Specialist’s Year End Action Plan – Twelve-step plan for a better 2008
Well my Specialist friends, it’s that time of year again (December), fall is a thing of the past and the first day of winter looms just around the corner. Across town, the malls are full of scurrying shoppers, holiday tunes blare from the loud speakers all around town. Just a few more days until we all gather around the TV and wax fantastic while Dick Clark presents his seven-hundredth version of Rock’n New Years. What a great time to reflect on our past accomplishments and plan our future.
During 2007, industry leaders, the crème del a crème of profit producers in wholesaling (upper quartile performers) confirmed that Specialists play a very important part in their business strategy by a margin of 3 to 1. One very plausible explanation for this improved performance lies in Specialist activity managing a very well focused slice of the business plan. Using this equation we can conclude - the better a Specialist executes, the better the end result.
The following 12 items are designed to improve your company’s bottom line, maximize your effectiveness in the coming year, and ultimately, enhance your place of leadership within your company.
1 - Set up a 90-day sliding window plan
If you do not have a 90-day sliding window marketing plan in place, this is the right time to put one together. On a blank piece of paper list the 5 or 6 most important activities of the first (next) quarter. Assign target dates to each of these activities. If there are intermediate steps associated with making these activities work, count backwards to establish those dates. Begin the New Year with a fully functioning 90-day plan. During first week of the January, you will find yourself locking down the details for holding a powerful seminar in March – and the stress of last minute details will be minimized. (If you want to re-read the entire article on 90-day sliding windows, you can visit www.tedmag.com and search for 90-day plan.)
2 - Schedule a review meeting with manufacturers
No doubt you work closely with at least one manufacturer. December is a good time to arrange a meeting with the local representative to discuss the future. If you do not have a strong relationship built with this person – start building one. I suggest a breakfast or lunch meeting to discuss an action plan for your future:
- New products scheduled for 2008
- Sales aids/marketing support on products
- Review of distributor incentive programs
- Educational programs for sales and customer service
- Review of projects/activities during 2007 – how can we improve
3 - Re-Evaluate training needs of your staff
Do you have a salesperson or customer service rep that needs just a bit of help with your products or technology? If so, this would be a great time to create some self-study notes to help them get “up to speed”.
New products or variations on existing technology often require explanation. Nothing drives success better than well thought out training that covers the specific needs of the person. Remember, no data dumps allowed.
Prior to the training, ask yourself what piece of information does this person need to do their job best? Customer service representatives need information that will guide them through product selection on your company’s computer. Salespeople need information that allows them to understand applications and relative value of the product applied to the customer’s specific needs.
After you have determined the needs for the next year, add the appropriate information to your 90-day sliding window. Meet with management to get dates on the calendar to make it happen.
4 - Determine which new demo units/samples you need
Samples and demos are an integral part of the technical sales process. As Specialists you know what will be needed to push your product lines into the New Year. This is a great time to create a spreadsheet with the significant demos and samples anticipated for 2008. Another part of this spreadsheet should list demos you plan to dispose of via sale to customer or exchange in a trade-in program. Creating a working demo budget will ensure there are no hold-ups on valuable selling tools.
December is also a great time to approach your manufacturer partners for low-cost/no-cost samples. Often, larger companies find themselves with money left in the budget at the end of the year. If this is the case, you could easily find yourself (and your company) benefiting from unexpected benevolence.
5 - Review existing inventory
Schedule a visit with the purchasing department. Year end is a great time to evaluate inventory levels. Many companies review their inventory and make end of year adjustments to “write-off” obsolete, damaged and otherwise distressed inventory. A Specialist can add value by suggesting which products might be obsolete and making recommendations to help gracefully dispose of these products.
I recommend that a Specialist review all distressed and damaged inventory prior to disposal. I know of one organization that found they were selling brand new products to a salvage company based on lack of an easily installed option. A Specialist spotted this in process, installed the most popular interface option, and turned products destined for the junk pile into easily sold stock.
