International Newsmaker Q&A Matthew Brown

Oct. 19, 2017
Matthew Brown of Lawson Products and its Kent Automotive division provides a detailed account of the Lawson/Kent internal training programs.

An extensive in-house educational program at Lawson Products and its Kent Automotive division has long been an overriding priority for developing and delivering a wide array of training offerings to its international customer base.

Matthew Brown, senior vice president of sales, brings more than 30 years of experience to his role. He joined Lawson in 2001 as regional sales director for Kent Automotive, and served as senior sales director for both the Lawson and Kent entities. Prior to being promoted to his most recent role, Brown was vice president of field services.

In his current position, Brown is responsible for leading the entire North American sales organization, including strategic and government accounts for Lawson and Kent.

Prior to joining the company, he was a district sales manager at the Unitog Co. (now Cintas), beginning his career as a sales representative for State Chemical.

Responding to questions posed by Aftermarket Business World, Brown recently provided a detailed account of the Lawson/Kent internal training programs.

Q: What is your philosophy regarding the benefits of training? How does it help the company?

A: Customers value our team’s technical knowledge; it’s part of our value proposition so we have to deliver it to our team so they can deliver it for our customers. Customers also look to us to keep them informed and prepared for industry changes and evolving technology; educating customers and preparing them for the evolution of aluminum repair is an example of this.

Our training helps our sales people to feel confident and recognized as experts in the industry; Creating and sustaining effective training/knowledge sharing and communication with salespeople require a solid framework and processes – one that allows for consistent and frequent two-way communication, collaboration, knowledge transfer and problem solving via a variety of vehicles

Q: Do you have independent sales representatives? Are they paid during training?

A: In 2013, Kent Automotive transitioned the U.S. sales force from an independent sales agent model to company employees. Our sales reps are paid during training.

Q: What are the qualities and qualifications that you look for in a sales representative recruit?

A: In an effort to grow sales by developing underserved territories, we have been adding sales reps every year since 2013. The steps we have taken, and continue to take, to strengthen our employer brand and the candidate experience have proven to be key to the success we continue to have in attracting and retaining top sales rep talent. We look for candidates who are self-motivated and customer-focused; we seek sales reps with technical aptitude, a drive to succeed, perseverance and initiative.

Q: What types of training do you provide for your distribution center personnel?

A: Our distribution center employees receive on-the-job training in many areas, including safety; using Radio Frequency (RF) scanners, reading, picking and packing orders; and kitting, wherein distribution center employees build custom assortments and kits-of-multiples bags of finished goods for Vendor Managed Inventory.

Six Sigma is another learning opportunity. Lean Six Sigma methodology and tools provide a solid foundation for creating a continuous improvement culture. When employees see that what they do makes a difference, their pride grows and their level of responsibility, accountability and sense of ownership grows.

Kent is dedicated to the 5S + Safety approach to staying organized. A neat and orderly workplace, one where every employee has the tools needed to get his or her job done such as printers, labels, RF guns and scanners, is paramount to an efficient operation.

The company has built production areas and communication boards in each of its work areas. Each team (receiving, packaging, putaway and picking) meets twice daily at their boards to:

  • Review the work for the day, work progress, and new work in queue
  • Discuss any obstacles to getting the job done (e.g., staffing, equipment, IT, supplies)
  • Review individual and team production

The boards also contain functional Standard Work Instructions (SWI) for every process to be carried out by that function. The SWI are mostly in pictorial and screenshot format, which helps users easily understand processes.

Q: What are the desired qualities and qualifications when hiring distribution center staff?

A: It varies by role; previous warehouse experience is preferred.

Q: What does your sales training program entail?

A: Kent Automotive’s training program is a powerful combination of traditional in-classroom/face-to-face training (e.g., four-day new hire orientation, North American national sales meeting cross-region and product training) and 24/7 knowledge sharing on Microsoft Teams’ mobile phone app for instant responses to questions from peers across North America.

  • Six Sigma – Providing members of the remote and mobile sales team the same opportunities that employees at headquarters or the warehouse have makes a world of difference when it comes to communication and engagement.

Lean Six Sigma is a key contributor to improving the customer experience, increasing revenue and reducing costs at Lawson Products/Kent Automotive. Our sales representatives have served and continue to serve on Lean Six Sigma teams.

One example is of a Six Sigma team that set out to gain a stronger understanding of what attracts sales representatives to the industry and what they need to be. This Six Sigma team, consisting of a cross-functional group of employees representing human resources and field sales, reduced recruiting cycle time by 56 percent by improving the company’s social media presence, simplifying the job application and better defining the sales position.

  • New hire orientation – sales reps travel to headquarters for four days of training, networking and more (hear from leadership, learn about benefits, teambuilding operations, tour of McCook Distribution Center, hands-on product training and demonstrations, etc.) As part of the interview process, potential sales reps spend a day riding with an existing rep or district sales manager to better understand the role.
  • On-going in-field training with local district sales manager – customized to that sales representative’s territory/customer needs.
  • Sales Rep ride-alongs – senior management team members and sales representatives talk about what’s working well and what could still be improved in sales, service and customer outreach. Sharing their expertise and perspective, the sales representatives feel heard and valued. Senior management provides as appropriate coaching. Ride-along learnings are brought back and shared with the rest of leadership/management so they can make better, more informed decisions.
  • North American national sales meeting – every two years; cross-region, product training, mini trade show (functions, products, programs, suppliers).
  • Annual sales management team meeting – cross-region and product training plus management topics such as recruiting and performance management
  • District workshops – As needed; districts gather to review and get training on new products, new sales tools, etc.
  • Quarterly town hall conference calls – state of business, sales review, plus live Q&A.
  • Webinars – products, promotions, etc.
  • 24/7 knowledge sharing and problem solving on Microsoft Teams mobile app – enables employees to participate in online conversations using their mobile devices, something the sales team requested. Teams are helping the sales team feel more connected, get responses to product, application and selling questions quicker, and ultimately enable them to meet even more customer needs with real-time access to their 1,000 peers as well as subject matter experts in corporate. Topics of conversation include product applications, successful selling strategies, time saving strategies and customer service best practices.
  • Video – product demonstrations
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About the Author

James Guyette

James E. Guyette is a long-time contributing editor to Aftermarket Business World, ABRN and Motor Age magazines.

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