Sales Managers Still Pounding Away

Aug. 28, 2009
Next month’s cover story in Electrical Wholesaling will explore the successful survival tactics sales managers are using to get through this recession

It’s the toughest economic climate the electrical market has seen in the past 30 years. But there’s still one sure-fire strategy that can get the salespeople on their customers’ appointment calendars: new products that help electrical contractors and other end users do their jobs faster, better, more safely and more profitably.

Next month’s cover story in Electrical Wholesaling will explore the successful survival tactics sales managers are using to get through this recession. The magazine’s editors found that many companies are still having success on sales calls with new products.

Arlington Industries Inc., Scranton, Pa., is well-known in the electrical market for its innovative new products. Ray Kennedy, national sales manager, says new product development is every bit as important in this economic climate. “We have more contractor customers who are willing to look at new products because they have more time to review labor-saving products when business is slow. That is how Tom Stark and Tom Gretz built our business — developing patented labor-saving products at competitive prices for contractors.

“We continue to develop new products during slow economic times. More than 50 percent of our sales are from products that are patent-pending products, which allows us and our distributors to maintain prices levels in spite of contractor pressure to lower levels. We compensate, in many cases, more commissions to our reps to sell these products. It’s important to motivate our reps even more with new innovative products at higher commission levels during a tough economy….We keep our sales force motivated by opening new markets with our products. For example, Arlington has now entered the audio/visual market with low-voltage mounting brackets, T.V. boxes and scoops.”

Christopher Caramela, sales manager, Johnson & McGill, North Abington, Mass., says the most aggressive distributors in his metropolitan Boston market area always have the time to learn about the labor-saving products that his company represents. “Proactive, aggressive distributors will always listen because they are continually looking for the edge to stay in front of their competition,” he said. “There are a handful of distributors who take the lead in time- and labor-saving products. They are not content to just field a phone call from a contractor who wants to do it like his father did it before him. They get in front of him and coach him on being profitable.”

Don Long, director of sales for Milbank Manufacturing, Kansas City, Mo., says customers still want to learn about new products, but because many of them have had staff cutbacks their time is at a premium. “Since it’s sometimes a challenge to get their time to evaluate new products, it’s more important than ever to concisely show the labor and/or cost saving benefits of your products.”

He believes markets always exist where it’s possible to grow the company’s business, even in difficult economic times, and Milbank has re-focused its selling efforts in areas where they see opportunities to either grow market share or capitalize on expanding markets.

“We are promoting commercial meter pedestals for traffic signal and roadway lighting control, with the anticipation that stimulus funds for infrastructure will keep these markets active,” he said. “We’re also increasing our sales and marketing efforts in other areas, such as the industrial enclosure market, where do not have significant share, and the stand-by generator market, a new venture for Milbank.”

Garry O’Leary, sales manager for RB Sales Corp., an independent rep based in Marion, Iowa,said his sales team is very busy right now training end users on labor-saving and cost-effective products.

O’Leary said that while educating customers on new products takes more time than selling traditional electrical products, it will be worth the selling time they are investing now when these products become part of the solution when projects are bid, purchased and built.

When asked how he motivates his salespeople in this market environment, O’Leary said he tells his salespeople it’s important to “enjoy the small wins” now, but that the real motivation is to be ready for the future.

“The economy will recover and my team is motivated by simply knowing that the economy will come back. We are not sure when, but it will come back. During these down times, RB Sales is focused on capturing market share with our manufacturers while others cut back. We know we have a strong line card and that conversions are key for us today and tomorrow.”