The Procrastinator’s Guide to Distributor Planning
While it sounds contradictory, I don’t believe being a procrastinator precludes planning
OK, it’s March.
Most distributors probably don’t think of March as the prime planning season, but experience dictates that a lot of us procrastinate. After putting things off for a couple of months, many fail to see a major explosion or crash in our businesses, let out a sigh of relief, and move ahead as if nothing happened. Truth is, nothing immediate happens when we fail to carry out this important task. Instead, the phenomenon builds on itself and creates a gradual drag on our business, which creates a headwind that ultimately leads to systemic issues.
But not to worry, I am a legendary procrastinator. Ever since delivering a scrapbook carrying the scent of fresh Elmer’s glue to Miss Miller’s English class back in seventh grade, my most developed skill could be defined as last-minute cramming. I tend to work best under massive pressure, and it’s both a major strength and my biggest weakness. That said, what does being a procrastinator do for planning?
While it sounds contradictory, I don’t believe being a procrastinator precludes planning. It does create an interesting twist to the way planning must be done. In this article, I will address a few things procrastinators might want to think about when it comes to getting caught up and perhaps help them jump ahead of their deadlines in 2018. Non-procrastinating types can smile smugly and use this to check their work. So, buckle up, and join me on the icy road that leads to planning.
EARLY YEAR PLANNING
You might have some of these already on your calendar, and if so, give yourself a big gold star. But, if not, there’s still plenty of time for a procrastinator to come out smelling like a rose. Here are a few of the things you should do along with some tips for getting them done like a champ.
Joint Planning Meetings with Key Supply Partners — This is a must for a successful year. Setting up these meetings requires almost no work. But, before you start, good procrastinators work hard to maximize their time and minimize the startup. We can procrastinate getting around to the majority of our suppliers.
All the people supplying product to us are not created equally. A limited few are key to our success and, as callused as it may sound, the rest are just carried as a service to customers or to round out your product portfolio. Feel free to procrastinate getting back to the guy who has 15 other distributors signed up in your market and those whose products are only purchased by a handful of customers. Feels pretty good to hear a consultant actually tell you to procrastinate, doesn’t it.
Now, getting back to the handful of really important guys, set the wheels of planning in motion by sending emails asking for mutually good meeting dates. Once a date is set, your natural tendency to delay is tossed to the side of the road. But, beware; there are a few points you need to prepare that require more than your normal Herculean last-minute effort. Here are a couple of points you should think about:
• Where Does a Company’s Current Business Come From? — This is a quick report for companies with smart front ends on their enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, like sales management plus or MITS. Distributors without these capabilities may need a few days to gather the numbers. By the way, if you’re a procrastinator, the smart front end on your ERP system is a must-have tool. Don’t procrastinate in checking this out.
• Which Customers Are the Targets for the Coming Year and Why? — Schedule a time with the sales people responsible for each account and ask them to provide you with some background?
• Are There Logistical or Warehouse Issues Created by the Supplier’s Policies or Processes? — Typically, a quick call to the warehouse and purchasing department gets this information.
• Did you Maximize Co-op Funds? — If not, what might be done to make their program easier for both of you to employ? If you’re a procrastinator, set a date for reviewing this source of free money with one of your coworkers a couple of times a year.
• Does this Supplier Plan on Conducting Any Marketing Activities in 2018? — How do they plan to involve their distributors in the plan?
Meetings with critically important suppliers should never be a once-a-year event. Beat the procrastination bug by setting a date for the next meeting before you end the first meeting. If you really want to be tricky about it, put the onus of setting the schedule with the supplier’s team.
Marketing activities are easy to put off. Unlike customer emergencies and important expedites, marketing stuff never seems urgent. Plans for mailers, customer presentations, open houses, trade shows, and new company brochures lack immediate need for action, but they are of the utmost importance. You can jump off your procrastination horse and start the ball rolling with very little effort. Set a date. Send an email out announcing the new marketing will be rolled out at the next sales meeting or leadership huddle. Now, you’ve got a deadline. What should be included?
• Training is the New Marketing — What training would attract your best customers to your facility? If you do business in the industrial or institutional arenas, surveys indicate their people are starved for training.
• Customers Seem to Have an Almost Insatiable Appetite for Distributor-centric Information Presented in Video Format — With a camera costing less than $250, a product specialist, salesperson, or visiting supplier salesperson can create a 3-5 minute demo of new products. The question is who wants to run with the project? Pick a person and set a review date.
• Customers Have Come to Expect Real and Meaningful Newsletters from Their Top Suppliers — Is yours going out regularly? Do you track the clicks and opens? Do you have a mechanism for capturing leads if someone expresses an interest?
Another great strategy is to reengineer sales meetings to make them procrastinator-friendly. Most managers make the mistake of thinking about their sales meetings as stand-alone events rather than ongoing continuums. The best way to create a flow and build super deluxe sale meetings is to plan all of the sales meetings for the year at once. Ask yourself what skills do my team members need to develop and lay them out over the course of the coming months. Here are some examples:
• Product Training for New People — Why not line up vendors for several meetings at a time? This allows one set of calls/emails with available dates and times.
• Internal Systems and Process Training — Companies with a solid process outperform their competitors. For example, research done years ago by CSO Insights indicates companies with a solidly documented sales process are much more likely to outperform organizations with informal processes. By prioritizing and building on previous meetings, you can use internal resources to handle much of the training. Start with simple blocking and tackling and move on to things like expediting orders, pricing deviation, and appointment setting. A few quick emails, and you move to superstardom.
AN IMPROVED PRICING PROCESS DRIVES BOTTOM-LINE RESULTS
Putting off pricing is easy to do. There are no calls from irate customers, no urgent emails from suppliers, and certainly no push from sellers to get something going for one of their top customers. In the “olden days,” building a pricing process required long days of hand calculations and proactive effort from scores of people within the distributor. There may actually have been good reason to procrastinate, but the days for procrastination are over.
Nothing adds to the profitability and value of a distributor like a nice bounce in gross margin. The typical company employing a strategic pricing associates (SPA) process gains two full points. This provides a 50 percent bounce to the bottom line for the average HVACR distributor. SPA takes the work out of your pricing process. With tools for extracting data from your computer system, an SPA does much of the heavy lifting for you.
Reports back from other distributors indicate the process can go live in about 90 days. If you reach out to them now, this translates into additional profits for the latter half of the year. An email today starts the ball rolling with very little risk and minimal efforts.
Technology-based initiatives are easy to put off. Unless you are a computer geek by nature, selecting the right system is confusing. The price tags associated with technology always looms in the tens of thousands of dollars and up range. When you ask your friends about technology, everyone has a different opinion. If there ever was a poster child for distributor procrastination, this is it. Now the good news and the bad news: If you’ve procrastinated, you probably saved money, and if you continue to procrastinate, you will lose your competitive edge.
For the worst procrastinators amongst us, there is a quick solution to the technology issues: Reach out and get information on your computer system’s user group. Sponsored by all of the major software vendors, these groups give insight into new technologies that are available and provide opportunities to learn what the pay back has been for other distributors.
YOUR LAST CHANCE TO PROCRASTINATE
In my mind, every distributor needs instant information and quick analytics. Further, these skills need to be disseminated throughout the distributor organization. I will give you one last opportunity to procrastinate. Send me an email, and I will send you the list of the absolute minimum data/analytics and a bullet list plan to avoid procrastination.
Publication date: 03/01/18