Sessions you won't want to miss

Jan. 1, 2004
WHAT is it that would make you or your company more productive, more efficient, more modern, more in tune with customers? New techniques for improving

WHAT is it that would make you or your company more productive, more efficient, more modern, more in tune with customers?

New techniques for improving distributor sales and profits? Strategies to reduce liability and manage insurance premium increases? Tips on building a customer service game plan?

Whatever it is, it can be found in the 30 industry-specific educational sessions that are available for attendees of the 40th annual NTEA Convention and Work Truck Show.

Here's a look at 10 key sessions:

Industry Update: Distributor-Manufacturer Relations Initiative

Tuesday, March 2, 1:30-4:15 pm

Through this condensed version of the NTEA's year-long Distributor-Manufacturer Relations Initiative, attendees will be prepared to develop an action plan for improving sales performance and profitability through better communication and how to identify strengths and weaknesses in its working relationships.

The initiative is a series of meetings — the last of which came Jan. 20 in Atlanta — designed to help those in the truck equipment industry to understand the root cause of their problems.

“The industry has changed significantly in the last 15 to 20 years, but the working relationships are still structured and managed the same way they were 40 or 50 years ago,” says Robert Nadeau, managing principal of The Industrial Performance Group, who will present the session along with NTEA president Vic Tedesco.

“The relationships are totally out of sync with the realities of the marketplace. And the truth of the matter is, even in the old tried-and-true business model of how it used to work, you have some people in the industry who have made a tremendous amount of money despite themselves. And now they're in a situation where they have to change, but they're not going to change because they're complacent.

“They're looking at it and saying, ‘Well, look how far I got doing this.’ We're not trying to indict the past. They did the right things for the conditions that existed in the past, but now it's a totally different ballgame.”

Nadeau says he and Tedesco will summarize what has been accomplished and what needs to happen next.

“I think we're discovering that people realize they need to do something, and they're looking for the next step,” he says. “That's what we're struggling with — the next step is going to be different for different people. It just depends on the sophistication level of the organization. The next step for a $50 million company that has a layer of management responsible only for making those types of changes is totally different from a mom-and-pop business where she answers the phone and he spins a wrench.”

Nadeau says Tedesco should receive the credit for driving this initiative, because he has been working inside the industry for many years.

“He should get kudos for having the courage to do something,” Nadeau says. “I'm the outsider who's trying to share with the truck equipment industry what we've seen happen in other industries, what we know works and the things that will burn you if you try them.”

Strategies to Help Reduce Liability & Manage Insurance Premium Increases

Tuesday, March 2, 1:30-2:45 pm

Insurance premium increases have been substantial over the past several years. Business insurance premiums, including general liability, property, automobile, workers' compensation and umbrella, are significant cost contributors to a business.

Jeremy Fultz, assistant vice president of Affinity Programs in Nashville, Tennessee, says one of the best ways for a company to reduce premiums is to formalize its risk management program. He will go through steps to take between now and the next renewal to help formalize a loss prevention program and, in turn, control premiums. One of the aspects is assembling the maximum amount of information for the underwriter in order to get the best possible price for the desired coverage.

Fultz will stress the important of seeking Hold Harmless Agreements — provisions that transfer liability from one party to another, or agreements that one party will assume the other's liability arising under or because of the contract. There are three major types: clarification type (the parties provide that each will assume its own legal responsibility or will make only a small or reasonable transfer of responsibility from one party to the other); moderate type (one party assumes all legal liability except for the negligence of the other); and severe type (one party assumes all legal liability without regard to fault or negligence).

Fultz also will talk about documenting all work that is done and taking pictures of finished products, and putting warning labels on products.

“You want to put as many warning labels out there in noticeable areas as you can so the end users are aware of possible dangers,” he says. “Having warning labels there could reduce the amount of money you would have to pay in a settlement.

“Taking pictures of finished products is good because you can go back and know what that truck looked like when you sent it out.”

Fultz says he hopes to be joined by a loss-control representative from Willis Programs who will answer questions.

Truck Equipment Market Outlook

Tuesday, March 2, 1:30-2:45 pm

Where is the truck equipment market headed? What role do the US and foreign economies play in the short and long terms?

Steve Latin-Kasper, the NTEA's market data and research director, is back in his customary spot to deliver the market outlook. And he says the change that matters most is the turnaround in expenditures for capital equipment.

“It had been heading down since the beginning of 2000,” he says, “and finally started turning up slowly in the second quarter of 2003 and then turned up much more sharply in the third quarter and was still going strong in the fourth. We expect the increase in capital expenditures to continue growing well into 2004 and probably into 2005. Maybe not at the same high rate as it is growing now. But there are some people in the field of economics that are predicting growth in excess of 10% in capital expenditures for the first half of 2004.

