More Than Just a Job

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What makes being a rep more than just a job?
Why do so many reps become professionally and emotionally attached to our industry?

Charles and Harold Cohon

Charles and Harold Cohon

I’ve been MANA’s CEO for five years and was a rep for three decades before that, but it’s only recent events that have led me to reflect deeply on questions like those.

Part of the answer is just pragmatic. Becoming a rep gives a budding entrepreneur a way to start a company with just business savvy, a robust work ethic, and enough savings to live off of while their company gets on its feet. And there is justifiable pride earned from relationships with long-term principals and customers.

But the strongest emotional attachments to our industry are probably because rep companies tend to be family businesses. Sometimes rep companies are fathers and mothers and sons and daughters, and sometimes they are just people who have become like family working together in a small business.

The trigger for my deep reflections on the powerful emotional attachment reps have to our industry was my father Harold Cohon’s recent passing.

In the days that followed, one of the memories that kept coming back over and over again was the first time Dad took me to make out-of-town sales calls.

We arrived in Rockford, Illinois, pulled into a gas station, and as I refilled the tank Dad announced, “You’d better figure out how to get to the customer.”

Dad was in the car, and he knew the directions to the customer’s office, but he also knew that the next time I went out on calls he wouldn’t be in the car. It was time to be sure that I wouldn’t be too bashful to ask for directions. The attendant pointed me in the right direction and also sold me a Rockford street guide that I carried in my car for many years.

In the car that day Dad knew that I needed to learn how to make sales calls on my own, but on my first out-of-town sales trip he gave me the gift of being my safety net. And then, over time, he gave me the even greater gift of guiding me to learn to work without a net.

Asking the Right Questions?

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How to plan ahead so you can ask the right questions of customers and principals.

Alice asked the Cat, “Which way ought I to go from here?” The Cheshire Cat responded that “…depends a good deal on where you want to get to.” Alice immediately understood questions were not always the right questions. Questions mark and illuminate the terrain we can’t yet see. They guide us along the turns and rocky inclines to the journey’s end. Asking questions exposes and reveals. However, the questions aren’t necessarily obvious; nor the answers quickly given or true.

Questioning is the prequel to selling. … Read the rest

The Right and Wrong Way to Ask Questions

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Questions aren’t important only on the television show Jeopardy. An independent manufacturers’ representative’s ability to pose pertinent questions of their customers and principals spells the difference between success and failure.

Being able to ask the right questions is easier said than done, however, according to two experts in the craft of eliciting information from customers, principals
and clients.

While Maud Purcell and Eddy Mindlin make their livings asking questions and getting answers from others, they effectively practice their crafts from different vantage points.

Purcell, MSW, LCSW, CEAP, is a psychotherapist, and the founder and executive director of The Life Solution … Read the rest

MANA Manufacturer Seminar Pinpoints Attendees’ Needs

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There’s hardly a stereotype of the manufacturer who attends MANA’s Manufacturer Seminar, according to Hank Bergson.

As he and Kris Hefley approach their time as presenters of the seminar for the seventh time, Bergson notes, “We’ve got any number of types of manufacturers who are looking to work efficiently with independent manufacturers’ representatives:

  • “There are those who are brand new to working with an outsourced sales force and maybe couldn’t even spell ‘rep’ before they attended.
  • “There are some who are contemplating changes in their rep network make-up and how they go to market. They’re looking for what’s the best
  • Read the rest

Thinking and Questioning Your Way to Sales Success

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For a sales professional, there are two basic sets of questions with which a dedicated salesperson should gain competence:

  • Questions to ask prospects and customers.
  • Questions to ask yourself.

Questions we ask ourselves are just as important, if not more so, than those we ask our prospects and customers. The reason goes back to the ultimate power of a question — it directs our thinking. Just as a good question directs the customer’s thinking, so, too, does a good question direct our own thinking. And thinking well is the ultimate success skill for a professional salesperson.

Some years ago I … Read the rest

What Does Your Customer Really Value?

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Sell to the customer’s value expectations, not to your value propositions.

We’ve all heard the rule of listening to what the customer has to say, and there’s not a salesperson who thinks they don’t listen to the customer. Reality, however, is quite the opposite.

I find time after time when I’m working with salespeople across any number of industries that the failure to listen is a huge issue.

Too many salespeople believe that because they know the products they represent much better than the client, they know exactly what the customer will see as real value. It’s as if because … Read the rest

When Customers Ignore You

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Business building tips that cost nothing.

