Ask the Expert: July 2010

Q: How do you hire “good” sales people?

A: The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. I think that’s also the definition of insanity. If you’re hiring a sales rep and you have the choice between a rookie and someone who’s built a brand name in your territory, who’s taking your business and has a few million dollars of business that you don’t? Most will go with the latter. I’ve used just about every sales, aptitude, intelligence and personality test out there and no test is going to sniff out what your gut can tell you. I’ve been recruiting for electrical distributors exclusively for over 10 years and frankly…nothing has changed when it comes to recruiting sales people. By the time I’m involved, the only people that a client wants to see is the one they can ‘plug and play’ they’ll pay a premium for that person in hopes they can get that person to drag their business across the street, the win of landing a big hitter is intoxicating. More often than not that big hitter will use your big offer to get a bigger offer to stay put…and the cycle continues. I absolutely agree, and I’ve interviewed thousands of distributor sales guys and the big name, big dollar guys are rarely worth the investment because of the web of issues that keep them where they are; product line, pricing, an inside person they can’t leave behind, etc, etc…the real gold in this industry is the guy (or gal) who’s waiting for that person to retire, leave, move away…coddle your big dogs but groom your puppies. I’ve placed hundreds of sales people in electrical distribution, I know the difference between a good ‘en and a good talker. If you’re having trouble attracting talent, call me…I’m happy to help!


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Egret’s 6th Annual Women in Industry Survey

By Ted Konnerth

I’ve attended the NAED conferences since 1985 and for the past 6 years I’ve conducted a survey of the number of NAED badge attendees who have female first names. Albeit, this is not the most scientific survey but the results confirm the overall perception I’ve had of our industry for the past 25 years; we are a male-dominated industry. There are elegant rationalizations for that; the distribution industry was launched in it’s current form from the end of World War II, when the returning soldiers represented an extraordinary influx of labor at a time of government sponsored construction projects; where the availability of materials was a major contributor to the efficiency of our re-birth from the War. The industry was virtually started by servicemen and has remained virtually male-only for 60+ years. Dad’s turned the business over to sons, and a handful of daughters, but a strategic process of attracting a diverse workforce into distribution and even electrical manufacturers simply never gained traction. Look at the results for 2010*:

Year Category # of females Total # Attendees % Female
2005 Distributor 20 322 6.2
2006 Distributor 22 316 6.9
2007 Distributor 21 323 6.5
2008 Distributor 25 396 6.3
2009 Distributor 9 159 5.7
2010 Distributor 22 254 8.7
2005 Manufacturer 27 381 7.0
2006 Manufacturer 17 358 4.7
2007 Manufacturer 17 331 5.1
2008 Manufacturer 23 348 6.6
2009 Manufacturer 21 221 9.5
2010 Manufacturer 23 289 8.0
2005 Total, above 47 703 6.7
2006 Total, above 39 674 5.8
2007 Total, above 38 654 5.8
2008 Total, above 48 744 6.5
2009 Total, above 30 380 7.9
2010 Total, above 45 543 8.3

My professional interpretation? No significant changes in diversity. In fact, based on 6 years of reporting, 2010 represents the nearly exact median performance over those years for both participant categories. It is good to see that attendance is coming back up; the recession hit 2009 attendance very seriously. It is also of note that the women in industry luncheon is back on the program, with a total pool of 45 prospective attendees, that’s got to be a pretty intimate meeting.

In general, for the size of the membership, the overall attendance is pretty small. The program is ‘ok’, with the usual economic commentary and a presentation on theft control, both worthy topics but in light of the crash, wouldn’t it make sense to address revenue strategies? Diversifying customers or markets, margin strategies to grow sales with or without margin decrements, etc.?

I have my own biased view on the industry. Although I spent 16 years on the manufacturing side of NAED meetings, I still feel that NAED as an organization has largely ignored the issues of attracting and retaining talent; and diversity hiring is a rarity in any NAED agenda. The number 1 challenge for the electrical industry for the past 5+ years has been the availability of quality talent. The ability to attract talent in this economy is actually better than in boom times, but the topic is ignored. I will probably get a dozen curt replies to this newsletter from men who simply say they don’t care about diversity in the industry. Bluntly put, diversity hiring is essential for no other reason than the current labor pool isn’t predominantly white guys any more.. it’s women and minorities and old and young, all selling to customers who are just as diverse as America. And take a hard look around NAED; it’s a bunch of old white guys who are resisting the chance to broaden and grow their company. There’s a reason the industry is splintering into more specialist companies every day (datacom, energy, solar, etc.), the leadership is resistant to change.

In short, do you want to grow and become more profitable? Then start to mirror your customer base or differentiate your business into minority-owned companies.

*The results for 2010 are reported using a few rules that have been maintained since the inception of the survey: I simply count the first names of every female attendee who is listed as a distributor or a manufacturer/VAR. For every name I find that is non-generic specific (Chris or Pat, etc), and I don’t personally know of them, then I accumulate those names into a total and assign 70% as male and 30% as female. For the 2010 survey, I had a total pool of uncertain names of only 3 (so 2 were considered male and 1 female); not enough to hugely impact the statistics.