There may be hundreds of articles detailing the how’s and why’s of the knowledge based distributor. On a personal level, I have authored over 200 articles covering such topics as account planning, targeting, specialists and just about everything in between. But to the best of my knowledge – and following a couple of quick "Google” searches, not a single word has been invested in chronicling what happens where the rubber meets the road in our industry – at the customer.
After traveling the country (even the world) explaining exactly what makes the AHTD-style knowledge-based distributor different, I decided it was time to detail a story with painstaking detail as to what makes us unique. So sit back in your chair and spend the next three minutes following the "feet on the street” of the automation industry.
Turn your attention to the Windy City, the City of Broad Shoulders - Chicago, Illinois where we had an opportunity to follow the work of Standard Electric’s Jim Roth. Standard Electric is a multi-state player in the Automation Industry with locations in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana. They use a three prong approach to customer service with outside salespeople, specialists and trained post-sale application specialists. The technical prowess of their specialists and applications guys tops the ladder of automation knowhow. This point alone would be a differentiator in a crowded market of automation wantabes. But instead of hitting on this point – let’s drill into their outside sales team.
Jim Roth is a technical guy with credentials to prove it. Prior to joining Standard Electric, he worked in the communications industry. He combines his knowledge of technically oriented automation products with a deep appreciation for helping his customers solve difficult applications. This doesn’t happen in some shallow color glossy world, instead he carries a roll your sleeves up and pitch in sort of toolbox. Now on to our story…
One of Jim’s customers is an OEM producer of machinery used in the production of pie crusts for commercial bakeries. This OEM has a 40 year track record of producing a "bulletproof” machine capable of handling all types of abuse with little or no maintenance. Global demands for enhanced productivity, ability to connect to other automated machinery and the need for added features is sweeping into every facet of manufacturing – and the baking industry is no different.
As the customer launched into the design of a revolutionary new machine, they requested information covering advanced terminal blocks and I/O concepts from one of Standard Electric’s supply partners. The lead was passed along to a Standard Business Development Specialist. The Specialist quickly followed-up and discovered potential for other Standard Products.
Jim came into the discussion shortly after the initial terminal block call. As he assisted the customer through the control architecture, he developed a picture of the customer’s need for a state-of-the-art PLC driven machine with electronic operator interfaces. It was during the conversation on HMI devices that Jim, David Baime, a Standard Electric PLC Business Development Specialist, and the customer switched to deep needs analysis brainstorming.
The OEM’s operation is lean and mean. They invest a great deal of effort into getting customer breakdowns back online without costly trips to the field. They have discovered the opportunity cost of making a trip measures in the thousands of dollars. This is an added burden to both the bakery and to their organization. The human wear and tear of emergency customer visits play havoc on employee morale and family life. How could these be avoided? Would it be possible to monitor and troubleshoot the machine in real time? And since problems were often caused by some previous condition, would it be possible to harvest historical data on the machine’s environmental operating conditions?
Jim took the customer’s wish-list and suggested they meet in a few days to explore options. It was during this meeting he presented the option of new technology available from a rapidly emerging company from Belgium named eWON. The eWON product not only has a unique approach to connecting intelligent devices to the internet, it contains the capability to capture historical trends and initiate alarms.
Jim’s experience across the applications of several dozen OEM accounts told him, customers were leery of allowing machinery makers access to their internal internet connection. Internet security and concerns of malicious attacks on propriety information had created a conflict between the end user’s IT staff and those responsible for maintaining the equipment. Their concerns around "poking a hole” in the firewall limited the machine’s functionality and caused his OEM customers to create clumsy workarounds. The eWON system’s one-of-a-kind design solved both issues.
In a meeting with the customer’s design team, Mr. Roth and yet another Standard Specialist walked through the various control architectural design options. For each option, Jim brought out the specific advantages and outlined the cost versus customer value driven by the option.
The eWON system tied to the Standard supplied PLC, sensors and inputs would allow the OEM opportunity to monitor and troubleshoot the system via eWON’s Talk2M cloud-based software. This combination provided the customer with the right level of security and makes the decision to allow access to the end user’s internal network an easy decision for the IT department of the bakery.
But the proof is in the pudding. In our industry happy customers are critical for developing additional business opportunities and building long term partnerships that drive success. We would be remiss in providing some follow-up from the customer’s end. The customer liked the system so much he submitted an article to Control Design Magazine. (Read about it here: http://www.controldesign.com/articles/2012/IN12Q1-taste-troubleshooting.html)
Knowledge-based selling is a hand’s on team sport. The differentiating point is not product understanding, it’s a depth of transferable application expertise. While Jim and his team of Specialists would never pass themselves off as the kings of the pastry crust machine, their willingness to listen to customer needs and transpose past application experience to help them build a more successful machine carries massive value.
If you have an example of one of your own street level stories, I would love to hear from you.