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Capitalizing On The Economic Recovery

Besides diversification and elevated customer service orientation, what strategies—sales, processes, etc.—does your company have in place to re-align itself in this recovering economy?
– Christie Getuiza, Vice President of Human Resources
                                                                                  Pacific Material Handling Solutions (Hayward, CA)

Chuck Frank: We are reaching out to clients more often, thanking them for their continued support, asking them how they are doing, asking for a few minutes to stop in and say hello. We are sending them more information on a regular basis. We are providing additional consultative services at a reduced rate or in some cases not charging at all. We are spending more time prospecting—which we should always do, good times or bad. We are using our marketing collateral more effectively by sending prospects case studies and testimonials specific to their industry.

Our senior management team is spending 80 percent of its time interacting with clients, working on projects, brainstorming concepts, responding to requests within 24 to 48 hours. We define “responding” as evaluating our client’s data, creating Greenfield concepts, holding multiple face-to-face or Web meetings, providing multiple revisions to the proposed concepts, submitting budgetary cost along with project justification tied into full-time equivalent estimates.

We are working with outside partners for assistance in prospecting and target marketing. We are using LinkedIn to complement our networking efforts. The bottom line is to provide more value than your competition, touch more prospects with informative materials, and step up the deliverables for our current client base.

Jerry Weidmann: At Wisconsin Lift Truck, we have changed the structure of our sales staff. We had capital equipment and customer service reps assigned to geographic territories. With the decline in the economy, we changed the sales structure to account management. All of our salespeople are assigned a list of 150+ accounts for which they are responsible. They handle equipment sales and aftermarket sales for all of their accounts. They continue to have a geographic territory, but our focus is on listed accounts. This has allowed us to reduce our staff and maintain our coverage. The assigned accounts represent 90 percent of our existing business and the majority of our targeted business.

As the economy moves into recovery, we are hiring telemarketers to keep in touch with our customer base and target accounts. A good telemarketer can cover three to five times the number of accounts a field salesperson can keep in touch with. We are offering specials to our target accounts focused on providing special pricing to get their equipment back in shape as they ramp up for the recovery.

Duncan Murphy: At Riekes Equipment Company, we are committed to a strategic planning process that we learned from MHEDA. The details of it can be supplied by Liz Richards. It is an ongoing one-year plan that builds on each year and considers the critical factors for the year to come. Our 2010 plan addresses the new economy in several ways. We are reengineering our sales force with a focus on becoming more aware of market activity in the market. Coupled with that, we installed new Web communications so intelligence will be better shared. We went through a redesign of our proposal format, using Gary Moore’s Objective Based Selling to direct the content. We also produced new support pieces to carry the message forward into meetings that did not include one of our representatives, with the goal to handle price objections in this very cost-conscious market. This customer mindset we found to be an opportunity, too. Facilities that we could not enter in the past due to an existing relationship became open as companies had been mandated to reduce costs. This does not mean lower pricing, just more efficient projects that increased productivity and paid for themselves in a very short time. We also simply stated that we would not shrink anymore, so everyone on the team must find revenue and expect that attitude from each other. Getting more aggressive instead of withdrawing into a shell worked wonders.

Your leadership must set the tone. Start at the top and make sure everyone’s expectations are raised.

John Faulkner: We have started to bring back mechanics at FMH, but on a limited basis. Until we see a very positive sign in machine sales, we do not anticipate any increases in truck salespeople. We did not change our processes during the downturn, though we did cut people.

Steve Fawcett: There are quality people on the streets through no fault of their own. However, even in a recession, these people are the minority of the unemployed ranks and are difficult to find. So, hiring becomes a strategic planning must—and opportunity—for companies that have downsized. Judging the timing coming out of a recession is always important for management. If you wait on full recovery, these people will be mostly gone. So hire key replacements at the earliest signs of recovery while you have the opportunity.

Scott Hennie: As Hy-Tek began to recognize the signs of a declining economy, we put plans in place to weather the storm and be in a strong position for the recovery. One variable that made it difficult to execute the plan was that we were making these plans in the midst of our best financial year in company history. Imagine the reaction when you’re telling salespeople to brace for a downturn as they earn more on their W-2 than they ever have. Talk about being looked at like a three-eyed monster!

To prepare for the downturn and eventual recovery, our #1 strategy was to focus on those customers who got us to that record year. Our strategy was to penetrate further into the accounts, both with products and services and with the number of personal contacts within the account.We believed that a slow economy would create more competition for each deal and that new competition would be calling on our existing customer base. We needed to have the personal commitment to our customers in order to retain their business and to grow our market share in that account. We didn’t abandon prospecting and looking for new customers, but we wanted to be sure to take care of the customers who have been with us through the good and the bad.

Mark Juelich: At American Warehouse Systems/Toyota-Lift of MN, we are working diligently to improve our websites beyond where they are to ensure we hold top placement in the search engine results pages for our primary product lines. We have fully embraced social media as a means to reach out to our target market and begin building relationships with potential clients. We are integrating Web 2.0 strategies into our marketing plan to increase corporate visibility and brand and to allow our clients and prospective clients to see the “human” side of American Warehouse Systems and Toyota-Lift of MN. We believe by nurturing relationships we will strategically place ourselves in a position to capitalize on the economic upturn.

Kevin Katona: We have started hiring both outside and inside salespeople for the anticipated increase in business during 2011. Both groups require substantial ramp-up time to become proficient. We learned a very important lesson during the recent downturn. We asked ourselves if we would rehire any of the employees that we let go during the recession, and I must confess that the answer was no. In speaking with colleagues, I discovered this was not uncommon in our industry. These weren’t bad people but they just were not the right fit for the jobs they had. We are being more selective in our hiring process and making expectations very specific with crystal-clear performance benchmarks.If the benchmarks are not met, then we will make a change rather than wait for a downturn to force the issue.

In addition, we are actively looking for a business to acquire. We feel that this is a good time to purchase a business since prices are likely depressed. Finally, Lowell Catlett’s opening talk at Convention was inspiring and informative. There are lots of new market opportunities out there to which we need to open our eyes. We plan to do a market brainstorming session after listening to him.

Steve Strifler: We first began seeing things soften about two years ago. We put a process in place at Cisco-Eagle that automatically adjusts compensation in response to our business production. If we have two consecutive months below a defined gross profit bookings number, everyone in the company takes a 10 percent reduction in pay. Normal compensation is returned as soon as we have two consecutive months greater than the defined gross profit bookings number. As an open book company, this has been a significant motivator to keep everyone involved in driving the top line. It has kept us ahead of the curve in response to the consistently fluctuating business levels.

For 11 years we were assigned-account driven. We are now focused on having a mix of territories and assigned accounts. In the recent past and into the near future, all new outside sales personnel are being hired into territories. We started adding SKUs to our website. We also developed two additional industry-specific websites, completely separate from our corporate site, and have two more in the development stage.

Historically, we have directed expansion toward areas that we perceived to have a significant level of existing opportunities.Currently, we are directing expansion efforts toward areas that have been hit hard by these economic times but feel they have a significant chance at a solid recovery in the near future. Historically, when expanding into a territory, we have gone in “big,” approaching a prospective customer with a full office and warehouse and a complete staff of sales and techs. In the current environment, we have been going in “small,” only bringing along salespeople and the commitment to grow as required.

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association

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