BACK by popular demand: The session entitled, "Building Sales Partnerships with Truck Dealers."

It was a hit last year - rated among the top four sessions at the convention in St Louis, according to panel member John Princing, vice-president of sales and marketing for Scientific Brake & Equipment Co in Saginaw, Michigan - and is expected to be once again. Sponsored by the NTEA Young Executives Network, it is scheduled for Wednesday, Feb 28, from 1:30 to 2:45 pm.

Princing, president of the Young Executives Network Steering Committee, said the format will be the same: Three to four truck dealers will make 15-minute presentations on their methods for doing business in the heavy-duty market, followed by a question and answer session.

At press time, a panel had not been finalized. Last year's panel included Princing; Dick Crane, fleet and leasing manager for Royal Gate Dodge Inc in Ellisville, Missouri; Brad Matheney, commercial truck manager of Lon Fusz Chevrolet in St Peters, Missouri; John Simon, president of Gateway City International in Berkeley, Missouri; and Tim Kohler, vice-president of Kranz Automotive Body Co in St Louis.

They talked about product lines, equipment house reputation, quality of work, pricing, and turnaround times. They also talked about treating clients to doughnuts every Thursday morning, a round of golf, or a night at the baseball game. In the end, Crane noted that the discussion had not centered enough on professionalism.

"We have salesmen today that will not be here tomorrow, and we have salesmen that have been here for two or three weeks that'll be gone in two or three weeks," he said. "Those are not the professionals in our business. The professionals in our business are the people who know what they're selling, know how to sell it, know how to realistically market it and merchandise it without the doughnuts, without the golf. If that's part of it, that's fine. But the whole objective is to be professional in meeting the end user's needs with whatever you supply and whatever type of trucks and equipment we can supply, to marry up and make that service available to the customer.

"Unless we realize that up front, I don't think it's ever going to work. I would not want to call you and say, `Listen, I'm thinking of putting three or four vehicles on the ground with your equipment, with your body. What can you do to help me out?' Gentlemen, that's not the professionalism we're striving for. If we put that professionalism back in there, I think we'll get rid of the idiosyncracies."

After they spoke, the Q&A session with an estimated audience of 85 sparked some lively debate.

One of Matheney's primary issues was pricing. He said he didn't understand why a dealer such as himself had to buy two dozen service bodies at the same price as somebody completely new to the business.

Matheney said he should receive a 1% to 3% margin. Princing agreed, saying he should be able to pass on some kind of price concession to the customer. Kohler disagreed, saying that "overinflates the market, and then we get caught in a situation where these guys (customers) come to us direct and you guys (distributors) get mad. Well, we've got to sell it. We don't have that much margin. Where do we go with it?"

In looking toward this year's session, Princing says he expects it to generate the same kind of discussion.

"Some dealers get turned on by whoever brings doughnuts," he says. "Others say, `I want a truck in five days. Can you do it?' Sometimes the way dealers evaluate and do business is different based on the region of the country they're located in. So there's always a chance somebody will pick up something entirely different.

"Last year, three panelists had very different interpretations of what made a distributor a good distributor. One guy dealt with the same supplier because he got good service. Another said, `Every deal is different. There is no loyalty.'

"How do people evaluate us? Why don't they choose us for every deal? I think those questions strike a chord with people. Sometimes distributors don't have a good feel for what the dealer goes through."