Representor Winter 2023 - ERA XCOM Digest

Winter 2023 – ERA XCOM Digest

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Industry Update – by Kingsland Coombs, CPMR, CSP

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

The office quandary: What is the right size? 

While there may be some ambiguity around the permanence of the shift to remote work, most bets are on the hybrid workstyle for the near term. Our company has adopted a hybrid workstyle, and our office lease term expiring in mid-2023 presents an opportunity for us to reconsider our needs. If we require fewer employees to be on-site each day, should we make the long-term decision to jettison a portion of our office space and save money? If so, what should we look for in the next office lease?

We are reconsidering what we believed about a traditional office space. We thought an office full of employees supported employee collaboration and productivity. But now we are very adept at interacting via technology. Shouldn’t the investment in new technology we made during the pandemic pay off somehow? We find ourselves screen sharing in video calls even while we are in the office together.

We thought a full office helped to build relationships, teamwork and company culture. Unfortunately, this is hard to measure and subject to debate. We have successfully onboarded two new hybrid employees since the start of the pandemic. We also thought that a large office was an extension of our brand and projected permanence and financial stability. While that may have been true in the past, many of our principals and customers work remotely or have downsized office space themselves.

With this in mind, we are embracing a new office space ideal. “Right-sizing,” if you will. We require less square footage for employee offices or workstations, but the space needs to be flexible to accommodate hybrid schedules and semi-private to ensure focus and productivity. For us, partners/officers still require full-time offices. A large conference room and kitchenette have become more important than ever, since hosting impromptu meetings, lunches and business reviews are reasons people come into the office. We still need room for IT equipment, literature and promotional materials. All things considered, we can reduce our square footage requirement somewhat, but not as much as we expected.

The location of the office remains of utmost importance, even without giving much weight to employee commutes. We benefit from being near other firms and workers and certain amenities such as upscale retail stores and restaurants. For entertainment, we desire an area that connects people, coffee houses, bars, food and fun. Airports, highways and long-distance transport access remain essential. For these reasons, we are choosing to remain in a denser urban/suburban location.

We gave some consideration to co-working centers. The one we toured had amenities including a deli, receptionist, gym, postal area, a large conference room and access to other co-working locations. However, the use of the conference room and amenities came at a cost premium. Also, the private offices were quite small and not what we were used to. There are plenty of reps who are very happy with co-working centers, but for us it was not a fit.

We toured multiple commercial spaces in our desired location but were unable to find one that met our ideal. Most required a build-out to create flexible workspaces for hybrid employees. The cost of a build-out added to the moving costs and did not offset the savings in rent from less square footage as much as expected. We also found that spaces in the smaller size range are more highly coveted than before, allowing the landlord to propose a higher cost per square foot. With all that said, we are renegotiating a short-term lease with our current landlord and plan to stay put for another 1-2 years.

The current challenge of excess office space will incentivize landlords and developers to be creative and transform offices into spaces that better accommodate a hybrid workstyle. New offices will provide amenities and collaborative spaces that entice employees and visitors to gather, exchange ideas and enjoy some occasional recreation. 

Rep Update – by Cameron English, CPMR

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

A critical pivot in 2023

As we enter 2023, we are witnessing first-hand the development of never-seen-before economic variables. As manufacturers’ representatives, we are in the unique position to use these changes to our advantage. Life as we know it in the next few years will be more volatile in every aspect of the economy than at any time in the economic history of the global economy. One of the inherent strengths and structure of the rep business is what I would call the “hyper flex” – the ability ingrained in us as entrepreneurs to adapt to changes faster than any other business model. 

In the book, “The Big Pivot,” Andrew Winston writes about how business needs to anticipate the impact of climate change and its global impact in order to create a more sustainable economy. Winston points out that climate, population explosion and a myriad of other issues, demand that scarcity push business organizations to consider prioritizing environmental and social challenges as central to business success or failure. Add in the potential for lockdowns, the massive spending of world governments, hyper-inflation, societal unrest in major cities and the model becomes anything but a predictable model. 

I don’t know how to predict the impact of these unprecedented macro issues. What I do know is that more than any other business structure, field sales representatives can use our flexibility and autonomy to make fast and correct decisions to thrive in these uncertain times. 

Breaking that down to the sales process, and further narrowing the focus to the representative function, I am confident representatives worldwide can stand out as examples of why our model can outperform institutional, centralized direct sales organizations. 

First, as reps, we don’t focus on factors that are out of our sphere of influence. Another way to put it: we are like the free radicals in an open system, able to move and shift to where the need or opportunity is greatest. Think of Lyft/Uber and Airbnb, both transformational business strategies that resulted in greater supply and more efficient products and services than the traditional model. These business models prospered because they were open-market, and positioned closer to the customer need.

For example, in my company, we recently challenged each of our field sales managers to submit an overview on which OEM customers and targets would be the most likely candidates to be “recession-proof” technology accounts. As we each presented our selections, and defended our choices, a common thread started to emerge in regards to the vertical markets that appeared to have possible recession-proof potential – medical, UAV, BEV-FCV, green energy and charging, utility grid sustaining technology, A.I., satellite communications, military and electronic warfare, to name a few. These are just a few examples that our team envisioned having long-term growth, despite economic cooling. 