“Because it was down for so long, there's a substantial pent-up demand out there for capital expenditures in general. There are too many business and too many industries that let their equipment get too old. Now they all want to get new stuff at once. The larger picture is that trucks are capital equipment. When businesses start increasing their expenditures in capital equipment, the guys who are selling trucks benefit from that, and obviously the guys who sell the truck equipment that goes on the trucks.”

Latin-Kasper also says shorter lead times will become longer lead times — one of the few downsides in the 2004 picture.

He says buying should be spurred by an equipment depreciation change in the tax statutes that lasts until Dec. 31, 2004. The rule change allows a much larger investment in plant and equipment than was previously the case to be written off in the first year under Section 179.

“That should motivate some buying that might not have occurred otherwise,” he says. “After 2004, people won't be able to use Section 179 at that same level. There might be some people who might not have bought certain equipment in 2004 who will buy it as a result of the change. And you might have some other people who are going to spend more than they might have otherwise.

“The downside to that is that this is going to be like the pre-buy in advance of the new engines being introduced last year. We'll end up with the same sort of statistical anomaly in 2005 in equipment, because people who would have bought in 2005 are going to move it into 2004. Not uncoin-cidentally, 2004 is an election year, which is why that particular piece of the puzzle is being put into place. But take advantage of it while it's there.”

Latin-Kasper joined the NTEA in 1999, providing research and analysis on markets and economic indicators as they relate to the commercial truck and transportation equipment industry.

He holds a master's degree in economics from the University of Utah. His professional experience includes work with the US Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census and the National Fluid Power Association, where he served as economist and statistical services manager. He has been appointed to the University of Wisconsin-White-water Economics Department Advisory Board and to the US Department of Commerce, International Trade Administration, Industrial Sector Advisory Committee for transportation.

Building a Customer Satisfaction Game Plan

Tuesday, March 2, 3-4:15 pm

Ron Slee, president of RJ Slee & Associates in Rancho Mirage, California, says numerous studies in the 1990s showed that by improving customer retention, net profit can be improved.

Common sense? Yes.

“But most people don't look at customer service as a tool that can drive profitability,” he says. “They look at it more as a warm-and-fuzzy thing. In the customer retention arena, the most important person obviously is the contact person — the person who touches the customer. We don't celebrate their successes. We don't talk about the special things they do for customers. We don't spread that around as a model of behavior we want everybody to follow.

“So the thrust behind customer satisfaction is making sure every employee has all the tools they need to have to be able to do the job. That's whether it's processes, systems, technology, telephones, training, or product knowledge.”

Megatrends author John Naisbitt wrote that as the world becomes more high-tech, people crave high-touch.

“That's kind of the theme behind Cheers,” Slee says. “Everybody wants to go to a place where they know your name, where they know who you are, what you like and don't like.”

Slee says that complete information should be kept on every customer. And yet when most employees start an order, all they know about the customer is his or her name, address, and whether or not the credit is sufficient.

“We don't tell anybody anything about the kind of persons they are,” he says. “How often do they buy from us? When was the last time they were there? Did they have a birthday recently? Did they buy a new truck? Are there any back orders outstanding for them?

“We have a long way to go in providing that kind of information. We're retrograde. We're old-fashioned. We're behind the curve on technology. We do not stay as leading edge as we should.

“What I am going to get across in this session, in simple terms, is how to go about changing that culture — how to create heroes out of all those customer-contact people, how to get the behavior of our employees in such a place that they'll modify the thinking and behavior of the customers to keep them coming back.”

New Techniques for Improving Distributor Sales & Profits

Wednesday, March 3, 8-9:15 am

What is the fastest way to improve your bottom line?

Dave Mills, president of Twenty-First Century Marketing in East Peoria, Illinois, says he has discovered three key ratios within the sales department where even very small improvements will produce big increases in total gross profit, due to the effect of “leveraging.” Mills identifies the ratios and documents results using typical commercial truck and transportation equipment industry figures.

“There are key questions the sales department must be able to answer,” he says. “How much business is really out there? What is our company's sales potential? How effective are our selling efforts? What percentage of the available market are we getting now? What should we be getting?

How can we get to where we need to be?”

Mills, an industry veteran and professional sales trainer, also will talk about where and how to get the data required to baseline and “quantify” a company's sales performance. He will share distributor-oriented examples and identify specific actions a company can take to improve its total gross profits and bottom line.

