced by the electronics component distribution channel. Despite all of these new challenges, the real questions are: How is everybody doing? How long can it last? Or, as a component supplier recently asked, “When will we fall off the cliff?”
I don’t see us “falling off the cliff,” but changes will occur. It’s inevitable. So, let’s look at some of the changes and challenges that we have faced together over the past few years. The year 2020 ended as the worst year for economic growth since WWII. The economy shrank by 3.5 percent. You may have been thinking that 2009 was the worst year, but in 2009 we experienced an economic decline of -2.9 percent.
What was different about this decline? One aspect was that the unprecedented stimulus funding from the U.S. Federal government helped support the economy in the second half of 2020. As a result, Q4 2020 saw the economy rise by 1 percent, but pandemic cases increased during the year-end holidays.
However, we saw the industry impacted by significant supply chain and Covid-19 factors possibly more so than by some of the economic factors … although the lines are starting to blur.
What is happening?
• The ports are backed up. New York, Los Angeles, Long Beach and others. The back-up of ships waiting to dock are at all-time high levels approaching 100 in the Southern California ports. Those ports have recently expanded to night time hours, but still a shortage of workers to unload, not enough trucks and their drivers to transport and the holiday season rush will make it worse.
• Weather has played a role in the impact on raw material supply. Most notably, the impact of the Polar Vortex in Texas in February 2021 truly hurt the businesses in the vast region, but completely decimated the resin industry. Almost overnight, the major resin suppliers declared Force Majeure as they experienced damage to their facilities, interruption of production and processing time.
• Texas is one of largest producers and exporters of resin, plastics and other petrochemical products. During that snow and ice storm in Texas, production of 75 percent of polyethylene (PE), 62 percent of polypropylene (PP), and 57 percent of PVC was forced to shut down. The one week shutdown resulted in 230 million tons of PE and 180 million tons of PP to be lost. Who knew that would ever happen?
• This has impacted so many of the electronic component suppliers. Estimates were that the resin industry would return to “normal” by Q2/Q3. We are still experiencing allocation issues for most, if not all, manufacturers who use resin in their products.
• As we go to publication of the fall issue of The Representor, there is now a coal shortage in China that could create a reduction in available power to provide production facilities and the country with enough electricity. Due to a number of economic and environmental factors along with a miscalculation of the demand for energy, China, and possibly other parts of the world, may face an impactful energy shortage. So, while a lot of these factors are impacting the supply of material to distributors and ultimately to OEM, CEM, engineering and MRO customers, how is the demand looking? Well, in a word … Unbelievable! This tends to make something that looks good, seem bad.
• There are real increases in demand from so many segments of the industry. In 2020, demand for medical equipment, such as ventilators and testing equipment, created some exciting challenges and opportunities, and many other major segments and industries were down, However, in 2021, they are bouncing back or merely taking off on a new trajectory.
• Industrial equipment, marine, off-road and recreational vehicles, warehousing automation, including robotics and consumer electronics, all are seeing significant increase in demand.
• Distributors, of course, see this as a great situation and place POs on the component suppliers. Components manufacturers, who normally would see this increase in demand in the same light, are trying to keep up with the demand.
• Trying to keep up with the demand in the face of increasing raw material costs, increasing labor costs, raw material shortages, worker shortage, cardboard shortages, increasing transportation costs, delays in the supply chain due to factors beyond their control.
Honestly, I could continue with even more unanticipated, never-before experienced, hard to fathom, unwilling to accept, excessively costly, incredibly hard to explain, “Who you gonna call?” aspects of our amazing industry; however, you might be asking yourself, How does this relate to a contact sport?
Let me answer by asking you to think about how does all of this, and even more, get communicated, understood, managed, packaged for human consumption, designed in, specified, added to the print, ordered, adjusted as needed on the PO, re-priced, packaged, shipped, received, inventoried, tested, cycle-counted, re-packaged, invoiced and paid.
That is what I call a contact sport.
Looking forward to a wonderful autumn season and hope to see you all soon.
Sr. Vice President/Manufacturers
As I sit down to think about some of the topics that are facing the electronics industry today and write this article from a manufacturer’s point of view, I struggle with the conditions our country and our industry is still experiencing. Is this the reality of our future?
I have just received the second cancellation of an industry event due to an ongoing concern over again a larger outbreak of Covid-19 in the U.S. — the ECIA Executive Conference in Chicago. This, of course, followed the cancellation of EDS 2021 in Las Vegas at the beginning of September.
Both announcements have been extremely concerning because many of us have discussed over these past two Covid-19 ridden years what really will be the future for many of us in our day-to-day business relations.
From my side of the table, how can we as manufacturers really interact with our customers, reps and distribution partners as we did so many years gone by? Will we ever get to really see business associates in a group setting again on a regular basis? Can we ever feel comfortable with physical greetings among colleagues and coworkers?
I now believe we have entered a new era, which I have referred to many times as “The New ABNORMAL.” Now I realize that we may never be able to have large gatherings in any industry on a “live” basis. There always seems to be another variant or strain to follow that will affect how we live and work in the future. We will all be forced to implement and expand the ability to conduct business virtually at the drop of a hat. Gone are the days of sitting with a customer, rep or distributor on an intimate level, getting to know them, their business, their company needs and provide a solution that will lead to the win/win we as salespeople thrive on daily.
We must now be able to do this through a video platform and work much harder on our ability to communicate via technology.
Many organizations and companies have done an excellent job of mastering the video platforms for great conferences, trade events, seminars and training programs, including ERA with it most recent Virtual Sales Training event held in September 2021. Many of our reps and distributors have done an outstanding job conducting virtual meetings with customers. Therefore, it is now the time for your organization to invest even more in some of these cutting-edge technologies and develop further virtual options for both sales and marketing activities on a regular basis.
Whether you are a rep, distributor, or manufacturer we must all budget even more of our funds toward creating the ability to communicate effectively in our world today.
Now more than ever with the significant increases in sales volumes that we are all experiencing — which is causing an exorbitant amount of expedites, push outs and levels of frustration to hit new highs — we must focus on how to get this information effectively to everyone involved.
Start laying out your plan on how to reach your audience effectively without ever having the chance to meet in a “live” setting. There are many resources currently available from so many platforms like Zoom, Google, and Microsoft, to name a few. They can help you to decide what platform can best fit your business and create the right environment for a successful virtual sales meeting that now, when facing reality, WILL BE the primary way for all of us to communicate successfully.
I still have high hopes that one day in the future we will once again have an opportunity to travel globally without fear (or a face mask), embrace, converse and interact on a “live” basis. But until then, it’s all lights, camera, action … See you on the next virtual encounter!