It’s Good, But It Could Be Better

I’m lucky.  In addition to a great family and a beautiful wife that actually puts up with me, we were fortunate enough to move onto lakefront property a few years ago.  What no-one warns you about before moving in is the serious amount of work required to live lake-side.  Serious like you better love the view in a MAJOR way.  We do, so we make the effort. Fall, while a beautiful season, takes on a certain melancholy for us, as it signals the end of the fun that marks summers on the lake, and reminds us of the coming bluster that winter brings, where the winds across the lake shake the house, hard.

Over the past few years, I’ve gotten to know our neighbor Simon, an English guy that lives a few doors down.  He’s a great guy, so much so that I often wonder why we’ve not gotten to be better friends.  Ours were orbits that never quite found alignment.

What I found most interesting about Simon was his amazing ability to use the lake for unique ways to have winter fun.  My favorite of which was watching with amazement one gusty, sunny afternoon when Simon strapped on a snowboard, donned a backpack parachute, and tossed it into the gale-force winds rocketing across the lake.  The following scene was nothing short of the best first-person version of WIPEOUT one might ever witness.  Simon was literally RACING across the lake, faster than I’d ever seen anyone move, EVER.

As he careened toward the gigantic, quarter mile long dock that marked the far edge of the lake, my mind did some random calculations of it’s own, and quickly informed me:

A)     Simon was assuredly going to crash, and

B)     I was far, far too far away to yell something he could hear, like…..STOP!  LET GO!!!

So I watched Simon artfully, strategically, amazingly  release himself and twist his way just past the edge of the dock that was certain to have made me the guardian of his newborn son, I had but one thought….


Being MiPPA’s President has been one of the most eye-opening experiences of my professional career.  I’ve been humbled by how often failure has smacked me in the face while I’ve been at the helm, and how personally challenging not being able to create successful change has been on me.  For those of you that don’t know me, I’m not used to failing, or quitting.

My failure hasn’t been for a lack of vision, or effort.  I can hold my head high knowing that I have an idea that could save my regional, but it requires me to make the conversation national in scope.  My view of the tea leaves says that MiPPA looks a lot like my buddy Simon, trade show revenue is our snowboard, the industry is the lake, and it’s a VERY windy day.

If you’ve had the bad fortune to have been around me after a beer or three at an industry event, you’ll recall the soapbox I drag out and the sermon I give about the hypocrisy in our industry’s failure to teach its members how to sell.  Products don’t sell themselves, and manufacturers owe it to salespeople to instruct them on the finer points of why a client might want the things they make.  There’s no better way to achieve competitive differentiation as a distributor than to train one’s sales force, and yet almost every distributor I’ve spoken to expresses little interest in personally providing training.

There’s a smattering of ways to access some information, and critics will cite the availability of industry certification, but those vehicles have proven largely ineffective.  It’s high time we gave some serious consideration to a platform to facilitate the transfer of actual selling skills to the good folks trying to make a living at this, and a curriculum to provide a roadmap to expertise.  Technology has eliminated the excuse that training competes for salesperson’s energy during selling hours; tools allow for anytime access to information, and societal change has created living rooms where families have migrated from “watching TV” to actively interacting with content while sitting on their couches at night.

There are certain suppliers that have recognized this shift in the sands, and they’re taking steps toward meeting the demand they’ve individually identified.  Do yourself a favor and search youtube for content related to our industry.  You’ll be surprised what you find.

So, as I reflect back upon that day Simon nearly killed himself, I came to the realization that while I don’t foresee myself strapping on either a snowboard NOR a backpack parachute, I have looked into a pair of cross-country ski’s, and my neighbor and I are seriously considering the finer points of ATV’ing on a frozen surface.  I’ve realized that my admiration for Simon’s use of the winter lake served as an inspiration, and gave me the confidence to find a way to do it for myself.  Witnessing his ability to act on the NOTION gives me the desire to try, too.    Often, it takes fearlessness (craziness?) to act on inspiration.

Here’s my parachute idea.  Let’s create an environment here that inspires each other, and have the industry take notice.  Suppliers need to be teachers, regional associations and PPAI need to act as the campuses, and salespeople give more of their business to those suppliers that teach us best.  We wring our hands about where the new distributor salespeople are, and tools like these meet their demographic head on.

I’m in.  Are you?

(Note:  I’ve had the opportunity to share with Simon that I’d watched him that day.  When I shared with him that I’d been awed by his achievement, he told me (in his fine English accent) “Bloody Hell mate, I don’t know what the hell I was thinking!”) 

Article written by Roger Burnett.