Proof of life, despite the trends of rising inflation, money supply crashing, and other economic choke variables, were looked at from a perspective of opportunity and not scarcity. I recognized that our field sales managers were in a unique position to see where resources were flowing the strongest, and to which electronic technology sectors. These frontline professionals make daily decisions about what accounts show the most promising return for their time, talent and resources. 

To further this effort, we realized that the emphasis had to be on tapping into new projects. It became apparent that the rate of change of where business is sourced is happening faster than ever in the history of the company. 

The bottom line is we knew we had to transform into business development managers. No longer was the focus simply on account or territory management. Accounts and territories are adapting and shifting faster than we ever imagined. 

In order to embrace this change, we developed a simple outline, which would become our new “job focus model.”

Account development strategies

Research the company

• How our company’s lines have value to the technology the customers use

• What the technology benefit is (the value proposition) to be promoted to the customer

Focus on reaching out to engineers 

• References are powerful things 

• Alignment with product offering to the customer

• Build rapport with engineering contacts

Connect with distributors

• Build a network

• Find a mentor

• Review P.O.S. and develop a conversation about the major activity

Review P.O.S. 

• Mine for best opportunities

• Discuss with distribution

Strategies to connect

• Nothing works as well as good old-fashioned follow-up

• Get your mentor to give you guidance and travel in the field with distribution contacts

• Supply chain can often be easier to connect than engineers, and a good starting point

Use resources to farm for contacts

• Zoom Info can mine for key contacts and how to reach them

• Once you build/expand your list, deploy all resources to reach out

• Invest in focus/value-driven messaging. For example, “We have found great success in your technology with our 

capability in RF filters for radar jamming technology through this unique product from ‘XYZ’ company.” Focused and educated messaging gets results. 

Although this strategy is not new to us, the emphasis on project-oriented focus is a new direction. How many of us have seen contacts moving at a more rapid rate of change, companies buying their competitors, technology changing and leaving behind prior projects faster than ever? This dynamic will continue faster than ever. In our case, we are looking at suppliers being more responsive and flexible than ever. Customer expectations are increasing in areas related to time-to-market and response time for critical information for development. 

In times of great change, the organizations that can adapt will thrive. The very nature of our structure bodes well for us in volatile environments. I predict our line card, customers, suppliers and channel partners are about to go through the most disruptive dynamic we have seen in over 50 years of business. 

My challenge question to my fellow representatives: How are you positioned to get ahead of the curve to pivot and thrive against all odds? 

Education Update – by Ellen Coan, CPMR

Ellen Coan, CPMR

C C Electro Sales, Inc.
Sr. Vice President/Education

The investments we’ll make in 2023

Benjamin Franklin said, “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”

When you dissect that quote, what word stands out to you first? Is it the word investment? Do we only invest in the form of money? In 2023, where do you plan to find the best return on your investment? The stock market? A new manufacturer? We analyze financial reports, rising interest rates, market trends and emerging technologies – edge computing, energy storage, thermal dissipation, 6G, etc. – all this takes knowledge and is factored into the decisions we make from the data we collect.

Or is the investment in people and companies? As you research your needs and talents as a person and a company, where will 2023 take us? A new position at the same company? A new co-worker or manager? We search for the best way to develop our own skills and the skills of those around us. We learn how to succeed with a hybrid workforce and different generations. We listen to all that is presented on podcasts, in books and from speakers, and apply it to keep moving forward. 

The investment is always rooted in the time allowed to gain more knowledge in whatever subject we choose. We have all learned we have a finite amount of time and we continue to squeeze as much into those minutes as we can. My latest listen/read is a book about the benefits of solitude – “Lead Yourself First” by Michael Erwin, a former Army Special Forces West Point grad. This can lead to clearer thoughts and creativity. We need as much creativity as we can find from ourselves through our experiences, or from the ERA NEXGEN members who bring their fresh perspectives to an ever-changing industry. I am always challenging myself to “think outside the box” and it takes a lot of vulnerability to make those moves, but when we execute on something where our passion shows, the time is well spent.

Benjamin Franklin was an American leader who not only co-authored the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Treaties of Paris but we know him as the pioneer of electricity, and where would electronic representatives be without electricity? I also learned another fun fact about Benjamin Franklin – he invented bifocals. How many of us would be struggling to see our potential without bifocals, now or in the future? His simple quote took me down some rabbit holes and I reflect on a few of them as I join my industry partners in Austin, Texas, knowing the 2023 ERA National Conference (and especially the breakouts) will give me the knowledge that leaves me energized and challenged to meet 2023 with vim and vigor! 

Manufacturing Update – by Ken Bellero

Ken Bellero
Schaffner EMC
Sr. Vice President/Manufacturers

Digital marketing program gives reps the edge manufacturers are looking for

One of the topics that I have been thinking about that adds to the discussion of the value of a manufacturer’s representative is an organized marketing and lead generation program. Since COVID, more and more reps need to show that they have value to offer their manufacturing partners far beyond the normal day-to-day contact with the customer base within their respective territories.

