Innovation Roundtable: 2012 Inaugural Event Recap & Looking Ahead


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Our industry is in the midst of a transition. Changes are coming from all directions, providing an opportunity to reassess how we work together. By embracing collaboration, innovation and collective learning, we can raise the entire industry up – positioning all of us to achieve more.

In this spirit of togetherness, 40 forward-thinking manufacturers, distributors, reps, electricians, trade association representatives and media came together on March 21 to reflect on the electrical industry’s current state, existing challenges, emerging technologies and future opportunities. Dubbed the Innovation Roundtable, it quickly became clear that this meeting was just the beginning of a much-needed discussion – a chance to collectively sync up the industry and work together to create a smoother way forward.

This whitepaper provides an overview of topics discussed, ideas formulated and conclusions drawn. Email Madison Electric Products' Marketing Director Rob Fisher for more information:

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Innovation Roundtable: 2012 Inaugural Event Recap & Looking Ahead

  1. 1. 2012 Inaugural Event Recap + Looking AheadMoving the electrical industry forward, through collaboration, innovation & collective learning
  2. 2. Innovation Roundtable Recap + Looking Ahead“By embracing collaboration, innovationand collective learning, we can raise theentire industry up – positioning all of us toachieve more.”Changes are coming from all directions – SuperRod’s Malcolm Duncan, who joined us fromincluding new economic realities and United Kingdom, for that analogy)technological advancements. The Innovation Roundtable covered a wide rangeThese shifts also present an opportunity for us to of topics Interestingly, whether the topic centeredreassess how we work together for the on partnerships, customer service or industrybetterment of the industry as a whole. By landscape, the discussions always came back toembracing collaboration, innovation andcollective learning, we can raise the entireindustry up – positioning all of us to achieve “Electrical industry innovationmore. improves the economy, creates jobs andThat spirit of togetherness and shared provides the foundation forexperiences provided the foundation for an generations to come. ”ongoing industry discussion that officiallylaunched on March 21. Forty forward-thinkingmanufacturers, distributors, reps, electricians, emerging technologies – namely how socialtrade association representatives and media came media, mobile opportunities andtogether to reflect on the electrical industry’s technology-driven interactions will change thecurrent state, existing challenges, emerging way business gets done.technologies and future opportunities. Dubbedthe Innovation Roundtable, this meeting was just The following provides an overview of the topicsthe beginning of a much-needed discussion. discussed, ideas formulated and conclusions drawn. While this Roundtable was highlyThe Big Takeaway productive, it’s just the beginning. .Collectively, our industry is functioning like an Local Market Value Remains Strongold wheel with six spokes of varying lengths –hence the bumpy ride we’ve all experienced the Our manufacturers create a range of products –past few years. To excel in today’s world, the some commodity, some specialized. In fact, asindustry needs to “sync up” – getting each spoke one Innovation Roundtable participant noted,in the wheel working "at the same length" to some of the products sold by reps andcreate a smoother way forward. (Thanks to M ovi n g t h e e le c tr ic a l in d u s tr y fo r wa r d, thr ough collabor ation, innovation & collecti ve le arni ng
  3. 3. Innovation Roundtable Recap + Looking Ahead Introductiondistributors could be bought on eBay or other sit down and understand the issues you’re facing,online marketplaces. he can devise a solution that minimizes risk, reduces cost and improves safety.So, what prevents people from embracing eBayand remaining loyal to their local reps? When it comes to problem solving, relationshipsRelationships. Service. Problem-solving. A “do are critical. If a customer has a challenge, he/shewhatever it takes to get the job done” wants to work with a person – a salesman, amentality. These intangibles are found manager, etc. That human interaction isonly in person-to-person vital to building long-termrelationships … not online partnerships. Whiletransactions. A high level of relationships can be nurturedservice and by digital communication, aindustry-specific solid relationship providesknowledge should the foundation.continue to support thelocal supply channel; Interestingly, Roundtablehowever, as technology participants noted aadvances, that could difference betweenchange. The challenge “gatekeeperthen becomes quite relationships” and actualclear: How do we keep partnerships. As oneour customers by participant put it, “If it’s aproviding value-added gatekeeper decision, weservices and experiences? know it’s going to be basedAs in, things you can’t find on on cost. We don’t put as mucheBay? effort into a gatekeeper relationship as a partnership.”Relationships & Integrity: BuildingBlocks for Strong Partnerships Stated another way, it’s not about the price. Partnerships focus on relationships and a highWhile partnerships aren’t anything new, these level of relationships are taking center stage inrecent years. In fact, the word “partner” is so Don’t Make Technology Mandatory. Make it aoverused that it’s almost rendered meaningless. No-Brainer.But, take a step back to assess what it means to From millennials who grew up with technology,be a good partner and what you’re looking for in to savvy Gen Xers and Baby Boomers who havea partner. For example, one Roundtable fallen in love with smartphones, social media andparticipant identified listening and understanding other tech-driven efficiencies, one thing is clear:as key components of a true partnership. As heexplained, “we have to understand your businessto be a good partner.” What’s important to you “From product development and salesbecomes important to us. After all, an effective … to customer service and marketingpartnership has to work for everyone involved.Meanwhile, another participant explained that he – technology shifts howcan deliver better solutions when he has access business gets done.”to all disciplines within an organization. If he can M ovi n g t h e e le c tr ic a l in d u s tr y fo r wa r d, thr ough collabor ation, innovation & collecti ve learni ng