Remember the days when people noticed good customer service, talked about it, and most important — rewarded you for it? Happy customers would return and spread the word. In today’s fast-paced world, however, people are so rushed moving to the next thing, or so distracted by their mobile devices, that good customer service is overlooked. Fortunately, as I share in my seminars, there are several easy things you can do that will enhance your service and boost your business which your customers will actually notice. Best of all, they cost you nothing. Here are … Read the rest

Want to Be a Salesperson Customers Trust?

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Most customers would like to believe salespeople, but they’ve been burned so often they don’t let themselves do it. That’s why salespeople make the mistake of trying to overcome distrust by “playing the part,” offering phony friendliness, or making exaggerated claims. All of that only further complicates their predicament.

Happily, there are salespeople who refuse to be tainted with the questionable practices of their less-than-reliable peers. They know the value of being viewed as trustworthy. Here are several ways to go about creating credibility and establishing trust:

  • Never let customers’ doubts taint you.

It’s a fact: customer distrust creates a … Read the rest

Why Customer Satisfaction Surveys Backfire

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Do you really think customers want to fill out a customer satisfaction survey? How many times have you riffled through a survey just to get the freebie that comes with it? Well, guess what? Most people are probably doing the same thing and all the information they thought was so important is now — invalid. A complete waste of time and money.

In the United States every organization is following-the-leader with customer satisfaction surveys. The latest fad is to initiate surveys with your customers with every transaction 100 percent of the time. Very few customers fill out the survey and … Read the rest

So You Are Going to Use Reps? Now What?

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Regardless of industry, the majority of companies who are not currently using manufacturers’ representatives to sell their products do not know where to start. It is very easy to say, “Let’s go the rep route,” but then what do you do to find and begin working with reps?

Finding Reps for Your Company

Finding the reps is a big challenge in most industries because although many independent manufacturers’ representatives may be listed in the MANA database, who are the best for you? This is a highly personal discussion.

Positioning Your Line Within the Rep Firm’s Lines

How does your line … Read the rest

Being Willing to Learn From Others

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“It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that you know it all when it comes to dealing with your independent manufacturers’ representatives.” That’s how one manufacturer began a conversation that focused on the benefit of networking with other non‑competitive manufacturers — especially as it involves relations with agents.

According to the manufacturer, “I don’t think I’m alone when I say we’ve always done our due diligence when it comes to choosing reps. As a result, we’ve been lucky in building our network of true professional outsourced reps. I’d like to say that I’m well-versed in choosing our reps, … Read the rest

Taking a Rep Firm’s Business Paperless

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Digital. Paperless. Mobile office. What were once buzzwords 5-10 years ago have now become standards across the globe as independent manufacturers’ representative firms — among others — move toward a cloud-based file system, granting employees access to information from anywhere, creating efficient electronic document workflows and safeguarding important documents forever.

An initial question that comes to mind for agencies is, “Why should we invest in going paperless?” Great question, and when you consider some of the statistics, it’s clear that the question instead should be, “Why aren’t we a paperless agency?” Keep in mind that a typical independent manufacturers’ representative … Read the rest

Non-Disclosure Agreements, the Uniform Trade Secret Act, and the Newly Enacted Defend Trade Secret Act of 2016

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In the business world non-disclosure agreements are used to ensure the protection of valuable information that is not readily known to the public. These Non-Disclosure Agreements can have different names, such as confidentiality agreement, secrecy agreement, proprietary information agreement or other names. The agreements are essentially an enforceable contract to protect information from being shared or used for an unintended illegitimate purpose.

Perhaps this is not as widely known, but regardless of whether there is a signed Non-Disclosure Agreement, the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (UTSA) prohibits a person from wrongfully disseminating trade secret information. In other words, even if a … Read the rest

When the Market Plays Chutes and Ladders

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One of the most frequent questions I’m asked in the course of my business is, “Why does the market behave the way it does?”

There is an old saying on Wall Street that the market climbs up the stairs but comes down on the elevator.

That’s really a true picture. I have found in more than 28 years as an investment advisor that the market, in its same old boorish way, slowly and steadily grinds up until…BAM! Five percent down in a couple of days or 10 percent down in a week. It happens. Maybe you’ve experienced this phenomenon yourself … Read the rest

Is Wall Street’s Rollercoaster Making You Investment‑Queasy?

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When regular Americans play the investment game with the markets on Wall Street, we know we’re at some level of risk. The stock market is a zero sum game, meaning someone has to lose for others to win.

Even when we make what seem to be relatively safe investments, the crashes of 2001 and 2008 taught us that we’re not bulletproof. You can also say that 2008 taught Wall Street’s banks and brokers a lesson — they’re “too big to fail,” so they’ll get immediate government assistance. Now they’re even bigger.

By that logic, the little guy is “too small … Read the rest