6 - Analyze your place with your top 10 accounts
Salespeople tend to be overly optimistic regarding their position at good accounts. I heard one Salesman describe how he had 95% of the purchase at one of his accounts. Yet when the account was evaluated, he discovered major blocks of business missing. Competitors have a way of creeping up on us. Year end is a great time to critically look at your accounts. I suggest you review your top 10 accounts in considerable detail. If you discover trends in your top 10 accounts you may need to invest the time to do in-depth study of a larger slice of your business, but that can come next year.
One method of evaluation is the Focus-Analysis (sometimes called gap-analysis). In this analysis you break products into technology groups and sort them by customer. The next step is to look for which products go together then look for gaps. For instance, does this account by lamps but no ballasts, D/C sensors and no power supplies, or terminal blocks and no wire? Each of these is a “tell-tale” sign of a competitor poaching into your account.
7 - Determine the best Targets for the year
I love it when Salespeople commit to growing their business but haven’t a clue as to where the business might come from. We as Specialists can drive the process by helping them develop good Targets.
Answer these questions to begin developing some really strong Targets:
- Which accounts have projects scheduled for 2008?
- Which accounts are projecting strong sales and growth in their own products over the next year? What can you recommend to help them be more efficient?
- Which accounts currently used a competitive product that you feel might be knocked out by some new feature available to you?
- Which account has the best match for your technology?
- Does your company have a new Salesperson who is extra aggressive and quickly breaking into competitive accounts? Can you help them push into the fray?
Use this information to create a hit list of accounts that you can schedule for extra effort and sales growth based efforts. Record this information so you can revisit it at least quarterly throughout the year.
8 - Contemplate the best way to improve your own skills
What have you done to improve your own skills lately? Specialists often think of technology when it comes to training, but that’s just the starting point. So much of your future career depends on your ability to understand the sales process and business in general. Take some of the down time around the holidays to evaluate your place in life. Read a book, sign up for an online course, start a breakfast club to discuss new business models with other professionals or interview the leader of your company regarding skills development. Build a list of training you can discuss with your management team.
9 - Outline the value you have provided for top customers in the past Quarter
Specialists are a source of service to customers and vendors alike. I bet you can rattle off a half dozen activities you took part in during the last week that brought significant measurable value to your customers. Think troubleshooting help and working on product applications for customers. Remember back to ad hoc training sessions, expediting and arranging for emergency deliveries. A quick scan of your memory will bring back the last week or month. Now, think about what you did during the week of last January 23rd.
If you are not logging these activities, you can’t recall much longer than the last month. Now is a good time to begin logging the last quarter of 2007 and setting up a process for logging that value for the next year.
10 - Inventory what you know about your customers – cost of labor, money, etc
It’s not enough to provide value to your customers. To get maximum traction you need to be able to measure that value in that 4,000 year old measure – money. To make the right kind of calculations, you need to know these and a whole lot more measures of value:
- Cost of downtime – improved uptime equates to big dollars
- Cost of labor – think about the burdened cost – salary, benefits, management fees, etc.
- Energy costs – everybody has this one on their minds
- Cost of money – if you reduce inventory what is the total cost
- Value of the finished product – a product lost because of defects translates into a real cost
11 - Top 10 people who will drive your future – send a holiday card
Somewhere hidden deep inside your outlook contact list are 10 people who will someday help cement your future. These may be a customer, a vendor, a fellow association member, a colleague working for another distributor in another region or even a competitor. You know them; you expect someday they might be a great asset to your career and now is the time to build on your existing relationship.
I know of at least one Distributor Specialist is absolutely famous for his warm relationship with the upper echelon of his vendor partners. One day I asked him his secret to these many strong relationships. His reply seemed almost too simple – he said he sent them an occasional note thanking them for their support or inviting them to call if they ever needed an unbiased favor from the distributor world. Building a network is simple. Unfortunately, most people wait until they need something before they start building. Harvey MacKay says, “Don’t wait until your thirsty before you start digging the well”, enough said.
12 – Spend some time with your family and friends
The Holiday Season provides many great opportunities to grow closer to your family, friends and loved ones. Research proves what many have suspected for years and years. A well rested and relaxed mind achieves more in the long run. Rest, relax, live, love and laugh – you’ll be ready to blast into 2008.