Representor Summer 2022 - ERA XCOM Digest

Summer 2022 – ERA XCOM Digest

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Rep Update – by Cameron English, CPMR

Cameron English, CPMR
English Technical Sales Southwest
Sr. Vice President/Industry

Are You Good to Go?

As a pilot, I am impressed with the FAA air traffic control system and the controllers I interface with en route to my destinations. Every instrument flight starts with a plan. I contact air traffic control (ATC) and they respond with: “I have your clearance, are you ready to copy?” In this process, I am issued a clearance to my destination, en route details and instructions, and specific instructions for departure, en route and arrival – a lot to unpack over a radio transmission.

And I would also add – here is the critical part: I read it back, and ATC responds with: “Readback correct” or “Clarification” about any potential errors I made.

In flight safety, separation from commercial airlines, en route separation from other traffic and above all, clarity, is paramount. In both flight planning and the communication en route, the stakes are high to keep civil aircraft away from other aircraft and commercial transportation.

Although a sales activity is not necessarily mission-critical, and no lives are on the line, the resources being expended are often undervalued. For example, in a study in the 1980s by Jack Berman, a successful manufacturer’s representative and the founder of Synergistic Selling, Berman pointed out that each sales call cost his rep firm an estimated $350. A bit subjective; however, when you break down the number of sales calls, virtual or in-person, spread over the cost to a manufacturer’s representative, the costs, even in 1980 standards, are impressive.

Is it worthwhile to form a plan for your work? As a representative firm owner, the answer is a definitive YES! For career salespeople, we often “fly by the seat of our pants” – to continue the analogy. Why is this dangerous? First, if you don’t prioritize (hopefully around what the customer is interested in), you risk wasting time for all parties involved. You may be operating at extreme levels of opportunity lost due to a lack of preparation for what would have the greatest impact and ROI for that call. As representatives, what do you do to prepare for engaging the market on behalf of your suppliers? The following is a list of best practices for field sales that I have observed over the course of my career:

• Start every meeting with a recognition of your client’s time, simply by stating: “In preparation for this meeting, I have the following objectives or items I want to cover during our time together. Will this work with your time budget this morning?”

• Research the company and its technology. Compare and contrast the two following statements: 1.) “I was in the area and I thought I would drop in and see what you are up to.” 2.) “After researching your product technology and roadmap, I am seeing great success with the following technology that we have introduced into the XYZ technology platforms.”

• Communicate with “mirroring” techniques. Basically, this is a couples therapy strategy to ensure your spouse knows you’re listening. You read back the information they have given to you to confirm you understood and heard correctly. The FAA uses this strategy for safe communication and it works in business settings as well.

• Leave the meeting by reviewing the action items and confirm the person who will be in charge of the action.

• Forward to all interested parties an “action report.” We don’t embrace call reports, because we are paid for sales, not information. An action report is oriented toward moving the deal flow forward and promoting business, not simply informing the supplier or contact what was discussed. The emphasis is on assigning actionable tasks.

• Follow up and do what you say you are going to do. This will differentiate you from the majority of salespeople.

Professionalism is the cornerstone of success in an industry that demands unprecedented levels of responsiveness. There are areas of our business climate we cannot control, including supply chain issues, global volatility, wars and inflation. What we can control: professionalism and productivity in the sales process.

Industry Update – by Kingsland Coombs, CPMR, CSP

Kingsland Coombs, CPMR, CSP
Control Sales Inc.
Sr. Vice President at Large

Perspective from a manufacturer’s rep industry veteran

Noreen Brinn, Control Sales Account Manager

In a departure from my regular articles addressing current industry trends and, lately, the White Pin Internship program, I thought I would introduce you to a woman who has been working as a manufacturer’s representative for over 40 years.

In this interview, I speak to Noreen Brinn, Control Sales account manager extraordinaire and industry veteran. Here, she shares her perspective as the only woman in the room, the best advice she ever received and what helps her unplug from work.

When you began your career many years ago, did you imagine that you would become an account manager in the electronics industry?

In my first role, I worked part-time put-ting together seminars on stepping motors for Control Sales. We would bring in engineers from our principals to present to our local customers. As I attended the seminars, I learned about stepping motors, but more importantly my eyes were opened to the different types of sales. Stepping motors turned out to be my stepping stone into sales! Soon after, Control Sales made me an offer that would jumpstart my career. If I agreed to go back to school for engineering classes, paid for by Control Sales, I could work in outside sales. Overall, I think I was successful because I have a genuine interest knowing what the customer is doing with the product we sell.

