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You might be a Specialist if…..

Back in the 1993 comedian Jeff Foxworthy developed the tagline “you might be a redneck:”.  In the past 12 years it has earned Mr. Foxworthy millions of dollars and permeated our culture and language.  To demonstrate how our own business is connected to pop culture, a distributor Specialist friend recently quipped, “You might be a Specialist if.”  And, after some thought (and a couple of beers) we decided to carry this conversation through to its natural conclusion.


Before we begin, let me say, many organizations have Specialists who operate under other titles.  This is true because the role evolved over a long period in many different businesses with a wide range of personality types and market conditions.  Sometimes it was the result of customer need, other times the position was driven by a key vendor, and in different instances the sales force raised their collective hands and said “help!”.   Regardless of how you got there, the Specialist fills a unique space in the organization.  And, while Specialists are not 100% sales oriented in job description, experience tells us product lines with Specialist involvement grow at a faster pace than the rest of the business.  


So now, the Jeff Foxworthyesque, you might be a Specialist if……


If you are responsible for providing back-up for a specific technology grouping, you might be a Specialist.  When customers need important advice on a product (or technology group) does the sales force ask you to visit the customer with them?  After customer service and the Account Manager try everything in their bag of tricks, are you often the one called to solve the issue?  If you know who-to-call deep in the bowels of the product vendor, you might be a Specialist. 


Historically Specialists where placed in a back-up position.  In some instances they were glorified application engineers who understood the complex technology associated with a product.  As the job evolved, companies decided to push the Specialist position into a more proactive quadrant.  Specialists where charged with growing the business rather than knowing all the features of their widget.  Sales training for their particular technology group was shifted from the vendor partner to the Specialist.  And, in cases where they don’t deliver the training directly, a Specialist may discuss the nuances of the training in order to ensure it hits the mark.


If you support your management team by taking a part in the sales management process of a product, you might be a specialist.  Specialists have become an important part of many organizations sales strategy.  There is no one better suited for writing and carrying out a marketing plan (or filling out a Vendor required Planning Sheet) than the Specialist who works with the product daily.  Which accounts represent the best opportunity for growth, what accounts are ready for modernization, and whose competitive accounts make the best conversion opportunities are all questions a Specialist should easily be able to answer.   Progressive companies ask their Specialists to prepare a monthly or quarterly report keeping the management team abreast of what they feel are the primary opportunities of the day.  So, if you are giving your management team an overview of the issues/opportunities facing the company in a specific product group, you might be a Specialist.


If you are helping your purchasing team anticipate major shifts in buying habits, you might be a specialist.  No one is better suited to assist your purchasing or logics team in determining which new products need to be added to the inventory of your technology group.  When products become obsolete, no one is better trained to let your organization know which products need to be moved back to the manufacturer.  If the talk turns to service stock, individual sales people can talk about their own customers but no one is equipped to discuss the total territory like a Specialist.


If as you read this article you find yourself nodding to some of these questions, you might be a Specialist.  You might (also) be a Product Manager, a Product Champion, a Technology Group Leader, or a Product Sales Manager:  the name isn’t as important as the responsibility.  And, the responsibility is huge.  A well thought out plan for Specialists is an important part of a high performance organization. If you are a Specialist you should begin thinking about expanding your influence on the bottom line.  If you are a manager, you should begin thinking about further empowering your Specialist organization.


Here are five ideas to get you started.

1)      Does your sales force know what to expect from its Specialists?  If not, you should define expectations, layout rules of engagement, and determine who does what in the sales process. 

2)      Do you (as a Specialist) evaluate the performance of your sales force on a monthly basis?  If not, start next month with a very simple measure of sales effectiveness per sales person.  A point to consider:  objective is better than subjective.  Gap analysis is a great tool.

3)      Do you have quarterly meetings with your manager/management team to discuss the biggest of opportunities and most important threats?  If not, schedule the meeting now.  Remember Specialists…deliver digested data.  You are paid for your expert opinion, not for your ability to dump data.

4)      Have you prepared a 90-day sliding marketing calendar?  Major demos, product launches and promotions take time to set up properly.  Every Specialist should have his/her own, so don’t be fooled if the company has a “master plan”.  If you do not have this spelled out in writing…start doing it now.

5)      Do you know who/where your best prospects for growth will come from?  If not, I suggest you spend some time thinking about this list.   


And Now…..For fun, here is the checklist.


You might be a Specialist if:

You are responsible for a specific product or technology group across multiple sales peoples territories

May include:

Measured by growth in sales or revenues for this product

You are the responsible for providing support (technical or otherwise) to customers for your product group

May include:

Product Training / Demonstrations – group or one-on-one

Troubleshooting assistance

Developing Customer Service expertise

You provide back-up support to the sales force of your own company

May include:

Joint calls – to close an order or train a sales person

Marketing plans - account targeting, etc.

Training for inside/outside sales

Coordinate your product into company wide shows and events

You provide support back to your management team

May include:

Write (or assist with) vendor specific annual sales plans

Devise product promos

Write or assist with marketing plan

Prepare regular status reports for management team

Assist with budgeting for demos used throughout the organization

You “own” the relationship with a specific product vendor

May include:

Know people well beyond the local sales organization

Product Marketing

Product Support

Designers or Engineering

You provide regular advice to your Purchasing Department

May include:

Products becoming obsolete

Products that will be introduced

Products with cost structure shifts

How to take best advantage of vendor demo policies

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