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Baby Steps

Sept. 1, 2009
You can make this your season of opportunity or another winter of discontent. Just ask Bill Murray.

You Bill Murray fans out there probably already know all about the “Baby Steps” philosophy popularized in the 1991 movie “What About Bob.” Murray plays a psychiatric patient with multiple phobias being treated by psychiatrist Dr. Leo Marvin, played by Richard Dreyfuss, author of best-selling help book “Baby Steps.” In the film, the Baby Steps philosophy meant setting small reasonable goals for yourself one day at a time and one tiny step at a time. The philosophy helped Bill Murray cure his phobias, because winning small victories each day boosted his self-confidence.

After talking with sales managers throughout the electrical market in preparation for this month's cover story, “Fighting Back,” the editors of Electrical Wholesaling found some companies using the Baby Steps philosophy to get through these trying economic times.

“For each day, you have to enjoy the small wins,” said one sales manager. Another baby step these sales managers are taking each day is intensifying their focus on sales basics. For some it's keeping customers informed about new products. For others it's not giving ground in price wars, providing quality training for customers and employees, or keeping their sales force motivated.

The sales managers all saw innovative new products as a great way to get face time in front of customers, because end users are always looking for ways to do their jobs faster, easier, more profitably and more safely. Sure, they may not be buying as many of these new products as you want right now, but you can still plant the seeds for future sales when times improve. Take a quick internal survey of your vendors and ask them what they have available right now that's hot, new and different. Will it save a customer energy? Slash time on the job-site? Do the job of a couple of other items you have collecting dust on the shelf in your warehouse? They get that vendor in for a visit to teach their sales force about the product, or bring them out on joint sales calls.

Driving many of the sales managers we contacted for this month's cover story were some basic motivational philosophies. Below his e-mail signature, Garry O'Leary of RB Sales Corp., Marion, Iowa, has a quote from John Mason, author of Conquering an Enemy Called Average, that says a lot about the type of proactive stance he and his sales force are taking in a tough market: “The most unprofitable item ever manufactured is an excuse.”

Chris Caramela, sales manager, Johnson & McGill, North Abington, Mass., agrees every salesperson has heard a million excuses about why customers aren't buying. He says the only salespeople that get past these excuses take each excuse as a sign that perhaps the customer just doesn't yet have enough information about a product, or hasn't heard enough reasons about why they should want to buy from you. “Do your job better and you will close the tougher deals,” he says.

EW's editors hope this month's issue will provide you with a few baby steps to help you help your sales force do just that.

DISC Corp. Nails 2009 Economic Forecast for Electrical Market

Many industry observers were shocked when they saw so many publicly held electrical distributors and electrical manufacturers report 20 percent declines in sales in the recent bevy of second-quarter 2009 financial reports.

Not Herm Isenstein, president of DISC Corp., Orange, Conn., a provider of sales forecast data. Back in January he forecast a 27-percent decline in total 2009 industry sales and a 34-percent decline in the contractor segment. Herm is not one to brag, but he also nailed the rate of decline in industry sales during the last economic downturn in 2001-2003. According to his firm's data, 2009 will go down in history as having the worst decline in electrical sales in the past 35 years. Isenstein says the only time a decline in total sales for the electrical market even hit 10 percent was in 1975.

DISC's economic news is not all depressing — the firm's current forecasts say electrical distributors, reps and manufacturers will see improving economic conditions in 2010 and double-digit sales increases in 2011-2013.

About the Author

Jim Lucy | Editor-in-Chief of Electrical Wholesaling and Electrical Marketing

Jim Lucy has been wandering through the electrical market for more than 40 years, most of the time as an editor for Electrical Wholesaling and Electrical Marketing newsletter, and as a contributing writer for EC&M magazine During that time he and the editorial team for the publications have won numerous national awards for their coverage of the electrical business. He showed an early interest in electricity, when as a youth he had an idea for a hot dog cooker. Unfortunately, the first crude prototype malfunctioned and the arc nearly blew him out of his parents' basement.

Before becoming an editor for Electrical Wholesaling  and Electrical Marketing, he earned a BA degree in journalism and a MA in communications from Glassboro State College, Glassboro, NJ., which is formerly best known as the site of the 1967 summit meeting between President Lyndon Johnson and Russian Premier Aleksei Nikolayevich Kosygin, and now best known as the New Jersey state college that changed its name in 1992 to Rowan University because of a generous $100 million donation by N.J. zillionaire industrialist Henry Rowan. Jim is a Brooklyn-born Jersey Guy happily transplanted with his wife and three sons in the fertile plains of Kansas for the past 30 years. 

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