Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Relax its summer

Two "hot" news items have crossed my desk in the last few days, both by coincidence related to news from Germany: one on a positive economic note and the other not.

TRUMPF, the leader in the industrial laser products market, reported a 51% increase in 2010/11 fiscal year sales, with 2.025 billion Euros compared to last year's sales of 1.340 billion Euros. This is the second highest revenue year, only topped by 2007/08 with 2.144 billion Euros. However, bookings were 2.22 billion Euros, topping the 2.15 billion Euros booked in 2007/08. And the frosting on the cake is that profits last year are expected to hit triple digits in the millions, and the company will need to add another 500 jobs worldwide.

The less than auspicious news is that the mighty German manufacturing engine is sputtering, according to two closely watched indices, the Ifo and ZEW monthly reports. Both reports were negative, with analysts titch-titching that “Expectations are clearly weakening.” The blame rests on, of all things, three problems: the budget impasse in the US, a slowdown in the expanding Chinese market, and a drop in German consumer spending. Where have we heard this before?

We are not supposed to get overheated in these “dog days” of summer, the weather forecasters remind us, but most of the US has been posting record high temperatures the past few weeks, thereby driving up our personal heat indices. So I think I’ll head for the lake for a few days to cool off and to savor the great news from TRUMPF and ignore the not-so-good news from the manufacturing front. Relaxation is what summer is made for.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Made redundant by the Web - again

It was a Friday afternoon and the sales team, winding down a three day corporate sales meeting, restively awaited the final speaker, me. Heavy early weekend traffic slowed down my arrival and had me in a bit of a funk as I breathlessly arrived 30 minutes late.

I should have taken a short break to catch my breath, but recognizing that I had three dozen sales people ready to head home for the weekend, I proceeded to deliver what was supposed to be a positive state-of-the-market rouser guaranteed to have these reps outperform their monthly quotas.

Normally, I open such presentations on a light note with a laugh-generating anecdote. I don’t know what possessed me, except the lack of energy after a hard week of travel, but my opening remark was: “I’m glad I had this opportunity to meet with you today, because next year most of you will be gone, as the era of the machine tool salesman is over.”

Nervous laughter broke out as I continued, “Yes, most of you will be redundant, made so by the power of the Internet.” Now, sensing that I was not joking, I was bombarded by objections and then questions about my premise, which in essence was, buyers will get their machine information off the Web, analyze it and make a buying decision without your influence. The general objection was that the Web could not sell a machine tool. My counter was, people already buy their new cars off the Web, and many car dealers have an internal Web salesman just for that purpose.

These sales guys still thought I was joking, and I managed to leave on rather tenuous grounds, with a parting shot from the sales manger: “That will be the day,” he growled.

A few short years later, that day has arrived.

In his new book, Selling Change, 101+ Secrets for Growing Sales by Leading Change http://http://sellingchange.com/author/brett-clay/, Brett Clay says, “The trends of globalization and Internet empowered buyers are devaluing the roles traditionally filled by salespeople - to provide product information and take orders.”

In case you haven’t had the occasion to shop for a new machine tool on the Internet, trust me all you need to know is out there in Cyberspace. Retrieving this information is getting even easier as potential buyers realize the power of the Web and learn how to make it work for them. The marketplace has changed and, like others made inconsequential by the power of the Web, the salesman's denial was short lived.

I had occasion to see the sales manager of that company I spoke to, at a recent trade show, where he walked the floor as an independent sales rep. I was surprised when he went out of his way to greet me, thinking that he probably never forgave me for what I said. Instead, the subject never came up even though he told me he had recently been made redundant. I was glad we were still friends and I knew that his remaining productive years would not be bitter ones.