Representor Winter 2022 - Executive Commentary


What a great year 2021 was … “Wait What?”

Walter E. Tobin, ERA CEO
T: 617-901-4088

by Walter E. Tobin

No, the above title was not a typo – and I have not [yet] lost my marbles.

Allow me to put aside the tragedy of the sickness and death caused by COVID. With so many of our fellow citizens getting sick and dying, I am not trivializing this loss for our country, our industry and our families.

Having said that, I maintain that 2021 was a great year for most/all of us. Let me try and explain a bit and perhaps even convince you why we are all better off at the end of 2021 than we were at the beginning.

First, we survived. Your company not only survived but perhaps even thrived. Oh, I know how much time we all spent listening to our customers looking for parts; begging us to help them get their supply chain back in shape; trying to expedite open orders; tracking shipments from overseas; becoming experts on shipping costs, locations of cargo containers and the rising costs of shipping a container from wherever to the U.S., etc. Most of your time was spent helping your customers out of jams and getting product to their manufacturing floors so they would build and ship their products to their customers.

But who did you get to talk to at your customers? Who called you to ask/beg you for help? In many cases, customers’ expedites got elevated to Directors, VPs, SVPs and C-Level managers at your customer. These are folks that perhaps you have never spoke to, but always wanted to get to meet who are maybe blocked by the engineers and buyers. Suddenly, they are calling you looking for your help. You worked hard to try and help – developed a dialogue and relationship with them – and if/when you solved their shortage issue, you became a “trusted resource” in their eyes! This would probably have never happened if the chaos of the supply chain did not happen. Thus, you ended 2021 with a whole new set of senior relationships at many of your customers.

We all learned new things and new ways of communicating. Video conferencing technology has been around for over 30 years – yet, did any of us use it as a part of our day-to-day communications before 2020? No! So, what happened? The pandemic hit and we all pivoted to the work-from-home model and BAM! We all started using video conferencing within 30 days. This was the tipping point of mass usage of video conferencing and it is now here forever – accept it and get good at it! Get a professional background, put the dog/cat in another room and close the door. It is a business call!

We also learned new ways of organizing and time management. When did any of us even think of sending out a Doodle poll and then scheduling our own Zoom calls? We learned new ways of delegating; managing our team members who are now remote; trusting them in their ability to do their jobs without being in the office; relying on them. The confidence that you put into them would perhaps have never happened if the work-from-home phenomenon did not occur. I am guessing that you have emerged as a better manager – perhaps more trusting – and they have emerged as better, more productive work-from-home employees, and feeling more confident in their ability due to your confidence in them.

With the arsenal of all of these new things, we need to do a complete inventory of what old things we did that we should/will never go back to and what new things we will continue to do – and get even better at doing them. Do this now. The new normal is already here and has been here for over a year. Do not yearn for the “good old days” – they are gone…forever…this is it! Not only have YOU changed, your customers have changed! They are also doing an inventory of their new skills. They may love the work-from-home model. They are also more productive and may never want to do some of the things they did in the past. Ask them, they will tell you. Work-from-home is here forever in some form or another. Get good at it…get GREAT at it…your competition is getting really good at it!

I often hear: “I cannot wait until we get back to face-to-face selling.” What do you think a Zoom video call is? It is face to face! Yet, some of our folks get on a video call and do not turn their cameras on. It is a video call – cameras on! One of our members has a saying: “If I cannot see you, I cannot hear you!” Turn the camera on, go to your “Money Room.” Get good/better at this, because virtual selling is here to stay! It will be blended with in-person selling going forward.

Your customers will be very stingy in awarding in-person audiences going forward – they already are! If you insist on an in-person visit, you had better demonstrate that your goal and agenda was something that could not have been done via Zoom. You never want to hear during or after a meeting: “This could have been easily accomplished via a Zoom call.” Probably not what you want to hear…especially if you had a manufacturer come in/fly in for the meeting! What do you think your reception will be when you request your next in-person visit?

So, let’s all take a bow here. You led your companies through 2021. We all adapted and then adapted again. We had record results – some due to us, some due to the market. Do not look back – look forward. Get rid of the old ways and get really good at the new ways. Your customers and principals expect and demand it, as well as your employees. They are counting on you to lead and inspire them.

Full speed ahead, and remember: “Think positive and test negative.”