First, I want to acknowledge the great job done by the folks who organize and run the TUG meeting. TUG stands for “TheUserGroup.org” and is a user-managed organization for users of Infor Distribution’s ERP products. I attended their meeting in early March and, as always, it was a great meeting. They always offer a meaningful program with 180° breakout sessions over four days. These sessions cover a mix of technical and business-oriented topics so the meeting is attended by technical and general management folks.
Gary and Karen Brown of Members, Inc. — who act as TUG’s association management company — run a great meeting at both ends. By that I mean they present a great program that is designed by the TUG members through membership surveys. They offer Special Interest Group (SIG) meetings that are chaired by TUG members. They also pay attention to the small details that make the experience better for the attendees and the vendors who attend.
A couple of “small details” examples from the meeting: 1) They print the person’s and company name on both sides of the badge so the information is visible even when the badge gets turned around. I have attended a bunch of meetings this year where they used the traditional front-only badge, it seemed that about half of the badges were backward. A great idea well-executed. 2) When we checked in we were informed that there would be a “resort fee.” At most meetings, this is where the sponsor allows the hotel to recoup all of the negotiated discounts on the room rates, and maybe more, with a mandatory “resort” fee. Typically the fee covers a bunch of services I never get an opportunity to use since I am there to attend meetings. Plus parking and Internet can add up to another $40 to $50 per day. TUG negotiated a $1.00 per day fee that included parking and Internet service plus some other amenities so the hotel fees were, essentially, except for taxes, the true cost. What a refreshing surprise!
I’ll get off my soapbox and close the report by saying, if you use one of Infor Distribution’s current or legacy products, you should take a look at what TUG offers in its meetings and in the networking it provides.
And now to our industry where great businesses are built from huindreds of small details. Since things are getting busy for you, hopefully, let’s cover some small details to double check:
1. Saying "thank you" to your customers. It’s so simple to thank them for each order and for their ongoing business. Every time they give you an order, make sure your team says, “Thanks for the order, come again. Can I help you carry out your materials?” or “Thanks for the order, we’ll get that right out to you, call again.”
2. Watch and coach your team’s interaction with customers. When you find members of your team who are offended by the notion that we are a service industry, start training their replacements. In our consulting, we often find people in our industry who are too proud or unwilling to serve or wait on customers. Their egos get in the way and they feel a need to “teach” customers that they are the boss. In an industry that has too many manufacturers and distributors this personality type does not work. When you see it happen, coach the person immediately and if the poor attitude continues, allow the individual to practice somewhere else. (With input from your labor attorney.)
3. Saying thanks to your team. It’s the most cost effective way to show appreciation. It is also important to pay properly in your market but in these tough times, many companies have not been able to offer raises like in the boom times. A simple thanks doesn’t solve the pay issues but it does matter that you care.
4. Promote yourself. Simple reminders of your great prices, your deep inventories, your product knowledge, your convenient locations, your prompt delivery and friendly service will, over time, penetrate the skull of even the most skeptical customer. If you don’t continuously tell your story, all your customers will hear is your competition telling their story.
5. Try to differentiate between the performers and the “suck-ups”. Sometimes the quiet, hard workers are ignored in favor of the “brown nosers.” When you don’t show that you understand the difference, you can end-up with a company full of non-performers. The high-performance wholesalers I know are composed of a team of the best and brightest that is always working to get better.
6. Be sure to ask for a greater share of your customers’ business. For years I have recommended two simple questions for use in your customer conversations: 1. What do we need to do to deserve your business? 2. What do we need to do to earn more of your business? Over the years, I have been told “No” but I have never offended a customer or prospect with either question. I think that most customers and prospects appreciated that we asked.
7. Get pricing right. First, get that pricing person in place. You have been avoiding it and you continue to offer reactive pricing because the system pricing is pulled out of someone’s ear, or another orifice, not driven by real market data and competitive information.
8. Be competitive with your pricing. There is often no benefit in trying to sell a price-sensitive product above market. There is also no good reason to sell a price-INsensitive product too cheap.
9. Make sure your people are trained in handling price discussions and objections. As I have said before, the best professional shortstops practice ground balls every day because they must field grounders every game. Your team gets to field pricing complaints every day so they should be very good at dealing with those objections. For a column reprint on dealing with pricing objections, e-mail me firstname.lastname@example.org
10. Take time to visit your customers. I hear the excuse that customers are just too busy, but executives and managers who are sincere, who listen and who add value seem to conduct lots of valuable customer visits. Plan your visits so they are meaningful and productive. Spend most of the time listening and taking notes to convey that customers' input is valued.
11. Use pre-employment testing to find qualified people. While there are certainly other important factors in the hiring process, this one is a no-brainer. (Clear any testing with your labor attorney.) When Johnny can’t read:
a. He can’t pick product accurately even with a barcode scanner.
b. He can’t use a GPS or a roadmap to run deliveries
c. He isn’t promotable
d. He can’t follow written directions or procedures.
12. Consider hiring a veteran. There are some good solid people available. Non-commissioned officers are often very good at training, managing and leading young undisciplined people just like the ones you are probably hiring. Plus the maturity level of a Generation Y veteran is a lot different than the run-of-the-mill Generation Y person…I don’t think the veteran will be bringing his mom to the job interview.
13. Groom your next generation. If you are head of a family company and want the company to stay in the family, start working on it right now; you probably have already waited too long, but now is better than later. (As a personal aside, I have already started coaching my brand-new granddaughter, who Jen delivered February 17. Both are doing well.)
There are probably a bunch of operational “small details” that you can think of for your business. The cool thing is that even when you are very busy, there is often time to pick a “small details” task from the list and get it completed. Hope you are enjoying a better, busier and more profitable 2014.
Rich Schmitt is president of Schmitt Consulting Group Inc., a management consulting firm focused on distribution and manufacturing clients for pricing, consulting seminars and profit improvement. He is also the co-owner of Schmitt ProfiTools Inc. (SPI), which provides web storefronts and handheld tools, print catalog software, content creation and services, and pricing management and analysis. Visit his company websites at www.go-scg.com and www.go-spi.com. Schmitt can be reached directly at email@example.com