Gone are the days when industry buying group members are satisfied with meeting only twice a year to cover a half a year’s worth of information to the majority of its membership, and only talking about what discounts they should be taking from their vendors. These days, integrators and custom retailers are looking for more value from their group memberships, and that extends beyond economies-of-scale discounts into technical tutorials and business and sales strategy education. Those initiatives are what have been keeping the Azione Unlimited buying group busy this summer, even as its president Richard Glikes and his team hustle to plan their next semiannual meeting set for October 11-13 in Austin.
Azione’s Prescient Planning meeting
In the midst of adding Chris Smith of Cloud9 Smart and Frank Sterns of Sony to its advisory board, Azione just completed three smaller meetings to cater to specific needs of the group. First was a May “middle managers” meeting for key operations people in an integration company. Second was a vendor-only strategy session earlier this month. And, most recently, was a “Science of Selling” seminar in Chicago, which attracted 20 members who paid a fee (rather than receiving it as a member benefit) to gain specific techniques for closing sales with clients.
Glikes said that he realizes now that the group’s albeit successful Middle Management Meeting was poorly named, because no one in the industry really uses that sort of designation for “operations” people in their company. “I think we’ll call it ‘Key Leaders’ next time,” said Glikes, who said that the event was intended for those who are second in command or the chief salesperson within an integration company, but often make many of the product buying decisions. These members of the company do not usually attend the Azione semiannual meetings, so this event enabled them to learn more about the advantages of supporting vendors in the group as well as providing specific training on how to read a balance sheet and overcome operational challenges.
The lessons about selling more products from Azione vendors had clear results, according to Glikes. “They went back, and I saw immediate movement to our vendors,” Glikes said. “That’s what we want. We want people to focus on our short list of 45 vendors. Our idea is to provide more business for fewer vendors, rather than dividing the pie.”
The group’s “Prescient Planning II” event, held in mid-July, was a two-day “vendor-only” meeting in Philadelphia, where three-quarters of the organization’s 45 vendor members met in a casual setting to discuss ways they can better serve dealer members, improve Azione programs, and work together to take the organization through its next five years of growth.
In Azione, dealers and vendors are equal members, so Glikes takes care to give both demographics an equal voice within the organization. The event began with attendees reviewing the results of a survey filled out by all Azione vendors. Topics included questions about whether Azione has delivered dealers to its vendor members, whether or not Azione should do more marketing to help its dealers, and whether Azione initiatives are unique, exciting, and effective. The answers to these questions set the tone for an in-depth look at what is working in the organization and what could be improved, with support from Azione vendors, for the benefit of all members.
“Vendors sharing ideas, meeting with a common goal, learning from each other, and enjoying great food and drink in a casual yet productive milieu made this time well spent, and made the meeting exceptionally energizing,” Glikes said.
Vendor members say they relished the chance to catch up with old industry friends, share ideas, and talk about the organization and the industry as a whole. “It was a great opportunity to discuss the future as we see it and to make sure our organizations are heading in the same direction,” said Robert Keeler, VP of sales, residential market, for member Stewart Filmscreen. “Not to mention we all had a great time re-establishing existing and creating new relationships.”
Training Allies, the industry-specific education-focused company led by Dave Chace conducted the two-training sales seminar in Chicago earlier this week. The course, Glikes said, “really tore apart the sales process,” offering attendees psychological techniques and specific language that can help you gain the trust of a customer.
“There were things you might take for granted, like complimenting people or ‘reciprocity,’ Glikes recalled. “If you open a door for someone, then they’ll open a door for you. Also, they talked about ‘consensus,’ telling a customer that a lot of neighbors had bought a particular product. I’ve been in sales for 45 years, and I learned a lot.”
With the latest slate of events complete, now Azione turns its attention to finalizing plans for its October meeting in Texas. “We’ll have someone talking about opportunities around artificial intelligence and virtual reality, cybersecurity, as well wealth management strategies and business process,” Glikes said. “And because our members have told us that they value time together outside of the meeting room, we’ll probably do a scavenger hunt event through Austin.”