Welcome to the first article of the new, Ramblin’ Rhyno Column, hosted by me, your very own @HVAC_Rhyno, Rhydon Atzenhoffer of Insight Partners and the HVAC R&D Podcast. I am grateful to have you on this journey back into journalism with myself and the Podcast and I look forward to bringing you some insight, knowledge and hopefully a few laughs and ah-ha moments along the way. So let’s get to it.
I haven’t written in a long time. For many years I wrote articles for several different sports websites and digital publications including a stint also as a managing editor for one of them. Writing about the English Premier League was a creative outlet from my daily life in HVAC. It was also a means for some supplemental income to help get my family life off the ground when I was post-college, newly engaged, relocating 3-hours away from my family and support system, and exploring my first job in distribution.
Fast forward 14 years, three distributors, six moves and several different hobbies and other opportunities later, I once again have felt the call to put pen to paper. I guess better stated it would be to put fingers to keys, as I look to write in support of the industry that I have quite literally grown up in and now hope to continue to give back to. I am hopeful that this article, or blog post or whatever you call it these days, leads to many more written works for HVAC R&D as I strive to help build more content for the show to help support our industry.
Several weeks ago I overheard a conversation from a sales meeting that I was not sitting in but was listening intently to. The comments made forced me to truly reevaluate my own R&D, but also confirmed why I made the move to where I did. If you follow our show, The HVAC R&D Podcast, you will know that R&D stands for Rhydon and Dennis as much as it does Research and Development as we hope we inspire the personal growth of our fellow tradesmen and tradeswomen.
I am paraphrasing a bit here, but I overheard our Vice President of Engineering discussing his sales strategy and philosophy: “To be the most effective, you never lead with a product. Instead, you lead with your ability to provide solutions. It is your job to know your line card and all the tools and instruments at your disposal. By doing so you are a weapon of solutions for your customers. And, if for some reason with all that knowledge you cannot provide the appropriate solution for the job…then you tell your customer where they can get it.” Whoa! That really turned on the lightbulb for me!
At the end of your day, it is also a great tool to know your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses, in fact you should know your competitors as well or even better than yourselves.
The conflict with that is that there are always certain large manufacturers anywhere you work that you will feel you are forced to lead with. I know when I first went into sales 11 years ago, I did the same thing, I would lead with my major product line thinking it was the reason people would let me in the door.
However, just because you have those massive manufacturers on your line card, it does not always mean they are the only solution and even more importantly it does not mean that they are always the best solution.
The longer I have been in sales, especially having been at multiple different sizes of distributors and wholesalers to see different levels of line cards and scopes of coverage, the more I have learned it is more about your ability to make the best solution out of what is available than it is just about having a name that a customer may know.
Trust me, I struggle learning it all fast too and I myself need accountability partners to keep me in check. That’s where having a company that fosters a team sales environment, rather than an everyone for themselves philosophy, makes all the difference in the world. With that said, having recently switched distributors and product lines myself I wanted to look at just a few rudimentary but effective ways to get to know your new company line card quickly and effectively.
Five Pro Tips for Getting Up to Speed with a new HVAC Distributor
1. Study Product Documentation and Resources
It will seem simple and obvious, but the first step of any learning process with equipment or materials is to dive into product documentation, user manuals, start-up guides and manufacturers online portals. These materials contain detailed information about the product’s features, uses, best practices and more that will help build the foundation of your new product knowledge.
2. Hands-On Exploration
Once you have a basic groundwork for your new product knowledge, if you can get into the field with your products then your best understanding is learned through firsthand interaction. Being able to create and test scenarios to learn abilities of different features will give you a practical feel for how the product works. There is simply no replacement for time spent in the field.
3. Shadowing and Mentoring
You are the new person, make friends with and spend time with your colleagues who already are familiar with the products. Shadow their interactions with customers, observe their demos and ask them questions.
Having a mentor can greatly accelerate your learning process by providing real-world insights and practical tips from their years of experience that you are hoping to tap into for your own personal product knowledge growth.
4. Break Down Complex Concepts
Products, especially in HVAC and Refrigeration, in many cases will have intricate features and capabilities. It can be difficult to understand all those abilities at once, so breaking them down into smaller manageable pieces will increase your learning potential and decrease some of the stress of trying to cram that knowledge into your mind. Focus on mastering this one aspect at a time and gradually you will build your understanding to then move onto the next.
5. Create Cheat Sheets and Summaries
As you learn your new products, take notes, create and build cheat sheets and summaries for yourself as well as your customers. The more you can become the expert that educates your own customer base the more you will be looked to as the authority in the market for those products.
Concise documents that can serve as quick references to have ready for consultation and review any time you need them is a major positive. Organizing information in this way will reinforce your understanding and help with knowledge retention.
Bonus Tip: When in Doubt, Ask
Always ask questions and don’t hesitate. The most ignorant question is the one you did not ask. Clarifying your doubts early on will assist in preventing misunderstandings and help you gain a deeper understanding of products faster.
Always remember, learning a new company’s products takes time and effort. Be patient with yourself and celebrate your progress along the way.
Thanks for reading #TradeCrew and I look forward to many more articles to come.