One for the Vendors: 5 Lessons When Selling to Integration Firms

These lessons from CE industry veteran Adrienne Alterman showcase how finding focus and embracing new tech can seriously help CE businesses.

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Adrienne Alterman, sales director at Alloy, a digital supply chain platform that connects consumer goods companies directly to end-consumer demand, recently reflected on her 10+ years of experience in the CE industry and realized there were several key lessons she had to learn in order to become a better CE manufacturer rep.

These lessons, while initially geared toward sales professionals, mostly ring true for selling to AV integrators, as they share a common thread with the daily lives and experiences of field techs and business owners looking to get ahead.

Lesson #1: Focus

One of Alterman’s first “lessons,” which she learned the hard way, was the importance of where she focused her time and how it drove the growth of her business. When she was a regional sales manager at a distributor, she started out dividing her time equally between all her customers, across ten different states. She quickly exhausted herself, and what’s worse, her business was not seeing the impact of all the hours she was putting in.

When Alterman changed her strategy to focus primarily on the customers that were growing, things changed. Benefiting from the additional support she provided, those customers that were on a good trajectory really took off. While she didn’t completely ignore the customers that weren’t growing, she was really able to take her business to the next level by prioritizing where she spent her time.

Lesson #2: Focusing isn’t as easy as it sounds

The consumer electronics industry keeps changing at a rapid pace. Every few years there are massive shifts, whether it’s who your competitors are, the channel and distribution landscape, your company ownership, or another factor outside your control.

It’s important to set your expectations accordingly, so you can stay focused on your goals as each of those changes pushes you and your company in a different direction. For example, when Alterman was working with McIntosh, the company changed owners three times in four years. Each time, the new management had new ideas about how they should go-to-market, what programs to provide to dealers, and where they should be distributed. Amidst all that, Alterman had to work hard to create a bubble around herself, so she could tune the noise out and focus on making sure that her customers were taken care of.

Lesson #3: It all goes back to the numbers

Analytics and reporting played a big part in helping her focus and successfully run her business, whether that was tracking orders, product sell-through, or where inventory was. As the saying goes, the “state of sales is the state of the warehouse,” and being able to integrate and understand the various numbers was critical.

For example, if Alterman was trying to drive consumer sales of Bowers & Wilkins headphones in Best Buy, she needed to understand how much was selling-through so she could get the correct amount sold-in, manage where that inventory went, and track how ads affected the sell-through for both the promoted product and other products, so she could adjust her strategy accordingly.

The key metrics could look very different depending on the customer, too. For Best Buy, it was all about out-of-stock percentage, and for Amazon, it was on-time delivery date, because at the end of the day, you had chargebacks with Best Buy and got dinged with Amazon. And of course, you’d be losing sales if you didn’t have the right stock at the right place.

Lesson #4 Embrace new technology to your advantage

Alterman credits her early adoption of technology with helping her advance in her career. The iPhone, Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat, and other social media technologies were all introduced over the course of her career, and she was typically one of the first in her company to take advantage of them.

Some of the creative ways she has used technology to build buyer relationships and promote her brand include:

  • Creating Facebook groups with the sales team at specific stores, where they could discuss what happened with a deal or just congratulate the team on a big sale, helping maintain engagement with priority customers
  • Launching a YouTube series interviewing manufacturer reps to teach people about a brand and share knowledge you could previously only get from talking to a sales rep in a store
  • Training staff virtually when it doesn’t make sense to visit in person given her current focus (see Lesson #1)
  • Using Snapchat to get quick feedback from a buyer on a planogram change, when he wasn’t responding to calls, texts, or emails

Especially as Alterman progressed to work with increasingly large national retailers, whose buyers were younger and more tech-savvy but often dealing with older brands that had not fully embraced new technologies, this really helped her stand out.

Lesson #5 Buyer relationships are built on trust

In addition to using available social media tools to connect with buyers, building relationships requires a partnership mindset. Instead of just selling in as much as possible, pros should focus on adding value to the conversation by highlighting the questions that are going to drive business strategy.

Surprising a customer by saying something like, “Stop, wait, we didn’t do the sell through that we thought we were going to do last month – I think we need to lower our order this month,” goes a long way in building trust.

It also means building business cases and presenting numbers that customers can trust. Going to them with a proposal for doing a Black Friday sale? It’s great if they say they’re going to buy 2,000 extra units, but if they don’t sell through it and you don’t have a fully focused plan to support it, it’s not going to build that relationship.

Alterman believes it’s important to be really honest with your buyer about where your business is, and if they see you coming to them, time and again, with information that’s correct and telling a story, that counts for a lot.

Whether your business is growing or shrinking, if you create a plan backed by data, you’ll earn your buyer’s trust and attention.