For the past six years, Schaffner has worked exclusively with a digital marketing and strategy firm to broaden our ability to generate more and more leads in new markets with new customers within the reps territory. We have been very successful working with them, and with this program. I can attribute so much of our current success to this relationship but more importantly, this relationship gives us the ability to grow our business relationships with our rep organizations. I first approached this company to help me find more sales qualified leads for our reps within their territory, knowing how hard it was for them to provide this monthly. Schaffner was able to generate many new leads and contacts for all of our reps over these past six years through a very organized digital marketing lead campaign, which has led Schaffner EMC to the primary position for EMI filters within the U.S. market.

However, now that we are firmly established, I believe that it is now the reps’ turn to pump up their marketing programs locally as well and generate even more leads and new contacts through local lead generation within their own customer lists. This is a value that many manufacturers would find very attractive when looking at the rep model for future development of their products in the U.S. There is a belief by some manufacturers that this should be done by the reps. In my opinion, now is the time for rep firms to invest in local marketing programs to increase their value to their partners. It will give you the edge when looking to expand with other partners in the territory.

The best way to do this is to set up a program using many of the manufacturer’s tools (brochures, white papers, datasheets, etc.) through an organized approach – either via email campaigns, separate newsletters or mailings to the rep contact lists. These lists will only strengthen the account base and add more value to the manufacturer’s contact list which, in turn, leads to new projects and new contacts within the territories.

Several of our reps have already taken the steps to add not only an organized marketing program but also have hired specific employees to manage the day-to-day marketing functions within their organizations. These reps have all embraced the idea of a rep taking on the marketing functions for their principals within their territory. They are leading the way not only in marketing efforts but also in sales and new business development. This has added the necessary extension of the Schaffner USA marketing program overall and has helped us to enhance our internal campaigns.

If you have been thinking about developing a marketing program for your rep firm and would like to get more information, reach out to me or a fellow rep that has developed an organized marketing program. I am sure they would help explain from a rep’s point of view the advantages of an organized program and the additional focus from a dedicated marketing manager. 

As always, if you would like to reach out to me directly, please do not hesitate to email me at or give me a call 732-910-1717 anytime. 

Distribution Update – by Craig Sanderson

Craig Sanderson
Sager Electronics
Sr. Vice President/Distributors

A new year! Looking forward, and thoughts while shaving 

> 2022 has come to an end, in a much different way than it began. How will the year 2022 be remembered by the electronics components industry? Will it be the year of continued supply chain problems? Will constant cost increases be our takeaway? How many missed deliveries occurred? 

> Something that keeps me awake at night is whether distributors with valuable on-hand inventory will experience a serious dilemma if suppliers reduce their standard costs in the future. That could negatively impact distributors who have committed to inventory, unless the suppliers offer price protection. 

> I am genuinely looking forward to hearing Michael Knight speak at the 2023 ERA Conference. Michael has committed himself to researching, analyzing and providing written and verbal presentations on the state of our industry, future technology and the economic factors that impact our businesses. He does all of this on his own, and always delivers a memorable and thought-provoking presentation at the ERA Conference. I am betting the house that this year will be another great success. 

> With the challenges of the past three years, many have predicted that companies may be negatively impacted. Factors that could become reality are cash flow concerns for under-funded companies, possible limited revenue stream for start-up companies, and possibly even a change in management commitment for some organizations. I watch for mergers and acquisitions to increase as a possible indicator of this impact. 

> It seems as though for some component suppliers, new product introductions (NPI) have slowed down due to a number of factors, such as reduced research and development (R&D) spending by OEMs and the component manufacturers themselves, inability of OEM customers to start redesign efforts, reduced in-person meetings by OEM customers with salespeople and redeployment of design engineers away from NPI and on supply chain issues. All of these should go away and drive a resurgence of NPI in 2023. 

> How did we exist before LinkedIn? It has definitely become a great tool for our industry and certainly almost all organizations. No plug for it, but it definitely helps us all keep current with each other and with what is going on. I am always somewhat amazed at all the content that I see on it every day. And ERA’s own Walter Tobin provides great comment and insight every day. I am trying to learn from Walter. 

> Is the on-hand inventory in the distribution channel at an all-time high? That is the result as distributors have reacted to the extended lead time, missed deliveries and increased demand from customers to build inventories. While it is a byproduct of the recent business cycle, this will impact component suppliers, OEM and CEM customers, manufacturers’ reps and of course, the distributors. The negative could impact some suppliers as distributor orders grew in the past three years and there could be some moderation during 2023. But it is very positive for the business as customers will be able to find available inventory and minimize much of the lead time, and supply chain issues that have occurred or that could still happen in the New Year. In addition, expediting and premium freight costs will be reduced, and rescheduling and order adjustments from customers should be less stressful. 

> It is a new year and I thank everyone for their support, good work, friendship and teamwork as part of ERA. The 2023 ERA Conference will be here soon. Scheduled for February 26- 28, 2023 in Austin, Texas, this year’s conference theme of “Moving On, Moving Beyond” provides a great start to our year. I hope to see you there.