OBSERVATIONS & REFLECTIONS
A very special trade association
by Harry J. Abramson
Electronic Salesmasters Inc.
Harry Abramson founded Electronic Salesmasters Inc. in 1972. He established industry notoriety by virtue of his firm’s peak performance, hundreds of articles and speaking appearances at ERA’s national conferences and chapter meetings and sister trade association MANA. He has an electrical engineering degree from Temple University and entered the electronics industry as an engineer at RCA in Camden, N.J.
His ERA involvement includes serving as vice president of the Components Group and president of the Ohio Chapter. Under his leadership, the chapter was awarded the National Chapter of the Year Award. Abramson recently was recognized with ERA’s prestigious Life Membership Award.
You can reach Harry J. Abramson at 216-406-4119 or email him at email@example.com.
The traditional purpose of trade associations is to promote, protect and improve their members’ function. Fortunately, ERA does an exemplary job in these three categories.
Despite a crippling pandemic plus an unpredictable economy, reps have managed to survive and, in many cases, thrive. This article is a tribute to their resilience especially as it applies to our profession and how ERA has and continues to support its members.
ERA is a viable and inherent part of the electronics industry. The organization was created for a perfectly good reason — to foster the spirit of mutual respect among its fellow members and other groups such as principals, distributors and customers. Our association’s primary mission is to educate the industry about the economic advantages of outsourcing the sales function and the benefits of utilizing multiple-line sales professionals. It’s essential that our customer base (distributors and manufacturers) understand that we are not middlemen. Conversely, we add value to the sales process.
The ideal trade association avails the opportunity of continued growth through educational programs and networking. Like everything else in our business lives, some trade associations excel over others. Some are more financially sound and have better leadership. These two things exemplify why ERA is about to celebrate its 87th birthday.
Why join ERA? I have been an active and proud member for over 50 years. Upon reflection, it has made me a better businessperson, educated my staff and provided cost-effective benefits. So why doesn’t everyone join? Good question, they should!
Too busy? No one is ever too busy to learn new things and make new friends.
Too costly? ERA is a bargain at any price and dues are reasonable.
Nothing to learn? Wrong! The annual ERA Conference delivers valuable takeaways for even the most tenured firms.
For owners only? Wrong! Your staffers are your successors of tomorrow.
Benefits of group unity? Collectively we can learn from others and achieve workable solutions for difficult issues. These may include negotiating commission rates, house accounts, one-sided contracts and split commission tracking. This should not be construed as unionism or collective bargaining but simply an adjunct to “good faith and fair dealing.”
Why network? Networking is a perfect reason to join an association, especially ERA. It’s a place to share and help each other. Subjects such as how to motivate and compensate are great ideas. Improving efficiency and productivity are also two critical benefits derived from networking. Unique and modern selling techniques are shared by networkers and ultimately improve our function.
Additional education? ERA promotes the CPMR curriculum to make us better business people in sales. It is tantamount to having an advanced degree in business and marketing. What can be better than that?
Succession planning? ERA has done a good job of providing experts at its annual conferences to address the subject of succession. This applies to all businesses as well as associations. If done correctly, the successor will outperform his/her predecessor.
Conferences and seminars? Education is critically important to the ideal association. To that point, ERA does not recycle the same material from one year to the next. Programs are refreshed to keep members learning and growing. ERA conferences continue to provide members with an opportunity to hear and learn from accomplished industry leaders.
Leadership? This is typically part of every conference and may come from within our own ranks or an outside expert. ERA has been blessed with many role models that have been depicted in The Representor magazine column “Where Are They Now?”
Cronyism? Perfect trade associations are not viewed as fraternities or “good old boys” clubs and are void of cronyism. Officers and board members are elected, not hand-selected, appointed or anointed. There is no room for showcasing or self-aggrandizing. Ideally, all trade associations are democratic and not autocratic.
Dominating factions? Large rep firms do not constitute an elitist group within the ideal association. All member firms have an equal say and an equal vote. Larger does not mean louder or smarter. As a matter of fact, many smaller firms outperform larger ones where it counts — the bottom line!
Image building? Many associations create an image that their membership consists of an elitist professional group of peak performers. That’s part of their mission and a good thing.
Mission statement? The perfect association has a mission statement that is more than just rhetoric. Ideally, it is periodically updated. Unfortunately, these statements have lost their importance based on an overload of sameness.
Elections and appointments? The best associations cycle new faces with fresh ideas through their ranks of officers and board members.
Lines available? This is likely the most important benefit for member firms, especially new ones. In many cases, it’s a good reason to join.
Code of ethics? This could also be construed as good conscience and morality. Admittedly, some reps are fiercer than others when it comes to pursuing new principals. I’ll let it go at that.
In summary, trade associations are like people and companies, neither is perfect. However, they both exist for good reasons: they provide benefits and a collective voice. If they did not, there would be no reason to join.
Fortunately, ERA provides both. If you are not an active member, I urge you to get involved and committed. It is bound to be in your company’s best interest. Why? You’ll be working with members who share the same goals.
So, if you know of any non-member reps, please share this article with them. Also, assure them that joining ERA will likely be the best business move they ever made … IT WAS FOR ME.