Dovetail 8

Dovetail 8
Suppliers of Products and Services Discover Rep Firms via Mutual Interest and Relationships with Target Customers and Key Accounts

Friday, November 16, 2012

Is FREE the New Normal?


The Playbook that's Rockin' in the Free World

If you are, or had been a Consultant, you know how challenging the consulting business can be. At Winchester Consulting Group, I was confident of success because I strove to provide clients with valuable services at a good price. I always emphasized the value of my services. 

To succeed as a Consultant, two questions must be answered,
1. Do I have an expertise that clients value?
2. Will clients compensate me for the services I provide?

In my case, I answered "Yes" and "Yes." That is why it was difficult to explain why my practice was not as successful as the Business Plan predicted that it would be.

I grappled with this problem and sought the wisdom of successful and highly-regarded business consultants. From them, I learned that the consulting business was not what I thought it was. I was operating on a flawed premise. Even well-established Consultants were facing unforeseen challenges that threatened the viability of their firms.

Every consultant that I spoke with proudly stated that their expertise and services were better than ever. Furthermore, clients valued those services... but they didn't want to pay for them. One consultant summed it up for me, "In the Web Age, client expectations have fundamentally changed. Our clients believe that whatever a consultant has, someone else offers an equivalent - but it's free." 
With that insight, I understood my operating universe. However, I was unable to change my business model because I needed to make a living. Free was not an option. Neil Young's words were not relevant. I surely wasn't "Rockin' in the Free World."

We have witnessed the Free Way explode before our eyes. LinkedIn, Wikipedia and Free-Conference-Call (no ambiguity in that name) are now woven into the business fabric of our lives. Rather than fighting this New Normal, I decided to adopt its playbook. Making that decision had an immediate impact. It set me free.  
I have come to realize that money gets in the way of doing business.
I can now focus exclusively on being a valued Service Provider, not a Service Seller. 

That is why I chose this model for Dovetail 8. It's FREE, and that's what makes it normal.

Dovetail 8 is a resource that enables Suppliers to discover Manufacturer's Representatives via their Target Customers and Key Accounts. Suppliers and Rep Firms can create optimal connections without money complicating the process.
The tagline is Dovetail Connections Work and I want them to work easily and quickly.

I will soon find out if FREE really is the New Normal. What is your prediction?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

You say Retainer and I say Sustainer

In this election year I expect to hear politicians and pundits practice re-phraseology. Some people re-phrase in order to distort a word or phrase for their benefit - done famously by the tobacco lobbyist in the satirical movie, "Thank You for Smoking."
From that movie comes the memorable line, "If you can argue correctly, you're never wrong." The premise is that you must control the vocabulary. But, re-phrasing is not always sinister. It can facilitate civil discourse of a polarizing or contentious subject.

Providing retainers to manufacturer's reps has been a contentious subject for as long as I can remember. Despite frustration on the part of Suppliers and Rep Firms, both sides remain at odds on this issue. Even the word "retainer" conjures a feeling of toxicity. A Rep Owner shared this experience, "...the CFO thinks he's giving away the company jewels and has unrealistic expectations of what the retainer gets him."

To make progress on this thorny subject, we need to substitute a benign word for retainer. I propose sustainer. Retain connotes possession, but sustain conjures an image of support and encouragement. In Supplier/SalesRep relationships, what do the two parties want to sustain in order to improve their performance and effectiveness? The consensus is: Effort, Commitment, Performance, Trust and Fairness.
One Supplier embodied those words with this pronouncement, "Regardless of the nomenclature, we have a pay-for-performance plan to defray the costs of a missionary territory until commissions can be generated."

I propose six sustainers for Suppliers and Rep Firms to consider when creating fair and prosperous business relationships: 1. Stipend to defray expenses;  2. Fee-for-Services;  3. Services Agreement (supplement Rep Agreement); 4. Incentive Stock Options; 5.Tiered Commissions that go UP; 6. Fair and Equitable Termination Agreement.

Please explain why a Rep Firm signs a 30-day termination contract with a Supplier whose product requires sustained design-in effort without timely compensation? I recommend Fee-for-Services which is the ultimate quid pro quo. SalesReps are compensated for services-provided at a negotiated fee. Payment is made at the time the service is provided.

With a new vocabulary and some innovative concepts, we can rally the Suppliers and Rep Firms to tackle this issue. We need to move from polarization to convergence, from convergence to consensus and consensus to solution.
From the comments that I received on this subject, an executive proposed a new term., "... no one likes to pay a retainer for anything. Shared Territory Development is money allocated to the Rep Firm to share in the costs of getting sales going."