What motivated you to step up and become an account manager at a time when the role in our industry was almost exclusively male?

I had a mentor whose name was Fred Walters. He was a paraplegic who worked in lead qualification for Control Sales. I was his driver at the time. He was a very smart man but due to an accident could not work at Steiner Electric anymore. He encouraged me to go into outside sales and go back to school to take engineering classes at night.

How did you navigate male power structures early in your career? Did you experience resistance when work-ing with men? How did you deal with it?

Well, I guess I did not know any better. My mindset has always been that when meeting someone new, I have 30 seconds to make an impression. I quickly learned that if I knew what I was talking about and was able to help, the fact that I was a woman was not a problem. In some regard I had an advantage in the early years because I was an oddity and people were curious. For the most part, engineers are great to work with because they are straightforward, specific about their requirements and just want solutions for their design challenges. If I met resistance, the only answer was to work harder to meet expectations or find someone else who can help. What I learned from overcoming obstacles was incorporated into my everyday sales process.

How would you calculate the positive impacts of now having women in multiple roles across the industry? 

Women fill all the spokes in the wheel – Intelligence, sensitivity, compassion, alternate perspectives, organization.

What has changed most dramatically about your role since you started working?

Technology has fundamentally changed our role. When I started there was only one computer at the office, and it was dedicated to commissions accounting. There were no cell phones, and we used payphones in the field. All orders were sent by U.S. mail since we didn’t even use fax machines yet. Customers had to see us to get samples, drawings, quotes and to collaborate on technical issues. Yes, it sounds like the dark ages, but the in-person sales experience was interesting and rewarding.

What’s the best work-related advice you’ve ever received?

All the companies you represent are important. They should be treated that way. They all help pay the bills.

What energizes you about work?

Working on new designs and solving problems, of course!

How do you unplug from work?

Multiple things, with the first being family. My husband and I will be blessed with a fifth grandchild this fall. Our older grandchildren are busy with softball and baseball, and we try to watch the games and cheer them on. We like to take the dogs camping in the summer. I also like to garden and have been known to make a craft or two.

Manufacturing Update – by Ken Bellero

Ken Bellero
Schaffner EMC
Sr. Vice President/Manufacturers

EDS: Worth the risk?!

After three very long years of isolation and in-person restrictions due to COVID-19, we finally all gathered at EDS in Las Vegas. For many it was bittersweet. While the meetings and the action items proved to be very productive, unfortunately the COVID-19 virus was passed among many of us upon our return to our reality. This proved very unfortunate for many who also infected their families and friends. But in the end, we all managed to cope with the difficulties of the symptoms and survived to continue to grow our businesses.

One of the key takeaways from the live meetings was the fact that we had the chance to socialize and really enjoy each other’s company once again. There were many actions set in motion once again and the meetings with distributors and reps proved to be very important in establishing our continuing partnerships together.

In many cases we met new colleagues and friends who will become long lasting partners in our businesses together. This will be important as we all move forward with understanding how to better build the electronics industry. EDS is a valuable vehicle for many of us to have the opportunity to gather socially and professionally and I will look forward to many more in the future.

On the business end of the spectrum, many manufacturers are still struggling to meet deadlines with key customers throughout the marketplace. This slowdown has affected many of us and our ability to ship product to our customers in a timely manner. The lockdowns in China due to COVID-19 have proven to be crippling, and only very recently have the factories been allowed to open again for production. This will help supply much-needed products to some very important and emerging markets. We hope these trends continue to move in a positive direction and restrictions continue to ease so we may resume business again in the electronics industry.

Also, one of the highlights of our live meetings in Las Vegas was the ability to recognize many of our partners who did an outstanding job of managing their business and growing Schaffner globally. First, congratulations to Digi-Key Electronics, who was once again named Schaffner’s “North America Distributor of the Year.” They constantly lead the pack and have reached new heights in sales this past year. Also, we would like to recognize Mouser Electronics for their global support and their ability to increase sales on a global level bringing new customers and markets to Schaffner subsidiaries all over the world.

And as far as rep organizations, I would like to recognize Conquest Technical Sales and Bill Herold’s team for their outstanding growth in the Southern California region. Their ability to capitalize on many of the larger EV charger companies in the region have pushed them to new levels of growth.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank Master Electronics and their President Riad Nizam for granting me the Team Master Award 2022 at their Allegiant Stadium event at EDS. It is certainly a pleasure and an honor to work with such a great team of people at Master Electronics. Thank you for the recognition!

