What You Missed at AHTD’s Fall Meeting 2020
Monday, November 23, 2020
by: Frank Hurtte

Section: Newsletter Articles

First a bit of background. My very first AHTD experience dates to 1992, which is hard for me to fathom. I attended the meeting based on the recommendation of a long-time friend and president of the association–Terry Miller. I do remember Terry’s words ahead of the meeting, “The AHTD presenters will open your eyes to new and better ways of doing business, but the insights of the other attendees will blow you away.” Terry was right.

One of the first people I accidentally ran into at the meeting was Bob Dietz, who was a past president, one of the founders of AHTD, and a successful businessman. He was also 20 years my senior. He was confident, charismatic, and impressive to be around. During a brief conversation, Bob said something that still plays in my mind nearly three decades later. “The people in this room are the brain trust of our industry. Ask them questions. Listen to what they say in conversations. You’ll be surprised at how their thoughts can help you.” As a guy yet still a couple of years shy of 40, Bob was everything I wanted to be, so I listened. I still do.

The following are some comments I overheard while in Salt Lake City. My memory remains the steel trap it has always been, except now it is covered with a thick patina of rust, so I wrote them down soon after the conversations. Remember, this is a miscellany of items, I am merely posting them in the order they appeared in my ever-present notebook of ideas.

A Quote for Our Times:
I heard this one within ten minutes of walking into the hotel. I basically checked in, saw a few people sitting in the lobby, sat down, and started talking.

“As I say to my salespeople, suppliers, and others… This is my first global pandemic, too. You cannot rely on me for all your answers. You’re going to need to figure some of this out on your own.”

The more I think about this one, the better it feels. Actually, I have used it at least a dozen times in my own conversations; with my grown daughter, with clients, and a couple of times with a whiskey in one hand and a stogie in the other down at The Drawing Room Cigar Lounge.

The pandemic levels the playing field for newcomers to our industry. Regardless of whether you have five, ten, or even forty years of experience, this is a new adventure for everyone. Good ideas are the product of observation, thought, and planning. Nobody knows what the new normal will equate to, but it is a pretty good bet things will never return to the old normal.

On Building a Sales Team:
This came to me in a conversation on the shoulder of one of our breaks. We were seated in a COVID friendly, or perhaps unfriendly manner (one person seated at a table designed for four people, separated from other tables by six or more feet). We were waiting for the next speaker to start and we launched into a conversation on building a high-performance sales team.

“In a sales team, I select for trust rather than performance. If you have trust, performance can be taught. High-performance teams are trustworthy.”

My friend has a background in the military. He is a former member of the Marine Corps, which might be a misstatement as my good friend and former Marine Corps Pilot Bob Miecznikowski has always pointed out membership in the USMC is lifelong. Either way, before I continue, my thanks to both friends for their service. I am seriously into military history, but that’s not why the thought has lingered.

Trust in the sales team means reliable reporting of activities. Trustworthy performance in a new product launch is important. Today, more than any other time, AHTD members need to be able to trust the forecasts for the future.

Extending on this thought a little more, I believe great salespeople are made rather than born. Teaching the proper skills for performance and trusting the skills will be used is even more important. I would challenge others to think more about this quote.

Explaining a Generational Difference
This conversation came at the end of one of our days. The planned activities and dinners were over. Some of us were socializing from a distance in the lobby bar. Part of our group included a father/son team from an ASP member. They were recanting their adventures the day before the meeting and the senior member of the team made this comment:

“Back when I was a young man, I came to these meetings without plans and just went with the flow. The next generation doesn’t do things this way. When I travel with my son, the days are closely planned out, and we waste not a moment during the day.”

This brought me back to a series of conversations I had with a couple dozen next-generation leaders in our industry a few years ago. I was charged with determining major stumbling blocks in communications between Baby-Boomer salespeople and customers who were south of 30.

Time continued to creep into our discussions. Boomers see Millennials as unwilling to put in the hours necessary to show dedication and ultimately be successful. Conversely, Millennials see Boomers as inefficient users of time who fritter away countless hours doing tasks the hard way.

Texting was a big deal to my client on this project, so I dug deep into the topic. The younger businessperson’s responses could best be summarized in this comment by a gifted 29-year old department head: “What’s up with all the frivolous phone calls? I get a phone call from an old-time salesperson to set an appointment. I understand why he is calling and go ahead with scheduling a meeting. Then, the day before the call, he wants to phone me again to confirm. Phone calls take way more time and must be answered – even if I am involved with something important. A text takes seconds and can be responded to when convenient. When I explained this, the guy looked like I was asking him to send a telegram. He has a phone; I have a phone. What’s the problem here?”

I used to hate texts. After that, I finally understood their value.

An Ironic Thought about Safety Sales:
I had a great conversation with one of AHTD’s supply-partners. This one happens to be in the safety business. Since this is an important part of many of AHTD members’ businesses, I found this though interesting and worthy of repeating.

“During the COVID crisis, one of the first groups to quit traveling were the OSHA and State Safety Inspectors. At least a portion of our business is driven by inspectors spotting something and bringing the issue to the local facility’s attention. Since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic, I haven’t had the same number of, maybe not any, calls from customers asking me about specifications. I wonder what will happen when these folks are turned loose on the industry.”

Most of us curse government interference in business, yet this may be something to think about. Since a good many of the state OSHA organizations are “self-funding” with fines being fed back into the budgets of the department, one can only wonder if there will be a wave of fines levied as soon as the governmental bodies come back to work. Not trying to gin up some conspiracy theories, but it could happen.

Some of our members have in-house safety experts, many others work with safety consultants to identify risks ahead of any OSHA-type inspection. Perhaps this should be something to talk about with our customers.

Now the Final Quote:
This one comes from our fearless leader, Leigha Schatzman, AHTD’s executive director, and the person responsible for both the AHTD social calendar and social distancing.

“Holy Buckets, we made it!”

You are so right. You and your team pulled off a modern-day marvel.

Pulling All This Together:
This list is nothing close to complete. I have been through my notes of the meeting three times since my return from Salt Lake City. I still have a few more things to follow-up on and a couple of people left to call. For me, the meeting marked my first business trip since Friday the 13 (of March). It was energizing and fun. Quite frankly, the only time I felt like I might have been in danger throughout the adventure was during a 90-minute flight from Moline to Dallas. The two young people seated across the aisle from me were feeling ten-feet tall and bulletproof. They constantly removed their masks on the flight, which caused some discussions amongst the other passengers. All I can say is this. Guys, I remember my first beer, too. American Airlines tells me the negligent passengers will remember theirs as the day they were put on the no-fly list for a year.

Those of us who were there are still admiring the face mask worn by John Martinez, VP of sales at RFID. I got to sit with John, and his lovely bride Cheryl, for Friday Night’s dinner. I was laughing too hard to take a single note, but trust me, one of their stories would cause you to fall off your chair laughing.

Lord willing, 30 million doses of the new Corona vaccine will have us all Corona free and drinking free Corona at the AHTD Spring Meeting.