The issue of retainers is often bitterly debated, but never tackled with the goal of finding a solution. Let's tackle this together. No one else seems to be working on it.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Tilting at a Windmill Called Dovetail 8

"Tilting at Windmills" refers to confrontations where adversaries are incorrectly perceived. The word tilting means jousting. This phrase from the novel Don Quixote is universally recognized and often quoted. Don Quixote fights windmills that he imagines to be giants. Believing that the windmill blades are the giant's arms, he attacks the ominous beast. 

Is Dovetail 8 Don Quixote's windmill? 
Some people perceive Dovetail 8 to be what it is not. Let's define what Dovetail 8 really is. I describe Dovetail 8 as a discovery marketplace because Technology Suppliers can discover Manufacturer's Representatives who have Access & Influence at the Supplier's Target Customers. Since many Manufacturer's Representatives (Rep Firms) and Suppliers encouraged me to create Dovetail 8, the unprovoked attacks on my "windmill" caught me by surprise. 
I did not stop the attackers because I wanted to engage them... in conversation. I needed to understand what provoked the jousting. Owners of Rep Firms lead the charge.
When the first lance hit me, the jouster said, "Dovetail 8 appears to be advocating non-exclusive representation, which leads to multiple reps in a territory. I have multiple issues with the non-exclusive rep model." 
When I heard "appears to be advocating", I realized that this Rep Owner was Tilting at Windmills. Dovetail 8 is not an advocacy group! Dovetail 8 provides added-value to Rep Firms, Suppliers and their Customers. 
In an attempt to correct his preconceptions and misconceptions, I sent him an email. Excerpt: The important distinction that I want to make is that Suppliers who require "full exclusive regional sales and marketing services" will probably not use Dovetail 8. Many Suppliers have a niche technology and a narrow product offering which defines the value of its product or service to a specific market, i.e. military, telecom, handheld, etc., and specific customers within those markets. You could represent those types of Suppliers, through Dovetail 8, exclusively at the accounts that are a good match for your rep firm. Representation would be for that Supplier at that customer...exclusively. [Complete email is available on request].
Things got really interesting when I introduced Dovetail 8 to the LinkedIn Group: Technology Sales & Service Reps.
I was encouraged by the first comment: "GREAT concept and a great resource!"
An unconvinced Rep Owner commented, "Not sure how this concept is a win for reps....", to which he got this reply from a fellow member, "What is your concern?"
The Rep Owner then revealed his true identity as Don Quixote. "It's a non-exclusive account by account "registration" system which primarily benefits the supplier. To me, this is a further watering down of rep effort along with declining rates, offshore territory splits, etc." 
Where did that come from? The dominoes are falling now!
"I don't know any reps that would willingly give up potentially high value key accounts for the purpose of goodwill with the principal. I would only consider using this service if XYZ Company had a valuable product that I didn't have a principal for and was searching for a potential source."
Dovetail 8 regained its identity when a member responded, "... that is exactly what Dovetail 8 is for you.... You fill out your listing. The phone rings. You weigh the opportunity and make a sound business decision. Dovetail 8 isn't trying to kill the traditional manufacturer/rep agreement. It's there to help reps take advantage of their years of hard work and long-standing relationships."
My marketing initiatives for Dovetail 8 were temporarily interrupted while I tried to correct the perceptions of those who were Tilting at Windmills. How do you suggest that I address the concerns that Rep Owners have? Their concerns are real, but their perceptions are not. Dovetail 8 is just a harmless windmill.
I welcome your comments.
If you want to learn more about Dovetail 8, visit www.dovetail8.com or email me at vcramer@dovetail8.com

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

"The more things change, the more..."


I expect that you completed this famous phrase with "they stay the same."
I admire the wisdom of Jean Baptiste Alphonse Karr, but his timeless quote has timed-out.
Over the last decade, we have seen that, "The more things change, the more things change."

With today's pervasive technology, global communication, smartphones and social media is anyone saying that things have stayed the same? We have experienced tectonic changes in all aspects of our lives. This week, we watched NASA place a one-ton rover on Mars and we are experiencing our first Social Media Olympics. 

Our careers and livelihoods have also changed, especially the world of technology sales. Back in the day, a subjective term, I was an effective sales rep and valued by my customers. I had access to my customers' key employees because I had the keys to "open their doors". With data books, application notes and samples in hand, I was given unfettered customer access. With that access, I had the opportunity to provide value to my customers and develop influence with the account.

