Above: Laura Blackmer, three-time Frank Award Winner for "Best Female Executive" (2015, 2016 and 2017) and 2014 Women Influencer cover subject. Photograph shot for The Cannata Report's 2014 Women Influencer Issue.
Konica Minolta’s new senior VP channel sales updates us on her first three months with her new company.
When we finally caught up with Laura Blackmer to find out how things are going in her new position as senior vice president channel sales, with Konica Minolta Business Solutions U.S.A., on March 12, we initially felt that it might be premature since she’d only been there since December 15, 2017. We should have known better. Laura had a lot to share about what she’s been doing since joining Konica Minolta, how the transition to a new company has gone, and what’s on her agenda going forward.
How are you?
Blackmer: I’m good. I can’t believe I’ve only been here three months, it seems like five years.
What have you been up to?
Blackmer: Plenty of travel. It’s funny, I’ve never been able to figure out this whole travel thing, I end up in Minnesota in December, January and February, and Florida in April, May, and June.
I saw three dealers within the first week, then the holiday break, and in January and February, I’ve been out every week visiting at least one to three dealers. Some of it has been going to see dealers that obviously I know because they have a dual relationship [with Konica Minolta and Sharp], but a lot of it has been meeting brand new people, particularly in the Midwest. Konica Minolta has a strong set of dealers in the Midwest, so I spent a lot of time there. I’m heading out there this week to see Loffler.
Overall, then it’s going well?
Blackmer: It’s just getting out there, meeting with them, talking with them, seeing what’s what. Rick asked me to take a good look at the programs and the pricing we’re bringing to market and ask a lot of questions around that. It’s not that different from what I did at Sharp, which was get out there, get in front of the dealers, ask questions, spend time with their sales teams, and then come back and figure out do we have the right programs, products, and messages we can take back to them.
You don’t mind all that travel?
Blackmer: The travel thing is interesting. It’s completely self-managed. I impose that on myself. It’s similar to when I started at Sharp and during periods when you need to find out what’s going on out there. It’s one thing to talk on the phone, it’s another to visit the offices, meet customers, meet salespeople. It’s high right now but I expected that and expect it will stay high at least until summer. There’s a lot of dealers I don’t know, and I absolutely need to get to know them, spend time with them, and [understand] what’s going on with them. You can’t do it from an office. I’ve never known that to be successful.
Does your reputation precede you when you meet dealers who you don’t know?
Blackmer: I don’t really know, my guess it’s very much a watch and see attitude, which is appropriate by the way.
To some degree there’s always a bit of healthy skepticism. They see it as okay, she did that at Sharp, can she do it here, or she did that for that dealer, but can she do it for me. That’s very healthy. The dealers don’t want to all be managed the same way.
What I love and reinforces why I love this industry so much. [Dealers] are absolutely ready and willing to share. “Let me tell you what my business is about, how I started it, what’s important to me, what I want to do with it.” That’s what makes it fun. My problem is I always stay much longer than I’m supposed to be [there] and I’m always late for my next appointment. But I’m fascinated by the stories and the things they’re working on, and the directions they’re trying to go in.
Was it much of a culture shock moving from Sharp to Konica Minolta?
Blackmer: Yes and no. What I love about the industry—and I found it here at Konica Minolta and at Sharp—is that the people in it are very passionate about it. First of all, Konica Minolta is a bigger company. Sharp was very self contained and I felt I knew everybody. Coming here and starting fresh, I still meet people all the time, and it’s “I haven’t seen you yet, how could that be?”
The culture isn’t that dramatically different. There’s different personalities for sure. But I love the people at Sharp, you know that, and I felt very comfortable there.
What do you like so far about working at Konica Minolta?
Blackmer: I love the focus around the All Covered and Managed IT Services. That’s an area that once I get up to speed on it, I can add some value, sort of bringing back my old HP days. I really like the people here. I’m enjoying getting to know Rick. Sam Errigo is brilliant. I love Kevin Kern. They really know this business. I have a great new staff and it’s been fun getting to know them. They’ve been welcoming, and everybody seems willing to share their ideas and what’s going on with me. It’s been very positive.
What’s been the biggest challenge so far?
Blackmer: Trying to figure out what we want to do. I call them “all hands calls,” where I ask all the channel people to come on a call and talk about what’s going on. It’s very informal. I wanted to make sure they got a sense of who I was. I’d already had an introduction, but this was more here’s how I operate and this is what I like to talk about.
I had a slide that the product team had given me with nine columns and each of those columns was a product offering. Color MFP, black & white MFP, printers, production, industrial, labels, Managed IT Services, solutions, Managed Voice…
I’m looking at this and I was in the middle of the call and I said, I’m going to stop for a minute because how many of you have ever seen this slide? Some had, and I said do you recognize the breadth of products and solutions we have to bring to the channel? This is daunting.
My biggest challenge is going to be figuring out—and it’s our biggest competitive advantage—how do we bring this to the channel in a meaningful way so that people can figure out how to apply it to their business. That is the biggest thing I need to figure out over the next two months. I’m starting to get my arms around it and trying to pare it down because dealers look at that and say that’s a lot of stuff, and I’m just going to go back and do what I do. I want them to say, I’m going to take this piece of it, and I’m going to take this piece of it, and I’m going to go all in and be super successful before I consider anything else.
I’ve got to make sure my team knows how to do that, the solutions team know how to do that, and I need to make sure the dealers feel comfortable with it.
In addition to everything else, [I need to close the year], as I said, Rick has asked me to take a strong look at our programs and pricing model, trying to help develop and drive some good promotions. In addition to those, more day in and day out things, more strategically how do we bring this to market with this channel in a way that makes sense and makes everybody money? That’s going to keep me busy.
I was going to ask what’s on your agenda for the next few months, but it seems like you’ve got plenty based on your previous responses, did you leave anything out?
Blackmer: There’s one more. I don’t even need to minimize it and it’s the biggest thing I need to work on—people. I have a great team, but have we asked them to do the right thing, are we training them to do the right things, and are we motivating them? At the end of the day, it’s a big umbrella because without doing that anything else I do falls flat.
In case anyone asks, can I tell them that you’re alive and well and enjoying your new job?
Blackmer: That pretty much sums it up. I am and I’m very happy to be here.
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