By Gordon Weiler
I was recently asked by some of our closest distributor partners, "Why did Daman feel the need to place Account Managers in the field? You already have our confidence, so why? Do you really think you will increase your sales with us enough to justify their salaries? Are you understanding OEMs’ needs better so you can eventually compete with distributors?"
These are great questions. There has been an evolution at Daman. Initially we were in a literal state of ignorance about our distributors’ challenges and their OEM customers’ needs. The economic recession made it evident that we had no visibility to the market needs of the various industries we serve. We were simply reacting and filling distributor orders. In the midst of this realization, our core competency began to shift from predominantly being a Standard Manifold manufacturer to predominantly being a custom-engineered manifold manufacturer—with Custom Manifolds now representing 70% of our sales.
Our solid, broad-based sales channel, comprised of over 500 distributors, put us on the map as the dominant Standard Manifold player. This earned us credible, significant exposure to the market and got us in the game. Yet, the Standard Manifold approach began putting us on the bench as Standard Manifold sales leveled and Custom Manifold sales expanded.
In order to maximize our value-added services in engineering and manufacturing, we began focusing our sales channel efforts on customers who required engineered solutions. We identified the top 25% of our Custom Manifold customers in the United States and Canada and proactively offered them the higher-level engineering support and delivery requirements that they demanded.
In addition to our product mix shift to increased Custom Manifold sales, we also experienced two significant internal initiatives within the past decade. These were created to directly address and dissolve our ignorance about our key distributors, their needs, and their markets:
The Daman Creative Team was launched to implement a stage-gate new product development process to diversify and increase new product revenue. Stage 1 of this process asks simple questions, such as "What new products or services do your customers need? What is the market size or potential for the idea?" It was at this point we realized that we knew very little about even our best distributors.
Daman made a substantial investment in SalesForce.com as our CRM solution. As we went through the tedious process of identifying key relationship management processes, the hard truth surfaced that most key data fields about our distributors were outdated or absent of any data —such as meaningful job titles, cell phone numbers, email addresses, accurate branch locations, top manifold OEMs, and target manifold industries and OEMs. How could we expect our people to have meaningful, productive communications when they had to make three or more phone calls just to connect with the right decision-maker?
These two initiatives began to inform us and make us more wise. However, these efforts could not address the reality that our face-to-face relationship development, beyond providing estimates over the phone, was screaming for attention. Long-standing distributor relationships were coming to a close due to retirements and job changes. We needed to get into the field.
Six years ago, we launched a pilot sales initiative where we placed our first regional account manager into the Southwest Region. We narrowed the focus of 60 distributors in that region to six. Even with significant challenges due to the economic recession, we managed to increase our overall market share in that region. More importantly, our key distributors learned more about Daman than ever before.
Three years ago, we expanded the same strategy into other regions by placing Luke Pietrucha into the Eastern Region. Last year, Stevie Treece moved into the Southwest Region and Todd Crocker assumed responsibility for the Midwest region. Additionally, we placed Scott Lindahl as a Manufacturer Rep in Western Canada. Scott has also helped us to better pinpoint our distributor focus on the West Coast and Eastern Canada. With our newly-implemented regional focus, we are now able to provide more value to key distributors and provide our collective teams with valuable customer and market intel to assure that Daman’s operations are adding the capacity and new products that our key markets need to grow.
Additionally, this focus has allowed us to streamline our processes and response time for all Daman distributors. We no longer wait for the phone to ring or for an email to chime in before taking action. We no longer assume that we know what our distributors want as we are gaining data and facts to assist us with being more proactive and anticipate needs.
Communication is the single most important thing we do in business…and in life. Daman's proactive approach to enhancing communication with our distributors is valuable and paramount to the mutual growth of our businesses. We can implement new technologies and build thousands of new products. Yet, it is only through deepening relationships and understanding needs that we can make investments that are focused, valuable and relevant.
While engineering and manufacturing have always been our strengths, our shift to the dedication of gathering facts and developing distributor relationships is what will make Daman sustainable for the years to come. We are just beginning to see the positive impact of our improved technology implementations, streamlined internal processes, and deepened field relationships. We hope you can learn too through our evolution and commitment to continuous improvement.