Increasing Financial Strength & Marketplace Competitiveness

Wednesday, March 3, 9:30-10:45 am

Interested in interpreting and acting upon significant financial risks to your company?

Harrison L Klug, president of The Lenitive Group in Hudson, Ohio, says the biggest risk is not taking risk seriously. He will review numerous financial risks faced on a daily basis in a business and how to minimize them.

“The perspective I bring is with a real focus on a company's balance sheet and the management of some of the key aspects of balance-sheet assets or liabilities, and the attendant risk to the company's profitability and cash flow if it doesn't pay attention as much as it should,” he says.

“There can always be some P&L fallout, but I focus on fallout as it relates to cash flow. There are a lot of worries than can lurk in the balance sheet, and if you mismanage or undermanage, you could have significant cash-flow issues. In the environment that the truck equipment industry has been through and is still living, cash flow has to be a significant matter.”

He delves into customers and relationships with customers as those factors relate to credit worthiness, and collection habits and patterns — things that can be positive influences without being confrontational.

“I find so frequently that companies can beat up customers when there are problems with timely payments, and that ends up damaging the relationship,” he says. “I can present the win-win of addressing it where you don't lose relationships and you don't get people angry and you end up with a much-improved cash flow and much lower risk from writeoffs.”

He says he will ask questions to the audience to prompt their thinking and ascertain how they are handling things.

“The audience is going to be broad, whether it's sales, general management, operations, or financial management,” he says, “but I'll get a flavor for what kind of audience I have, and then tailor some of the tips to the flavor of the group.”

Klug founded The Lenitive Group in 1992 to provide business owners and corporate executives with comprehensive, cost-effective finance and accounting, organizational development and HR/risk management services designed to enhance excellence and improve the business.

He is a results-oriented, organized and team-minded leader with 30 years of diversified experience as a senior finance and administration officer committed to lowering risk and improving profitability. Klug has a thorough understanding of the needs and concerns of an organization and how to create valuable, measurable needs-based solutions.

Klug is a frequent speaker to professional groups and company executives, covering various financial topics. His diversified experience includes improving the businesses of privately owned and publicly held (domestic and international) service and manufacturing organizations ranging from small to Fortune 500.

Increase Distributor Sales Through Targeted Marketing

Wednesday, March 3, 9:30-10:45 am

William C. Kunkelman III, president of Crowe Marketing in Reading, Pennsylvania, will discuss methods to improve the success of a company's sales and marketing efforts using a variety of innovative channels — from broadcast to print media, from Internet to local publicity, from sales promotion to direct mail.

He'll illustrate how to apply today's technology and creative new ideas to the target audience, using effective advertising strategies that provide a competitive advantage and generate new revenue for a business.

Kunkelman, who served as vice president of marketing during a 12-year stint with the Morgan Corp, says he wants to address the whole audience, from “the small mom-and-pop shops that want to do well to the great big guys with great sophistication.”

“My emphasis is not to push advertising — it's to discuss marketing,” he says, “and advertising is one of the tools of effective marketing. I want to help them define and develop a clear strategy so they know what they're after, who the target audience is, and what kind of tools are available to them.”

He says marketing involves four things:

  • Creation or conception

    “Marketing helps you create a product, at times,” he says. “Maybe you determine there's a need in your immediate audience for a type of truck body and certain kinds of equipment, so you're actually defining your product by looking at what your market needs.”

  • Pricing

    “Marketing has a role in defining the price. What is it worth and what can you sell?”

  • Distribution

    “There are different niche markets you can reach. When the state of Pennsylvania put scratch-off lottery tickets in vending machines and put them in good stores, sales rose — and that's because they made the product more accessible.”

  • Promotion

    “We'll talk about the language of marketing, which is advertising. We'll talk about sales promotion and public relations, and define these. We'll talk about different kinds of media. I work with distributors all over the country. There are a lot of fantastic niche publications. You go into Timbuktu, South Dakota, and I'll bet you there's a darn good publication that cattlemen read. If you're going to address that market, you have to talk to those people.”

Kunkelman will talk about industry changes and economic trends.

“All I hear from some people is, ‘Man, the industry is down,’ ” he says. “Well, it's always been cyclical. It's going to come back big. It's really going to come back big. For everybody to get their fair share, it's important that they know how to talk to the audience they're going to reach. Who do you sell to? What is it that you do?”

How Buyer Beliefs Impact Distributor Sales

Thursday, March 4, 9:45-11 am

“I am really not interested.”

“Just send me some literature.”

“We are satisfied with who we use now.”