Access & Influence is critical to the success of Sales Reps and Suppliers. Sales Reps no longer have the bandwidth to support unlimited numbers of customers. Many Suppliers now have products and services that only have value to narrow markets, specific industries and target customers. In order for Sales Reps and Suppliers to change with the changes, they should create business relationships based on Customer-specific Sales Representation. This will enable Sales Reps to monetize their Access & Influence while Suppliers can precisely engage with target customers that are critical to their success. These are the reasons why Dovetail 8 was created.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

T-Minus 100

Dovetail 8 launches in 100 days.

Although the specifics of Dovetail 8 have not been released, I have spoken with a select number of Rep Owners in the electronics/technology industry. Their rep firms cover the spectrum from a sole-proprietorship to large firms with many SalesReps and impressive line cards.  Our discussions confirmed that Dovetail 8 will provide Rep Owners and their firms with a valuable tool that is not available in the market today. 
The validation and support from Rep Owners did not surprise me because Dovetail 8 is specifically designed to address the needs and challenges of a Manufacturer's Rep Firm and its Suppliers (Principals).

I wish that I could say more, but I will share the details of Dovetail 8 in the coming months. 
I will also tell you the significance of the name "Dovetail 8". 
Do you have a guess?

Product details and progress reports will be posted at signup.dovetail8.com 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Rep Owners Straddle a Fine Line in Supplier Reviews

I had a conversation with David, the owner of a Manufacturer's Rep firm.
He told me that his firm is being considered to represent a new Supplier. It is good line and he wanted it.
However, the Regional Sales Manager wanted him to set aside 4 hours for him to evaluate the rep firm. 
He asked David for all-hands-on-deck because he planned to interview each SalesRep in the firm.

David decided that the request was unreasonable and unacceptable. He likened it to a TSA Pat-Down.
He told the RSM, "if you can't decide in 1 hour whether my firm is right for you, remove us from consideration."

In most cases, a Supplier will interview a number of rep firms, then select one to represent the company. 
For that reason, each rep owner must straddle the line separating Full Disclosure and IP Protection. In context, Intellectual Property (IP) is the knowledge that the firm's SalesReps have about their accounts/customers.
The significance and proprietary level of the IP correlates to the SalesRep's level of customer Access & Influence.

What details should a rep owner provide to a Supplier during the interview process?
How much information does the Supplier really need to make a selection?
What information about the rep firm is confidential, i.e. financials, ownership, compensation etc.?
What customer details are off-limits?
Should the firm's SalesReps be interviewed or merely present their account overviews?

Monday, May 14, 2012

I Refuse To Be a Dinosaur

I received my invitation to attend the annual Dinosaur's Luncheon.

The luncheon is for sales veterans of the New England electronics industry. It is a great way to reconnect, have a drink and reminisce with OEM, Rep and Disti colleagues. Some are retired, while others remain active in their careers. Some would like to be working, but the doors of opportunity are now closed. 

In the semiconductor/electronics industry, CHANGE has been the one constant in our careers. At the luncheon, we tell war stories about the companies that each of us worked for, or represented. With few exceptions (Intel, TI, Motorola, AMD), most suppliers and distributors are dinosaurs - failed, merged or acquired. Most of the companies that were the lifeblood of Route 128's technology economy, no longer exist. Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC), Wang Laboratories and Polaroid are dinosaurs. Extinct! 

Since I am not active in semiconductor sales or management, I am free from the activities and responsibilities that dominated my life. Paraphrasing Joni Mitchell, I can now look at the industry "from both sides now."  Extinction takes place when external forces impact our economic ecosystem. We all know that Technology Sales is not what it was 20, or even 10 years ago. Change requires us to react and adapt, or technology salesreps will lose relevance, or become extinct. Everything in our industry has changed. EVERYTHING

It is troubling to realize that the tectonic shifts in our industry were not created by, or for, SalesReps. We seem to be the collateral damage of decisions and strategies that were made by our employers and principals.

The semiconductor industry is the engine of innovation.  Regrettably, sales methodologies have been immune to innovation. Forty years ago, the industry added manufacturer's reps to its sales arsenal. Since then, we have been tweaking and retweaking this one sales model ad nauseum. That's why salesreps are paranoid. Andy Grove, Intel CEO, penned the phrase "Only the Paranoid Survive."

What can we do to alter the course of meteors that are impacting our careers?

I believe that a new paradigm must be added to the sales model.
Dovetail 8 was created to respond to the meteoric changes in our industry.

Stay tuned, and I will tell you more in the weeks ahead.