Really, stop reading.  This is not a test.  Your use of the next five minutes will deliver more to the bottom line than any other 300 seconds in history.  So, grab this magazine by the cover and rip out these pages.  Now get up and walk over to the copy machine – I want you to make four copies of this article.  Back?  OK, good.  Your work isn’t over.  But, now back to the reading already in progress…

Probably only a handful of career occasions come anywhere close to a HARDI meeting.  We are so used to anxious customers, hot orders, last-minute quotes and big deals that we have developed an artificial sense for the urgently important.  And these meetings don’t seem urgent from that standpoint, so many of us allow the time to slip through our fingers. 

We all know our lives are really busy.  The week before HARDI’s annual conference is chock full of last-minute things we have to do just to keep the office running while we’re gone.   And many of us don’t feel like superstar networkers; we know people who are, but that’s not our style.  There are dozens of great reasons why, but we are missing an opportunity to make mega bucks.

What we are going to do for the next few minutes is walk through the things we can start doing right away to maximize the value of our next meeting.   As we go through the sections, I want you to decide who you can delegate some of this work to.  Make a note to revisit this three more times before everyone gathers down in Old San Antonio.

Who else will be attending the meeting from your company?

If you don’t know or haven’t decided, now is a great time to create your list.  While many company presidents, CEOs and owners are plugged into our industry, there may be people attending this meeting from your company for the first time.  Preparing this group for the meeting provides a massive bang for the buck.  Take a couple of seconds and write potential attendees’ names across the top of the copies of this article.  Each of these people should be totally prepared to use this meeting to maximize their contribution to your company. If you’re more digitally minded, just check the attendee list that HARDI posts.


Preparing for One-on-One Supplier meetings

What can a person accomplish in 20 or 30 minutes during a short meeting at the event?  The answer is plenty; if you are prepared.  But being prepared is not something that happens by pure chance.  Monday’s Conference Booth Program will offer the chance for meeting with existing and potential new supply partners.  But why wait until the last day of the meeting to open the doors to meaningful communication?

I suggest creating a “hit list” of people you would like to spend time meeting.  These can be set up via a phone call to key people at the supplier in the weeks before the conference; this is a good time to start.  But before you start making the calls, let’s create some priorities.

Take a bit of time to review the list of manufacturer people attending the meeting.  Sort them by their potential to your organization.  Here is a quick way to sort these companies:

  1. Current Supply-Partners
  2. Prospective Suppliers
  3. The Unknowns/Discovery

The information needed for each of these meetings is different, but being prepared is the critical common thread.  And we must remember, specifics are always better than generalities.  Rather than saying, “our market is down,” provide details.  Something like, “Our top three customers were down across the board because of their involvement in the food industry, but our average customer was up 17 percent.” This gives a more meaningful picture of the market and reflects better on your ability to execute strategy.

Now let’s look at some discussion points for the meetings.  (See Table 1)

The Current Supply Partners represent those folks whose products are already on your line card.  They may not be your biggest supply partner, but they are still partners.  Focus your conversation around better understanding one another, further developing your relationship and breaking down barriers to growth.

The Prospective Supply Partners consists of those companies you would like the opportunity to work with in the future.  Maybe they are a better line, a closer match to your business or someone with technology or products that match your future direction.  (See Table 2)

The Unknown/Discovery Partners are the companies that you have no specific plans or interest in partnering with at this time.  Many people simply skip over preparation for this type of meeting.  Here are a few points to consider.  Companies change; they merge, acquire and get acquired.  The leadership teams of these companies move.  Your future may depend on the impression you make on someone – someone who seems to hold no economic benefit for you today.  With that in mind, here are a few points to consider in your conversations with this group.  (See Table 3.)

While the Conference Booth Program offers lots of opportunity for meaningful meetings, I suggest that you hold the highest priority meetings during short breaks in the action at the HARDI meeting.  Aggressive distributors set up private, one-on-one meetings for breakfast, lunchtime, during breaks and in the half hour immediately preceding the evening’s reception.  There is no reason for the meeting to look like the United Nations.  Break those attending the meeting from your company into teams and schedule multiple meetings based on the urgent needs of your organization. 

Overflow from your meetings can easily spill over into the Conference Booth Program.  Further, many of the Unknown/Discovery suppliers will be there with information on their company as well as products for display. 


Conference Booth Program

Vendors use opportunities like this to showcase new and innovative products.  Unlike the Internet and that stack of product literature on the corner of your credenza. you get instant feedback to both your product questions AND market-related questions.  This is a big deal.

To illustrate just how key this is to success, let’s do a deep dive on a safety-related product.  At first glance, we see a shiny plastic “doo-dad” (pardon the technical jargon).  Looking at it reveals a number of features that make logical sense.  But, it’s only in that follow-up market-related discussion that we learn a new OSHA regulation will require everyone to use these by 2015.  This little tidbit provides us with a competitive advantage that crosses over a dozen product lines. 


