Distributors, Do You Know What You're Doing?

Nearly every distributor goes into a new year with the mindset of achieving considerable growth. But how many companies are really successful at accomplishing what they eagerly set out to do? Here, Darrell Sterling discusses the vital element of accountability when it comes to setting a yearly plan and sticking to it.

It's early in 2018 and everyone goes into the year saying the same thing: 'This is the year we are really going to grow our company!' The senior managers will get together and decide on a growth target and even come up with a strategic plan that outlines their ideas for growth, but how many companies are really successful at accomplishing what they so eagerly set out to do at the beginning of the year?

The reality is that people have a tendency to fall back into their old behaviors and the old way of doing things and have a problem staying focused on their plan that they laid out. So, the status quo is kept and the company experiences small gains or remains flat. The main problem lies with accountability. If you set a plan in place, who is ultimately responsible for making sure that all parties will stay the course? A strong discipline leader is needed to consistently drill home the changes that need to take place in order to grow.

You have to understand where your strengths and weaknesses are so that you can capitalize on those areas where you excel while continuing to improve on your weaknesses. The old proverb is correct: “to thy own self be true.” The leader needs to reinforce the plan of action that was decided on and hold those folks responsible for implementing the agreed upon plan.

I just mentioned another vital key: if you do not have 100 percent buy-in from your staff or if this is just one person’s plan, the likely hood of success is slim-to-none. The other problem is the timeliness of the goal. If you don’t roll out your plan until mid-way through the first quarter, your staff will feel it’s already too late because the launch of your new program is coming at them after they have already missed last month’s budget without never really knowing what that budget was. It’s like deflating the ball before the game ever starts.

How often do you meet to review, and most importantly, do these meetings produce results? Do you get an agenda well in advance of your meeting or right before the meeting starts? Or worst yet, do you not even get an agenda at all?

I have been in senior management meetings that I basically sleepwalk through because it is like Groundhog Day — the same things are said over and over, yet no one is really held responsible or the root problems are never brought up or exposed to get resolved. It is easier to just go over the same dreary numbers hoping that someone will land a large project or a big account out of nowhere to save the year because your weak unenforced plans are not working.

Do you have the ability to realize that things aren’t going as planned and quickly adapt to your new reality? Did you lose a key counter person or outside sales person? Is your business being adversely affected, and if so, are you able to bring your team together to analyze the best solution for your new problem? In any given year things will take place that were not scripted or built into your plan. How fast can you react and turn a negative into a positive?

If you want to change behaviors to get more profitable growth out of your company, it’s either going to require a miracle or some good, consistent training. If your growth plan doesn’t include training, then you are just wishing for growth. If your plan calls for you to roll out a new trip incentive plan for your large customers, then you better train your sales team how to present this so you get the most traction out of your offering. You need to lay out what is required of the customer to earn the incentive, how often will your staff communicate with your customers — informing them if they are on course to earn the incentive — and how you are going to track the success of the program.

If you have a new counter-based initiative, who is drilling and training with the counter personal? Who is ensuring that what you want offered or said is being done on a regular basis? Change will not happen without someone holding others accountable. Sales will not grow no matter how sound your plan is if people will not buy into your ideas or if they are not held responsible for implementing what needs to happen for your plan to succeed.

You should allow others to be the trainers. If you ever really want people to know the material they are responsible for, have them teach and train others. Don't just do everything yourself. You should do the initial teaching, guiding and giving direction, and then when the basics have been drilled, hand over the responsibilities once everyone understands what needs to be done. You should make everyone on your team lead a meeting and teach an aspect of the program that you trying to implement. A new voice will wake up your audience and get everyone’s attention because they know now they could be asked to lead the next meeting. It’s not just important that you and your senior managers know what you are doing, but you need to make darn sure that everyone in the company understands the path you have chosen, and everyone is all-in.

I cannot stress this enough — to grow you need a plan, yes, but its worthless without people being held accountable for training and communicating your goals. You need to have SMART goals, which stands for Smart, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. Do you have that type of goal set for your company? If not, then I hate to tell you that you don’t know what you’re doing. The time to figure it out was yesterday, because business moves at the speed of sound, so you better quickly pick up the pace or be left behind. As Aristotle once said: “We are what we do repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act but a habit.”

What habit are you drilling into your people? Or are you letting them choose their own habits? Yikes! Control your destiny, grow or perish.

Darrell Sterling is regional sales manager at HVAC distributor Johnstone Supply. He can be contacted at [email protected] or 484-441-0335

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