- February 29, 2004, David J. Bentley Jr., RBS Technologies
Last month this column offered the first in a series based on the “Converter's Spotlight” session held at the recently concluded 2003 TAPPI PLACE Conference and Global Hot Melt Symposium.
In that session, converters gave their wish lists for dealing with suppliers. This column will address what converters want when they deal with their suppliers' personnel. Suppliers might consider this information a primer on making lasting friendships with their customers.
The initial contact a converter has with most suppliers is a salesperson. By their very nature, these people come in all types and forms and have various degrees of expertise in purely technical matters. Some are strictly salespeople with no technical background. Others are technical people that have adopted sales as their preferred career. Certain people fall somewhere between these two extremes and can blend sales abilities with technical expertise.
Converters want a sales representative that calls on them to be well informed about the products he is promoting, including strengths and weaknesses, uses, etc. Above all, this person should know his limitations and communicate them honestly. If the salesperson admits he has only certain expertise but can supplement it quickly with information from another party, he will earn considerable respect.
For situations in which a sales representative cannot provide a response to a query, converters want to have direct access to a technical service representative. A converter expects two things from this individual: immediate access and immediate help.
The technical service person must be available without a converter having to wait for him to finish a meeting, return from a business trip, etc. Telephone tag is a game converters do not like to play, especially when facing a problem. Immediate access often is more important than immediate help, because talking to the technical service representative can at least allay some present concerns and provide a plan of attack to solve a difficulty.
Converters want to maintain a continuing dialogue with their suppliers. Sales and technical service people should communicate regularly with the converters with whom they are doing business. Only through open lines of communication can all parties be certain “surprises” never occur. Eliminating opportunities for such surprises will elevate the standing of a supplier in the eyes of any converter.
An excellent way for everyone to keep in touch and remain up to date is through periodic reviews of available products. Converters want their suppliers to visit them regularly, at set intervals, to discuss products they currently are using and provide information on products they could be using. Planned discussions such as this are key to the crucial first step: keeping open all lines of communication.
Suppliers need to do their homework when dealing with a converter. All converters are different. Their products are different. Their needs are different. Their “wish lists” are different. Their personnel have different personalities.
Two converters making exactly the same product using exactly the same raw materials may have completely different requirements that a supplier must consider. Therefore, suppliers must know as much as possible about a customer's company, products, markets, and personnel. Dialogue on a very regular basis between suppliers and the converters they service is essential.
When the staff at a specific location of a converting operation has a close rapport with the sales and technical service personnel from their supplier, everyone is situated in the best position to work to the best advantage of the two groups. This is especially important for suppliers that want to comply with an important item on the wish lists of converters — the generation of new ideas.
Converting companies are comprised of very savvy people that usually know the pulse of the packaging industry they service. They talk to the consumer products companies that are their customers, and they are consumers themselves.
Often, converters are the first people to know when an end-user wants to market a new package. Suppliers help converters by giving them products that offer certain advantages. This provides new business opportunities to both suppliers and converters.
Next month this column will address some miscellaneous items on converters' wish lists.
David J. Bentley Jr. is a recognized industry expert in polymers, laminations, and coatings with more than 30 years of experience in R&D and technical service. Contact him at email@example.com.