The Networking

When you think about it, we have more in common with the folks attending this meeting than any other group on the planet.  We all devote the majority of our waking hours to the HVACR wholesale business.  Our backgrounds, our ambitions, our conversations and a whole lot more are linked by a common thread.  This group can single-handedly help us achieve success if we know who to call and they feel comfortable talking. 

But here’s the problem: Most of us put zero energy into preparing.  We stand before a veritable fountain of knowledge, and the best we can do is, “How’s business?”  What a waste.  We can stand back and say, “I’m not that much of a networker.”  Or we can make something happen.  Here are some tried-and-true aids for planning your networking activities.

Decide who you want to network with before the meeting.  HARDI posts a list of attendees on their website for easy download.  Print off that list and circle anyone you want to talk to.  Don’t leave the meeting to chance; call or send the person an email asking if they have a few minutes to get together at the meeting. 

Don’t waste a single breakfast, lunch or coffee break.  Nothing is a bigger loss of opportunity than hanging out with co-workers during the breaks.  Networking must be first and foremost on your mind.

Decide what information you would like to explore, again ahead of time.  For instance, I recommend that distributors identify other businesses using the same “computer system.”  This makes for a good discussion for new front-line managers.  The conversation can turn to things like, “What report do you use to identify potentially obsolete inventory?”  Now that would be valuable – and somebody probably has one figured out.

Carry the list with you.  As you meet new people, jot a note about your meeting.  Good information may be things like the number of branches, target markets, locations and their major line.  By the end of the conference, your list will look crumpled and carry dozens of important notes.  And let me assure you, these notes are worth their weight in gold.


Take advantage of the Resource Center

Regardless of your planning, something will happen that frees up a portion of your time at the meeting.  HARDI will again feature the Resource Center.  The premise is simple.  HARDI provides their members with access to experts on topics like HR issues, staff development, government affairs, market intelligence and economic forecasting.   Basically, meeting attendees walk right up and help themselves to some of the brightest consultants in the market; for free.  Did I happen to mention free? No charge and gratis are my three favorite prices?


I could go on forever, but I promised you a few minutes…

None of this works if you don’t turn meeting ideas into a plan.  Based on this information, your team will come home with dozens of great ideas.  It’s important that you focus in on turning the best ideas into action soon.

Schedule a pre-conference planning meeting.  Decide who is responsible for what portions of this list.  Hold one another accountable.  Lay out plans to measure the progress.  Similarly, I recommend an “after HARDI” meeting as soon as you return home.  Debrief one another and select the best three to five ideas for immediate implementation.  Measure the value of the ideas you pick up along the way, in dollars and cents.  Nothing reinforces the importance of a networking meeting like real-live money-based metrics.

I believe so strongly in the value of this conference. I will coach you on getting the most bang for absolutely free.  No gimmicks, no gotchas, no nothing.  Just drop us a line.


TABLE 1: Supply Partner Preparation



Current and Historical Sales and Gross Margin.

I believe it is better to have information based on recent years.  This is especially true if local weather, housing starts or something else hurts your business last year.

Sales and GM data for key accounts/projects.

Totals don’t tell the whole story.  Projects and customer closings can skew the data.  What does it look like with the important accounts?

Target Accounts and issues in converting.

Who are you targeting for your sales activities?  Is there a particular demographic where you have an inherent advantage? 

Obstacles to growing our business.

Things like lead times, drop ship policies and new product developments can make a big difference to your bottom line.

Feedback on local sales team.

Is the local guy part of the team?  Bad reps, poor planning skills and all kinds of topics can move things along.  Beware – don’t just bring bad news – good news is important too.

Issues around logistics or inventory.

Lead times, case sizes and a lot of other things can create conflict in the relationship.

Channel conflict if any exists.

Is that other guy down the street following the rules, undercutting prices or something else? 

Training needed.

What does your team need to be better with the product?


 TABLE 2: Prospective Supply Partner Preparation



Your overview.

It’s not enough to tell them you are the “premier HVAC wholesaler” on your block.  What makes you special?  What is the state of your business system?  How is your sales team better?

Target customer types?

Don’t stretch the truth.  Who are the targets of your sales effort?  What industry?  Company size? 

Why you make a good partner?

This one takes a bit of thinking.  I recommend some upfront research.  How does your work line up against this company’s goals?

What is their channel strategy?

Now it’s your turn to ask some great questions.  Listen – ask for clarification.

What is the background on their local team?

Is their sales team open to new channel opportunities or is this a corporate driven thing?

Their market share/your market share?

Are you both going after the same kind of accounts?  If not, it could create big problems down the road.


TABLE 3: Unknown/Discovery Partner Preparation



Your overview.

Impress them.  Make them wish you could be part of their channel.

What does their product line look like?

Many times we discover these people have a new product on the horizon that we have missed.

What is their vision of the future?

Listen closely; often this information gives a person insight into their place in the market.