“I had a bad experience with your company.”

“We have asked for quotes in the past and your prices are always too high.”

How often have you or your salespeople heard sales objections similar to those?

“I can't get in the door.”

“They buy everything they can from Company X.”

“They are still mad at us over that problem five years ago.”

“Every time they let me quote, I get beat on price.”

Have you also heard your salespeople use excuses like this?

Mills says the type of objections a company's salesmen are hearing need to be compiled, studied, and diagnosed because they reveal there are steps being missed or done poorly in the sales process.

“Wouldn't your sales increase if you could go entirely through the sales process and get to ‘Yes’ with less or no sales objections,” he says. “Sound impossible? It really is not, especially when you consider ‘Preempting’ and ‘Prevention’ of objections as well as ‘Response.’”

Mills will share the result of 15 years of research that clearly shows there are 10 “Buyer Beliefs” that must be in place and strong before prospects will choose to buy a product from a company. He will provide an objection diagnostic tool and illustrate how it can be used to help companies identify, understand and “match” the most common objections to the missing or weak “Buyer Beliefs”. Mills will then illustrate how the “Buyer Beliefs” should and can be put in place and strengthened during the sales process.

Popular Tools & Techniques for Analyzing Financial Statements

Thursday, March 4, 9:45-11 am

Presenters from RSM EquiCo in Costa Mesa, California, will illustrate how to review and interpret balance sheets, income statements, and cash flow statements. They'll teach how to answer questions such as: What do our financial statements really tell us about the business and the achievement of our business and financial goals? How should financial performance be measured and reported upon? Is cash flow and overall liquidity adequate to get bills paid? How will lenders, creditors or investors evaluate our leverage? Should we manage for profit, profit margin or cash flow?

Cultivating Your Corporate Culture

Friday, March 5, 8:30-10 am

Shep Hyken, an entertainer, magician, and business consultant for over 25 years, will deliver the Business Forum to wrap up the convention.

“I'm the guy who has to send them out feeling good,” he says. “If I don't make them laugh, I don't get paid.”

Hyken delivers his motivational customer service, internal service and customer relations messages with a high-energy, humorous and entertaining style. He has worked with hundreds of companies ranging from Fortune 500-size companies to organizations with less than 50 employees, with clients including American Airlines, Anheuser-Busch, AT&T, Fleming Foods, General Motors, Holiday Inn, Kraft, Monsanto, Shell Oil, and Standard Oil.

His main job is to help companies build loyal relationships with their customers. He focuses on a concept called “Creating a Moment of Magic”. He believes that any contact a company has with one of its customers is an opportunity to form an impression, a “Moment of Truth.” That comes from Jan Carlzon's book, “Moments of Truth.”

“Anytime somebody comes into contact with anybody, they form an impression,” Hyken says. “It can be OK. It can be lousy. It can be great. The great ones I call ‘Moments of Magic.’ And the lousy contacts — problems, complaints, a negative reaction of any kind — are called ‘Moments of Misery.’”

Hyken will delve into specific ways to manage that contact — simple things that people already may know, but packaged in a way that reminds them of what they have to do or confirms that what they're doing is right.

“We want to make sure that our customers are happy,” he says. “You can ask them, ‘Hey, are you happy?’ and do all the surveys you want. You always want to fix problems. You always want to hear about the complaints, and that's one way of getting them.

“But what do you do with people who send back the satisfaction survey and say, ‘You're the greatest thing since sliced bread’? Those are the people you call and ask to think of things that would make doing business with me better.

“If I go to my happy customers and I ask them that, and several of them come up with one thing, and it happens to be the same one thing, then I have an opportunity to improve on greatness. There's an example that seems like common sense, but many companies hear that and want to do it. What I'm trying to do with them is share ideas that they can implement immediately to build stronger relationships with the people they work with.”

Hyken will talk about how to manage a relationship, build confidence, build trust, and ultimately create loyalty, whether it's with a customer, employee, or somebody in the department or division.

“It's creating a culture that is very service-minded — treating a fellow employee as if he's a customer,” Hyken says, “because ultimately, if you want to have a great company, you need to treat employees you work with the same way you want customers treated — if not even better.”

At the end of his presentation, Hyken will close with a few simple magic tricks.

“It's the sugar that makes the medicine go down, if you will,” he says. “And it's fun.”

About the Author

Rick Weber | Associate Editor

Rick Weber has been an associate editor for Trailer/Body Builders since February 2000. A national award-winning sportswriter, he covered the Miami Dolphins for the Fort Myers News-Press following service with publications in California and Australia. He is a graduate of Penn State University.