In many parts of the country, the pace of commerce has slowed somewhat as winter sets in. Many wholesalers are taking a well-deserved break from the hectic ace of the last year. The high-performance wholesalers are using this time to prepare for the next season and to gain an edge on the aforementioned resting wholesalers. If you are, or aspire to be, one of the high-performance group, here’s our list of tasks to consider:
Take to the highway —even though driving can be a hassle and, in many parts of the country, it’s darn cold, now is a great time to visit customers and branches.
Customer visits by the senior team — Many executives have devolved their customer touch to second- or third-hand biased briefings from the field, customer analysis reports from their shiny new business intelligence (BI) tool or their well-orchestrated big-hitter customer meetings. These folks are probably making decisions based upon this inadequate perspective. (For the record, we think meeting your big customers is critically important, but extrapolating their needs to your other customers is often a mistake. Often the heart of your profitability is in the small- and medium-sized customers so bonding with them is critical.) There is nothing like a face-to-face with the customer in his/her place of business. Many contractors are not operating at full-tilt this time of year. Therefore, you won’t get a picture of their real operation when things are hopping but you will get to see it up close and in person. The good news is that you may be able to score some quality time with the owner. Some ideas for planning your visit:
Branch visits by the senior team — We want to remind executives that you may not have a clue as to how your branches operate when nobody is watching. Your well-choreographed visits reveal little about the day-to-day operation and the issues facing a branch. Again the off-season nature of the business results in a distorted view as compared to the full-on tempo of an in-season day, but this can be offset by the time for calm conversations with manager and branch team. Some ideas for planning your visit:
Competitor fly-bys (not to be confused with drive-bys) — Over the years, we have heard some tall tales as salespeople describe how difficult the competition is. We know it’s tough out there but sometimes the size of the dragons gets embellished along the way. When helping wholesalers, we always suggest driving by the most troublesome competitors’ locations. This serves several purposes: it offers as a reality check — most competitors put their pants on one leg at a time and it often yields insights as to what they are doing — what is in the yard, who is delivering, who is at the counter.
Develop your company’s action/reaction list — most branch managers have grown up in the industry. Some have had formal business training, some have not. Some have had good examples and mentors, some have not. There are many situations (actions) that branch managers face where they are expected to develop a solution (reaction). In practice, each branch manager, in good faith, makes up a solution and occasionally gets it right. We think multi-location wholesalers can improve their overall batting average by creating a best practices action/reaction list. If this happens, these are the things you do. Example: If margins are down. Pull the turn-and-earn report that shows the T&Es for each category to identify which categories are problematic. Then drill into the low T&E categories to understand which items are a problem. Then determine what needs to be done to correct the situations.
Hope this starts your thought processes for the new year. We wish all of you a happy, healthy and prosperous 2017.