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Internet, Convergence Gets PARA’s Attention

E-commerce, converging technologies, and sales training will top the list of issues coming under scrutiny during the 20th annual management conference sponsored by the Professional AudioVideo Retailers Association (PARA).

About 500 manufacturers, retailers and reps are expected to attend the conference, planned for April 17-22 in Marco Island, Fla.

The event’s themes will depart from those of the association’s two previous conferences, which executive director Debra Smith described as taking a “double-your-profit strategic-planning approach focusing on internal implementation strategies.”

This year’s event will focus on technology and training (TNT, as PARA calls it), with the event’s first full day focusing on the merging, converging technologies that specialty dealers might choose to sell as well on how Internet e-commerce technology will affect the specialty dealer segment.

“We have a lineup of people talking about different e-business models, reviewing different [web] sites, and discussing how specialty dealers can participate in an e-commerce platform while preserving the exclusivity of their brands and dealer territories,” Smith said.

During the day, PARA will outline an Internet marketing program that it is developing, she added.

Said PARA in its show brochure, “We think the most immediate threat to the PARA network is to do nothing and risk being repositioned by cyber merchants in the same way mass merchants commoditized our products over the past decade.”

First-day presenters will include Internet consultant Ted Fujimoto, president of Landmark Consulting, and experts in the cable, satellite, broadcast and content businesses on such emerging technologies as datacasting into the home, high-definition satellite programming, and ADSL.

PARA will also release the results of its first dealer survey, which will include data on dealers’ favorite products and programs, promotions that work, brand mix, and display and marketing issues, Smith said.

On day two, the conference will focus on training issues, and PARA will outline plans for a training program that will be launched in July in conjunction with CEMA for manufacturers, retailers and reps.

A retail version will train store owners to deliver training to salespeople on how they can add value to a purchase and managing the relationship with consumers.

The Counselor Selling program is similar to CEMA’s Training the Trainer program, but that program is targeted only to manufacturers and reps, Smith said. The CEMA program is intended to change salespeople’s focus from product features to asking questions to uncover, develop and understand customer needs.

Day two’s keynote speaker will be Neil Rackham, sales consultant and author, who will outline how salespeople must redirect their energies to add value to a transaction, not just communicate the value of a product. Rackham will explain that in an era when products and services are being commoditized at an alarming rate, value is migrating from the product itself to how it is acquired.

The third day’s marketing theme will include a keynote address by Charlotte Beers, CEO emeritus of Oglivy and Mather, on how independent retailers can maintain a strong brand identity even with the fracturing of conventional advertising media.

Also on the third day, marketing consultant and author Don Peppers will lead a workshop on building long-term relationships with individuals by evaluating what different customers are worth to a business and customizing products, services and messages to speak to the concerns of each customer.

Day four will feature panels of dealers discussing successful strategies.