Reps Who Change Avoid The Dinosaurs’ Fate


© Linda Bucklin |

“The only constant is change.”

“Embrace change.”

“The dinosaurs didn’t change and look what happened to them.”

Consider the subject of change and examine the need for it, and chances are you’ll be swamped with a tidal wave of clichés such as the above. Venture out into the real world, however, and it’s there that you’ll learn how reps wrestle with the ever-constant need to adapt to their changing environment.

Aggressive and ambitious would appear to be the best words to describe how John Aiello has approached the need to embrace change. According to Aiello, founder and president of the Guilford, Connecticut-based PSE Associates, LLC, “I’ve always been a person who embraces change. I knew if PSE was going to stay the same as it always was, our growth would be inhibited.” In order to avoid any form of stagnation, Aiello decided his best approach was to invest in the agency, “especially given the political and economic landscape.”

One of the first things the rep did as he thought about how his agency had to change was to consider succession and how his agency was going to continue after he was no longer involved. “PSE needed a succession plan and who better to leave my company to than my children, with the eventual goal of bringing all four of them into the business,” he says. “The opportunity to involve my daughter and daughter-in-law emerged when they both had their first children and no longer wanted to work in their respective careers in corporate America. I offered them both a position with PSE as partners and was thrilled they both accepted. Adding them both to the firm was the catalyst behind the change that followed.”

Now a trip to the firm’s web page ( will acquaint visitors with Aiello’s daughter Marilyn Rowland, account manager and marketing strategist, and daughter-in-law Lindsay Aiello, account manager and open order administrator.

© Neverhood |

The Need for Business Change

Aiello continues that “New ideas and new people opened up my world of thinking. Ultimately I realized that I had been set in my ways for too many years, because up until this point, it was me running PSE on my own. I came to realize that every business needs to change with the times, and sometimes ahead of the times, in order to grow.

“I had been feeling for some time that PSE needed to be reinvented, but I wasn’t sure exactly how to do it until I brought on Marilyn and Lindsay. Their experience and technological aptitude were eye opening. Thus began PSE’s journey into a brand-new website, Internet marketing and prospecting using new techniques.”

Aiello points to generational differences he experienced on his way to affecting change in his agency. “My generation used information in a very different manner than people today. For instance, if I needed to know something, my first inclination is find a book or periodical. My children’s generation uses Google, Blackberries, Wikipedia, or whatever online means in order to get information and they get that information fast. I knew I had to adapt in order to bridge the gap between my generation and the generation I was facing with many of my principals and customers. This really served as the springboard for our campaign to bring PSE into the 21st century.”

And, here’s some of what Aiello and PSE did to embrace change.

“The major and most obvious change was the addition of two account managers to handle the commercial communications allowing me to focus more on sales and obtaining new lines. Our goal in adding the account managers was to provide our customers quicker answers and for them to build a strong relationship as their assigned account manager.”

Aiello notes, “My daughter Marilyn and daughter-in-law, Lindsay, now fill those roles. Marilyn also has the task of conducting the Internet marketing and website design. Both women are now minor partners in the corporation and thus they have a vested interest in its success. Besides, who are better to help me move into the 21st century than my own children?”

Line expansion was also high on the agency’s list of things to do. According to Aiello, “We remain active looking to add new lines that are less technical so the account managers can sell them over the phone with little technical involvement from me. I’ve also charged the account managers with looking for lines that they feel would be of interest to them and would result in diversification for our line card.” He adds that PSE also is seeking to diversify into new markets with long-term growth potential. Visitors to the agency’s website will see markets currently served as: automotive, firearms, locks, medical/surgical, lottery/gaming, computer peripherals, machine tools and packaging machinery.

Processing Business

Change also is present in how PSE processes its business. Aiello explains that “I’ve always used ACT to handle the customer contact information history and tasks. I’ve divided the territory geographically and assigned the customers to each account manager. They will be recording their day-to-day activity in ACT and synchronizing with the main database in my office. I’ve also gotten each manager a Blackberry to assist in their communications with me and the customers.”

Change is never automatic and rarely easy. When asked whether resistance occurred to changes at PSE, Aiello says: “No, the customers I polled were eager to work with the account managers provided I maintained knowledge of the overall situation at the accounts. I have maintained an open mind so that the suggestions I receive from the account managers can be studied and if applicable implemented. This experience is giving me a new perspective on my business and opening up new approaches to growing the business. Besides, it’s been a lot for fun.”

He continues: “I grew up working in a family business. That experience taught me that separation between family and business was paramount to the success of bringing my children into my business. At the onset of the partnership, I was very clear in defining the roles, responsibilities and the fact that business would never be discussed at family functions. I made sure both knew that I would treat them as I would any employee, and that communication between all of us was open, frank and most of all candid. I also wanted ‘fun’ to be in our vocabulary; after all, we are a family. If anything I wish I had made the changes I did sooner. But everything has a time and place, and this all came together at the right time.”

© Goce Risteski |

Loyalty Between Reps and Principals

If that’s a view of change from the East Coast, another appreciation for embracing change comes from the middle of the country in the form of the experiences of Dan Sedlock, president/CEO, Sedlock Companies Inc.,Wales, Wisconsin.

