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If You're Standing Still, You're Falling Behind

Why you should consider adopting social networking

by Brent Grover

Brent Grover

I spoke to a group of about 80 top managers of a large building products distributor on a hot Midwest morning this past summer. The theme of my talk was “The Sacred Cows of Distribution,” specifically about the critical importance of managing by the numbers – key performance indicators, benchmarking, executing strategic initiatives and the like.

The people at the meeting were managers of what I call the “big three” functions of a wholesale distributor: sales, operations and purchasing. Not to disrespect the other functions – finance, information systems, credit and human resources – these four are the “platform” that supports the organization.

Since we were approaching the football season, I used an analogy of distribution to football: sales is the offensive team, operations is the defensive team, purchasing is the special teams. The managers are the coaching staff. Their job, as Peter Drucker said, is “getting things done through people.” Just as athletic coaches win games through their players, wholesale distributor managers win business through the efforts of their offensive players (sales team), defensive unit (operations team) and their special teams (purchasing team).

We are concerned that the “coaching staffs” at some of our clients are falling behind because they’re standing still. I am not referring to the prolonged and deep trough in the current business cycle. We’re worried that some distributor coaching staffs are resisting the adoption of “social networking.”

Society’s acceptance of new ways to stay in touch with people we know, and to connect with people we don’t know (or with people we used to know) is astonishing. Distributors need to keep up!

According to a 2008 Sony corporate video presentation entitled “Did you know?”:

  • The number of text messages sent every day exceeds the population of the planet.
  • MySpace has 200 million registered users, more than the total population of all but four countries.
  • One in four workers has been with their current employer fewer than 5 years.
  • One of every eight couples married last year met online.
  • There are 31 billion searches on Google every month (to whom were these questions addressed B.G.?)
  • It took MySpace two years to reach 50 million registered users. It took radio 38 years to get to 50 million listeners. It took TV 13 years to achieve this level of viewership.
  • There were over one billion Internet devices in the world in 2008.

Another surprising fact is that more than one distribution company leader has complained that they “don’t want their people using Facebook” or “don’t want our company’s name used on LinkedIn.” What’s more perplexing? That the executives cannot see the value of social networks, that they feel threatened by them, or that they believe they could restrain their people from taking advantage of these systems?

For your offensive team, what better way is there to “warm up cold calls” than by doing online research when qualifying a suspect, or by researching a qualified prospect online before the all-important sales call? Why waste precious sales time calling on the wrong people, or by spending half of the critical face time with decision-makers asking questions for which we should already know the answer? The defensive team can use social networking to preview job applicants. Special teams can check out supplier personnel. The opportunities are endless.

Back for a moment to that group of 80 managers. One sales manager had a strong negative reaction to my bringing up the subject of social networking in a business meeting. Here is an excerpt from a letter he wrote the following day:

When our speaker Brent suggested we be on or use Facebook for things like gaining info before cold calling, I thought we really were going over the line or way too far out there. I could not envision our customers being there, it’s just kid stuff.

"Yesterday I was having lunch with Jim, the owner of a contractor and his customer Mike, owner of a chain of fast food restaurants. Mike also played offensive tackle for Ohio State in the ’80s (so he is kind of a big guy). The subject of sales/business meetings came up and I mentioned the suggestion about Facebook from Brent’s talk at our recent leadership meeting. Needless to say, I was not kind about the suggestion. After I did my little rant about how foolish I thought it was, Mike looks at me and says, “I’m on Facebook! It is the best way for me to keep in contact with my old Ohio State players. Also, I check out my suppliers and contractors there.” Then, Jim punches me in the arm and says, “So am I. When potential customers want to know who our company is, they can find me and see that I belong to things like Rotary and civic organizations in the community and I am not some fly-by-night contractor.”

So, after pulling my foot out of my mouth, I figure you can still teach an old dog some new tricks.

Wholesale distributors: if you’re standing still, you’re falling behind!

Brent Grover has written five books for the NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence and numerous articles about distribution management. He is a regular contributor to Industrial Supply magazine. Reach him at (216) 360-4600 ext. 101 or

This article originally appeared in the Jan./Feb. 2010 edition of Industrial Supply magazine. Copyright 2010, Direct Business Media, LLC.


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