  4. 4. Innovation Roundtable Recap + Looking AheadTechnology is changing the way business gets positions. We need to focus on recruiting moredone. young people into the industry. But, that’s not all. Once they join our ranks, we need to mentorBut, how does it permeate an organization and them in preparation for a successful leadershipspread from a handful of passionate advocates to transition.the entire workforce? As we discussed during aRoundtable breakout session, how do you Part of this drive toward more education is beingconnect with the people who like to read the led by the trade associations and publications.morning paper and the people who prefer to get Both groups are leading by example – showingtheir news online? How do you disseminate the us how to incorporate emerging technologies andright information using the right channels? platforms to reach a broader audience, while still providing the highly focused, quality content thatIt needs to be a “top-down” movement, according members and readers have come to participants from organizations that have fully Through their leadership, our industry isembraced – and seen the benefits of – experimenting with video, mobile and othertechnology. Organizational leadership needs to forward-thinking communication opportunities.welcome the advancements and show their teamhow they can increase productivity, efficiency Technology + Customers: A Changingand effectiveness. Simply put: As people begin Relationshipexperiencing the benefits and potential oftechnology, it spreads like wildfire. Once an We all agree that technologyindividual embraces technology, they don’t go infuses a new level ofback. efficiency into our industry. It’sThat said, technology isn’t a silver bullet or a improving productmagical solution to fix the industry’s woes. One development, “Social mediasize – or solution – doesn’t fit all. Our workplaces operations and gives us theare filled with three generations (at least!) of logistics, andworkers. We need to understand how to convey internal and tools to createdifferent messages via different channels. external communication. meaningful But there’s one dialogue with technology “Despite all the technological touch point that customers and we’re still trying stakeholders.” advancements, the need for quality to ascertain: communication and strong Customer communication. relationships is at an all-time high.” Is technology taking us away from customers? Are ourAdmittedly, this age gap can be nerve-wracking relationships less meaningful or deep becausefor older generations – people who have literally we’re relying on email, Skype or LinkedIn topoured their livelihood into the company. But, we interact with prospects and customers? Nothave to embrace change. After all, if we’re not necessarily. Technology will never fully replaceprepared for millennials to advance, the industry face-to-face communication. After all, whenwill flounder when they assume management you’re buying packaging or lighting, it’s still Movi n g t h e e le c tr ic a l in d u s tr y fo r wa r d, thr ough collabor ation, innovation & collecti ve le arni ng
  5. 5. Innovation Roundtable Recap + Looking Aheadhelpful to sit across a table to negotiate, right? And Speaking of Relationships …Similarly, a customer’s confidence in a productdoesn’t come from reading about it online or The Innovation Roundtable kicked off at the 2012seeing a picture; it comes from holding the Electro Expo, but that was just the first step.product in their hands and testing performance. We’ve also launched a LinkedIn group to foster ongoing relationships and continue the dialogue.That said, we should realize that customers are We plan to announce the next in-personbusy, too. So much so that they appreciate when Innovation Roundtable meeting in the comingyou act faster or respond quicker. There’s still a months. Until then, we hope you’ll seek ways totime and place for a two-hour meeting; however, innovate, learn and teach – embracing thisthose occurrences are fewer and farther between. collaborative spirit needed to elevate the entire industry to the next level.One Roundtable attendee explained that theircompany’s sales force is regularly using Skype.How does that work? Let’s say a foreman on a jobhas Skype and you want to introduce him or her If you’re interested in being partto an inside salesperson. Ping the foreman onSkype, and just like that, you’re making a of a future get-together, contact“face-to-face” sales call from 50 miles away, Madison Electric Products’ Robwithout spending hours in your car fightingtraffic. Plus, technological advancements are Fisher ( unnecessary emails, phone calls andfaxes – something we can all get excited about.Technology can improve customer services,automate processes and educate consumers. But,it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. Perhaps thebiggest takeaway from the Innovation Roundtable “Fight “information overload” by delivering information where, where and how customers want it.”was this: Emerging technology makes thingseasier and faster, but don’t ever underestimatethe value of relationships and in-person contact. Movi n g t h e e le c tr ic a l in d u s tr y fo r wa r d, thr ough collabor ation, innovation & collecti ve le arni ng
  6. 6. Innovation Roundtable ParticipantsM ovi n g t h e e le c tr ic a l in d u s tr y fo r wa r d, thr ough collabor ation, innovation & collecti ve learni ng