Congratulations to all of our award winners! It was a pleasure to see you all together and to also share the good news of our new brand of Schaffner filters…bringing “more power to you!”

Please feel free to reach out to me anytime ( if you have any questions or concerns about your involvement with this great organization. My door, phone and email are always open!

Education Update – by Ellen Coan, CPMR

Ellen Coan, CPMR

CC Electro Sales
Sr. Vice President/Education

Opportunities for the rep industry’s next generation

Summer is here and school is out and interns are everywhere – including working alongside reps with the ERA White Pin Internship. ERA and White Pin are teaching reps where to find and how to train interns and sharing the successes! We have two interns working in rep firms this summer, respectively at Aurora Group in the Carolinas Chapter and English Technical Sales in the Southern California Chapter. The interns are students at local universities that found these reps through job fairs and career center postings. Your favorite university or college is begging for companies to hire their students as interns. A quick look for the email or phone number for the career center at your nearby university can get you started. In-person job fairs are coming back. This gives you the face-to-face conversation where you can really learn the goals and skills of the potential intern. Other reps have interns and they have found them through word-of-mouth, relatives and friends of friends. There might be a good future co-worker right in front of you.

As they start working in your office, there is a lot of collateral on the ERA website to help you map out the job for the summer. All employees should spend time with the intern and share their explanation of what they do and what the rep firm does. The intern should sit in meetings with everyone and learn the different cultures of the principals you represent and travel to customers and see the rep “in action.” As they research a market for your products or dig into LinkedIn and ZoomInfo to find new contacts, they are providing a fresh approach to each of these projects and meetings. Creativity with the new skill set is invaluable and motivating.

A rep will gain insight and energy that is priceless. ERA continues to bring you more tools to find the interns and explain the role of a rep. There is now a video on the ERA YouTube channel produced by ERA NEXGEN members explaining what a manufacturer’s rep is to college students in three minutes. ERA has the next group for your new hire – when the intern becomes a full-time employee – NEXGEN, or the ERA Next Generation special interest group. This group meets quarterly and learns about a subject of interest, such as – What is ERA and how can I get involved? How can I best prepare for a principal meeting? How can I work best with my distributors, etc.? – from a newbie perspective. Questions are welcome and the group is further broken into small groups that rotate and meet monthly to discuss what is on their mind at the moment. Each day brings a new challenge and networking with peers in a similar level of their career brings com-fort knowing that they are not alone. The registration form to apply to join ERA NEXGEN is on the ERA website under About ERA –> NEXGEN, along with the ERA White Pin Internship application and information.

Planning mode is where the ERA Education team spends its time now. We are in discussions to plan the ERA Virtual Sales Training sessions approaching in early October and any input is welcome. Professionals and peers will present relative topics to all reps that are in the trenches and need to sharpen skills – skills like listening, relationship-building, Excel, best practices for disty or customer or principal meetings as the world changes. Also in planning stages is the 2023 ERA Annual Conference under the expert guidance of Chair Lori Bruno and Vice Chair Adam Anderson. ERA Water Cooler sessions and podcasts continue with relevant topics you can replay in your car as you drive to your next in-person meeting!

Distribution Update – by Craig Sanderson

Craig Sanderson
Sager Electronics
Sr. Vice President/Distributors

Business as Unusual

Summer of 2022 may signal the beginning of a business-as-usual cycle of activity for the electronic industry’s customers, distributors, manufacturers and their representatives. However, when I think back over the past 18 months, I see a condition that I will call “business as unusual!” OEM and CEM customers may have been slow to adjust to the trends that have developed over the last two years. Distributors and manufacturers moved a little quicker by adjusting their methods employed to conduct business. Many of the manufacturer’s representatives were among the quickest to change in order to support their principals and their customers. However, no matter how much we have adjusted, we must realize that we have seen some unusual activities, actions and all-around “craziness” associated with our businesses.

Cost increases. In early to mid-2021, component suppliers started to experience all types of cost increases from all types of raw material suppliers. As a result, distributors and customers started to see a never-experienced-before approach to pricing. Instant price changes, without the usual 30-day notification period, started to occur, placing a lot of pressure on the market. The idea of creating a surcharge or adder was also considered by component manufacturers, but quickly rejected due to its impractical outcome. In addition, a few component manufacturers turned to adjusting distributor and customer backlog as a method to shorten the cost increase cycle, which was very unpopular with OEM and CEM customers. In the end all of this was very much business as unusual.

