Nearly a year ago, the Power Transmission Distributor’s Association chose its theme for the 2020 Industry summit held late last week — “Adapt. Transform. Launch.” A prescient slogan if ever there was one. Now, ten months and a thousand years into 2020, election anxiety, geopolitical instability, and the resurgence of COVID-19 has everyone looking for a little insight.
Most of the attendees I spoke with said they were somewhere in that adapt or transform stage. As for launching? Well, one day at a time, please. Some expressed that they are beginning to see a little daylight on the horizon, but their optimism has been tempered with caution. Predictability hasn’t been this year’s strong suit. Most attendees were open about their concerns going into 2021 and said they hoped to learn something at the summit. The speakers and moderators expressed the same sentiment. They answered the questions they could but were candid about the uncertainties challenging the power transmission industry right now. Here is a recap of the individual sessions and some key takeaways from the three-day virtual summit.
Panel Discussion: Building Your Workforce
What to expect in 2021 held a significant focus for the summit. Wasting no time on that focal point, the featured day-one event was a panel discussion with students from the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering program at Georgia Institute of Technology. What do you look for in an employer? How has COVID-19 altered your approach to job hunting? And for potential employers, i.e. attendees, the students were also asked how companies can support programs such as Georgia Tech’s to help them transition to the engineering workforce. The students gave focused and unvarnished answers. All appeared sharp and ready for the workforce right now. Job offers will likely be heading toward the students shortly.
Community Conversation: Customer Engagement
In his panel discussion Whittet-Higgins Company VP Andrew Brown, Allied Bearing & Supply, Inc. VP Mike McLain, and President and Co-Owner at Midpoint Bearing, C.C. Vest spoke about how COVID-19 is altering customer engagement within the industry. What are the most immediate threats to a distributor’s customers? What are the ground-level solutions? And, perhaps most challenging, what does the post-COVID landscape even look like for Power Transmission?
One of the key takeaways was being flexible with solutions for different types of OEMs. In general, attendees said they noticed that larger companies tend to be more locked down, erring on the side of caution. Smaller companies have been operating more freely, likely out of necessity. In one anecdote, an attendee recalled a large OEM requiring that he fill out a five-page document before permitting a face to face meeting on their grounds. Most agreed that sounded a bit extreme but not entirely out of the ordinary.
Community Conversation: Sales Role Transformation
Michael Cinquemani, President & CEO of Master Power Transmission, Inc. facilitated this panel discussion alongside Applied Industrial Technologies’ VP of Applied Ind Tech & Applied US Energy, Jim Jeffiers, and PTDA’s Manager, Meetings & Conferences, Karla Zander. The three talked about how the pandemic has ramped up the speed of outside and inside sales role transformation. The sales process will continue to change coming out of COVID-19. With that said, what strategies are sales teams using to meet the challenge of less face-to-face meetings, the evolving technology of digital communication?
Community Conversation: Distributor/Manufacturer Relationships
Chris Bursack, VP Sales & Bus Dev ISC Companies, Inc. and Senior Vice-President of Walter Surface Technologies, Chester Collier spoke Thursday afternoon about collaboration in serving existing customers and seeking new ones in a COVID/post-COVID environment. Several attendees chimed in to note that navigating communication and product delivery logistics has been consistently challenging and occasionally outright damaging. One attendee explained that they recently saw a 48-hour lag on a confirmation email result in a 10K sale down the drain. “Get used to it.” Another attendee said. The consensus was that the technology of digital communication and the sense of urgency for hitting communication deadlines would, eventually, improve. But not nearly as soon as everyone would like.
Community Conversation: Impact of Digitization
Jeff Cloud, President & CEO of IBT Industrial Solutions; Kristin Jennings, Director of Marketing
for Climax Metal Products Company; Bill Shepard, Vice President of BDI; and Karla Zander of PTDA tackled digitization during one of the last events on Thursday’s schedule. The quartet did a deep dive into the growing trend of digitalization on work processes, communication, collaboration, and customer interactions.
Guidance in an Uncertain Economy
Kicking off Friday’s schedule was economist and ITR Economics Founder and President, Institute for Trend Research, Dr. Alan Beaulieu. With his signature straight talk and presentation panache, Beaulieu gave attendees an idea of what they can and cannot expect in the immediate next few months and years. Overall, Beaulieu was optimistic about economic growth regardless of destabilizing factors like COVID-19 and the election.
Beaulieu recognizes that it’s never been more critical for companies to have clear, impartial, and data-driven perspectives on current and future challenges. COVID-19 and oil price volatility will impact the economy moving forward, but he gave his advice on how businesses should respond and why now is actually a time for action, not stagnation.
What Does Sales Transformation Actually Mean?
Co-founder and Managing Partner for Indian River Consulting Group, Mike Marks, helped take the virtual summit across the finish line Friday afternoon. His presentation, What Does Sales Transformation Actually Mean,? examined how the coronavirus pandemic has dramatically accelerated the demise of traditional field sales-driven models. If you’ve adjusted to this new normal — great! For now. Rising customer demands, increasing margin pressures, and aging sales forces aren’t going away. Business for traditional distributors has become untenable. Marks presented solutions and sharply reasoned strategies for handling ongoing market disruptions that require doing new things and doing them well.