At the outset Sedlock refers to changes in the concept of what was once considered loyalty — loyalty of the principal to the rep and vice versa. According to the rep, “From the very beginning, more than 30 years ago, our business philosophy was to assume your business relationship with your principal would last forever. Today, relationships come and go, sometimes for no reason. As one 25-year principal explained to me when he terminated our agreement: ‘It’s business.’ I point to that day as the day my focus on change began to change! Long- term mutual relationships are shrinking. Sure, they are still around (just like marriage), but there are fewer of them!

“My point is that when I started my agency, I began with what I’d call a blue-collar business philosophy. By that I mean you begin your business, work hard, develop relationships and stay at it for the rest of your working life. Over three decades I’ve learned the hard way that that’s not the way it is. Consider that quarter-of-a-century relationship I had with that principal. I had a superior one-to-one relationship with him over the years. The relationship was so good that I actually had some words in my will directing my children to contact him for guidance. I did that because I respected him so much. But, what happened? He hired a new general manager and three weeks later I was gone. If nothing else that awakened me to the fact that what happened was partially my fault. What I failed to realize was that no matter how good a job I had done, I could be gone tomorrow. If the rep isn’t aware of that fact, he’s unprepared to be in business today. Now I’m prepared for it.

“Don’t be naïve. Be prepared for change and be prepared for the future. Be aware of and thoroughly know your competition. At the same time, know your strengths and weaknesses. Do all that and you’ll be prepared to move yourself forward.

“In today’s business world change is a constant; the successful business person will be one step ahead and well prepared for the unpredictable. That preparation includes knowing the competition of your principal extremely well, attending national and international trade shows, contacting and entering your companies name with U.S. consulates for many foreign countries, etc.”

Sedlock continues that he’s expanded his principal base into international companies, building sound business relationships. “Since this change in strategy, I have noticed a higher degree of respect from our U.S. principals and our customers. This international philosophy also has helped us enter the field of buy/sell distribution with a key European manufacturer of material used in our industry.”

Sedlock points to a time several years when he attended the Hannover Fair in Germany with MANA. “Since that initial trip, I’ve been back three or four times. In addition, I’ve attended other trade shows and built up a great number of contacts in Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom. I’ve signed two excellent principals and been very aggressive and proactive with my international business ventures.”

The Changing Employee

In addition to the concept of loyalty and his proactive steps to expand his business, Sedlock points to one other important area of change that he and his agency have faced — the change in the face of the employee.

If anything, he maintains, that “Employee change and employee loyalty have been my biggest disappointments. I believe we have done a very good job at employee training, assignments and compensation with our people. However, many of the younger sales people want immediate success and many have personal issues. As one very good employee stated to me upon his two-week notification to me: ‘I want everything you have; only I do not want to wait 20 years to get it.’ I also made it very clear to key employees that the company will be passed on through a succession plan in the near-term future. What I see is that jumping jobs and even taking breaks between jobs are common in today’s younger work force. The challenge of working with and developing employees with that type of job mentality will be a tremendous challenge.”

The focus stays on an evolving work force as John Riley, CPMR, considers the subject of change. Riley, Intercoast Sales Agency, Inc., Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, advises that when it comes to working with a work force possessing different views and practices than his age group, the best thing to do is to pay attention, listen to them, observe them and learn from them.

“When working with younger people who conduct business very differently than I do, the best thing to do is turn any frustration you may have into fascination,” he advises. “Look at the world through their eyes, delegate as much work as you can to them and sit back and watch. Make every effort to understand their point of view and work with them.”

As an example of something he’s run into while traveling between sales calls with a younger female employee, Riley relates the time when she took over the car radio for a steady stream of rock and hip hop. “The concept of traveling without music in the car was foreign to her. Finally, after a period of time we got to talking about taste in music and she admitted to me that what we were listening to wasn’t really her favorite. We settled on something else that we both liked and had a good trip. This was an example of being able to turn what might be perceived as a negative into a positive.”

It’s the same with subjects more closely related to business. “Consider the use of three-ring binders, for instance,” he says. “When it comes to product information and specs, the younger pups are quick to jump on the web, while those of us who are older still pull the three-ring binder off the shelf. I’m finding that by watching us, the younger people are realizing the value and ease of using the three-ring binder and they’re learning that what’s important isn’t where you get the information, but how you process it.”

Leaving the subject of generational changes for a moment, Riley continues that the best and only way to deal with change is to completely embrace it. “That’s the way I conduct my business. Once I settle on that strategy, I find that things run better all the way around. Sure, on the one hand with the various advances we’ve made with technology you may lose some of the personal touch we’ve enjoyed over the years; but on the other hand, we’re able to communicate better and faster than ever before. At the same time, I find that I’m still smiling and dialing and making more calls than ever before.”

So while there might be a temptation to dismiss many of the clichés surrounding the inevitability of change, it would appear that at least in the view of the reps interviewed for this article that there is some wisdom there. By embracing change and extracting as much as they can from the change process, each and every one of them has arrived at a better and more profitable place than they occupied previously.

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Agency Sales Article Featuring PSE Associates: January 2011