Freight. Transportation issues have had a serious impact on delays and cost. Delays that occurred in all major U.S. ports and in China ports led to significant cost increases in ocean freight. Air cargo rates have skyrocketed and air cargo availability has plummeted. Even as airlines are starting to see increased passenger traffic – guess what? There is a shortage of pilots. In the Summer 2021 edition of The Representor, I reported that by July the average rate for an ocean container from Shanghai to Los Angeles would exceed $10,000, up from $1,800 as recently as Q1 2020. As of September 2021, that same 40-foot container cost $20,000.

The ports that were seriously overloaded such as New York, Los Angeles, Long Beach and others, have seen some improvement in Q2 2022. However, the COVID-19 shutdown mandated by China has led to delays on the China side of the ocean shipments. I see all of this as “business as unusual!”

Labor. What a conundrum! Hourly pay rates are increasing, yet more people have resigned from their job, resulting in what is known as The Great Resignation. People are leaving the work force for myriad reasons: seeking a change; quality of life; do not want to travel to the office; dislike the 9-to-5; want to spend more time with family, etc. Yet here we are with a U.S. unemployment rate of 3.6 percent in May 2022, which is similar to levels prior to the pandemic. It means about 5.9 million people are unemployed. For those seeking a job, currently there are about two available jobs for each unemployed person. Is there a company in any industry not seeking new employees? Sounds like “business as unusual” to me.

Customer & supplier meetings. Distributors are seeking to engage with customers, manufacturers’ reps and suppliers. For the past 18 months, virtual has been the meeting method of choice – there was no choice, it was the only way to meet. Now we are seeing in-person meetings happening again. Major industry events such as the 2022 ERA Conference and the 2022 EDS Summit had very good participation as in-person events. Individual one-on-one supplier, rep and customer meetings are happening more so now than in the past 18 months. All of these are critical to overcoming business as unusual.

Travel. We all think that travel via air is back, hotels are operational, rental cars and Uber are available. Not necessarily. Flight costs are extremely high, and flight cancellations are rampant. Citing weather impact, air traffic control and labor shortages, U.S. airlines canceled more than 2,500 flights over a four-day period during Memorial Day weekend. Hotels may be operational, but many are not fully staffed, which is forcing some hotel guests to decide if they need their room cleaned on a daily basis. Rental car companies are still managing the effects of the sell-off of their fleets when business plummeted in 2020, and the subsequent delay in replenishing their fleet due to the “chip shortage” is affecting new vehicle manufacturing. Can you believe this is actually happening? Business as unusual!

Procurement. What a challenging job! The electronics industry’s purchasing professionals are facing the biggest challenges: production delays and unplanned lead time lengthening; cost increases; product obsolescence; meeting customers’ and management’s expectations; skyrocketing freight costs and transit time measured in months versus days. Throw out the book on procurement. Business as unusual!

Resin. This catastrophe deserves a place in the raw material Hall of Fame, if there is one. Texas is one of the largest exporters of resin, plastics and other petrochemical products. During the February 2021 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. Snow and ice in Texas? Collectively 410 million tons (really?) of PP and PE were lost? This can only be business as unusual!

Force majeure. When critical suppliers first invoked this contract clause, many of us quickly Googled “force majeure” to understand this often overlooked and rarely used, but important, clause in every contract. We learned that invoking this clause essentially absolves blame, when the situation is not in one party’s control. Who really understands this? The lawyers and maybe the other people like me that see this as business as unusual!

Lead time. Component manufacturing lead time has always been a moving target. Throughout history, certain material shortages, such as tantalum and some rare precious metals, or other environmental catastrophes such as earthquakes, fires and tsunamis have affected individual suppliers or certain product types. However, who can recall a time when so many aspects of the supply chain came together to impact our collective industry? In addition to the topics mentioned here there are several additional aspects that have created the condition. I see as business as unusual!

I will end this compendium with the following:

Dick Neumann of Grayhill. To even speak those words creates such a feeling of respect, admiration, passion and happiness. Dick Neumann has worked at Grayhill for 47 years. Of all of his qualities, Dick is loyal. He is loyal to his family, especially his wife who accompanied him at EDS for many years. He is loyal to Grayhill, a company where the term mutual respect is in strong supply. He is loyal to the Grayhill reps who he threatened to fire at least once a year (once a month?), yet never did. Those threats were strictly motivational and rarely, if ever, intended. He was very loyal to Sager Electronics and to me personally. I want to use this space to thank Dick Neumann of Grayhill for the many years of friendship, support, debating and certainly great success. Dick, I wish you all the best now and in the future.