If I told you that:

  • There is a single, easy-to-do, but possibly painful-to-implement technique that allows you to corral one of your worst time wasters: answering emails every day.
  • There is a rational but clear approach to understanding not only the threat of Amazon to your distributorship but a way of ameliorating it … before it’s too late.
  • Guess what? social media really does matter, and even if you don’t care about participating, your current customers might, and your future customers most definitely will.
  • There is a simple, direct and effective six-question checklist that lets you know whether that sales ride-along is effective.
  • Your dealer says he knows that his website isn’t optimized for mobile use. He turns to you for help and your reply is: “Here’s where you start.”

Teasing readers, especially when you draw it out as I did, some journalists regard as a writing gimmick. It isn’t. But when you have a small mountain of information, sometimes it pays to take a pause on a ledge to convey a sense of what you could have learned. This certainly applies to my “teasing” comments, whose answers I learned at the most recent HARDI conference, April 12 to 14, the Marketing and Sales Focus Forum, Charleston, S.C. The same learning experience held true for HARDI’s Strategic Leadership Focus Forum in Laguna Beach, Calif., March 22 to 24, as the speakers sprinkled both groups of attendees with informative presentations that could benefit every distributorship.

From the offhand comments and analysis by both distributors and manufacturers that I met with, the consensus was that even a few ideas implemented from either of these focus forums could change the structure of how you operate because of personal adjustments or structural modifications to the business as a whole. 

Also, a hoped-for trend that I saw at both conferences, especially from the speakers’ perspective, was the constant urging of attendees to follow through with even just one or two action items “even if you do nothing else.” They seemed to understand that action is often the litmus test of relevant knowledge.

Another hopeful sign at the sales and marketing focus forum was the women who seemed, at times, to be in the majority. While the number of women in leadership positions in our industry is worthy of a major inquiry, I sat at a breakfast table that had only women, until one other male joined us and disrupted the proportionality I was enjoying. On a serious note, its events like these two focus forums that demonstrate smart wholesalers are starting to send people with the most vested interest in their business.

A perfect example of that was the Strategic Leadership conference in Laguna Beach. I was bumping into generation “next,” those individuals who owners were grooming for more responsibility if not eventually taking over the helm of the company. What made the sales and marketing conference different, as I’ve already noted, were the number of business women who always seemed to be taking diligent notes or asking good questions. We’re finally seeing them at HARDI events.

There is also another element that we might overlook at these focus forums but one that I suspect has an impact on the attendees, especially those with less experience. The forums allow younger people to have an introduction to traveling for business, meeting peers and rubbing shoulders with some very successful owners or representatives from companies whose lines they handle. It probably seems so “professional” to them because, well, it was. It provides time away from the confines of the office and a glimpse toward a more strategic industry view rather than a more narrow company-centric vision. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to write that what you learn at a focus forum gives you enough ideas and information that easily fits into a new plan, whatever the area of focus, for an entire year. If that isn’t enough as a reason for attending, then I’m at a loss to suggest anything better.

Pleasantness and atmosphere matter, too, and the social surrounding simply makes it easier to conduct business.  (Are we kidding? Laguna Beach and Charleston only brought a look of envy when I mentioned it to friends.) While you don’t buy or sell to someone just because you like them, a convivial relationship adds a pleasant touch to future potential business. Sometimes, we overlook an important point here. Even if the dinner conversation is mostly nonindustry centered, invariably I learned something from everyone. If you were there, you would know this is a fundamental truism. And that bit of knowledge can pay dividends later when you recall the relationship started over nothing more than breaking bread in Laguna Beach or Charleston.

While many of you should have been there, if you missed it, contact HARDI (www.hardinet.org) and they can provide you with the presentations of the speakers.

For the remaining focus forums, visit: http://www.hardinet.org/networking-events