The theme of next week’s IPRO Conference is “Survive and Thrive,” which couldn’t be any more appropriate than it is right now as members of the CEDIA channel’s sales representative community and its new IPRO Manufacturers Group learn to cope with new economic challenges and an industry in transition. IPRO executive director Ray Wright says that the goal of the conference is to increase the level of partnership between representatives and manufacturers, and provide his members with information and realistic tools to help them prosper. As Wright prepares for IPRO’s annual conference, November 5-7 in Scottsdale, Arizona, he took a moment to answer some of our questions about the event and the new market dynamics facing the industry, in general, and professional field sales organizations, in particular.
IPRO Executive Director Ray Wright
Your conference agenda looks pretty ambitious. Who was responsible for putting the program together?
The conference program is put together by a committee of three people, after a lot of input from the [IPRO] Board and members of the IPRO Manufacturers Group about the key issues that are being faced by members as an association of professional field sales organizations. The economic business climate, the challenges of communication, and the increasing costs of running a business were key issues to address at this Conference. The committee makes the decisions and I have help to do the heavy lifting.
What’s the basic history of these conferences, and what sort of new spin have you put on the event this year?
This is our 18th annual conference, held during our 21 years as IPRO. The focus has always been educational, but this year is dramatically changed because of the formation of the IPRO Manufacturers Group (IPRO-MG) and those manufacturer members being asked to participate fully in the conference. In prior years they provided a manufacturer panel session, and only attended one day. The purpose of the IPRO-MG is to break down communication barriers, increase understanding, and help us make sales more efficient, more effective.
What aspect of the conference are you, personally, looking forward to the most?
I enjoy the “wow factor” of a higher level of networking. This is not a sales meeting. When representatives, manufacturers, CEDIA leaders, and the press have the freedom, and are encouraged, to share information and face common challenges, something magical happens. It is common to hear someone exclaim, “Wow, I had no idea”! When you see people writing down ideas and resources that they can use to improve their businesses, it is exciting. Many members say, “This is the best thing I do for my company all year.”
What are your attendance expectations, and how does this track relative to the number of IPRO members?
I am expecting over 60 people at the conference, an increase over previous years. These are the principals of their firms, the decision makers. We will have just less than half of our members there, and I have been told that during this economy, “This is a Conference I cannot afford to miss.”
Given all the challenges facing the industry over the past year, what’s the general vibe coming out of the rep community right now?
We do an IPRO Representative Survey prior to each conference and one of the questions is, ‘Are you positive or negative about our industry and your future as a representative?’ We had 58 respondents of which six said they were becoming negative, three were “cautiously optimistic,” and 49 said that they were optimistic. Their added comments noted the realities of lower sales costs for manufacturers using representatives plus the long-term equities that have been built with their customers. They are committed to adding value.
What about being a rep in this industry would you say has changed the most in the past few years?
The greatest change is the cost, in money, time and effort, of writing an order for their manufacturers. Their customers will not stock inventory, and the amount of commitment needed to write even the smallest order is enormous. When you combine that with the need of manufacturers to reduce all of their costs, including commissions, it is a huge challenge.
Getting out your crystal ball, where do you think the role of the rep of his headed and what role do you hope IPRO can play in this future?
The common thread in history and our future is that someone must provide a supportive link to the customers and installers that use our products, and that is the strength of the representative. The average IPRO firm has been in business for 22 years, and that happens because all support their customers to the best of their abilities. We see most evaluating the strength of their product offerings and many deciding to resign less profitable lines and to evaluate related markets. There is a huge focus on using technology to increase the quality and usefulness of information to their customers. The IPRO Board of Directors decided three years ago to increase industry partnerships with CEDIA, CEA, MERA, ERA, and other associations. Those organizations have been very responsive. We decided to directly assault the communication gaps between representatives and manufacturers with the IPRO-MG. Sales people are most often the ones who make things happen. IPRO has taken a position of quietly providing some leadership, and will continue to do so.