Tips & Tactics

Learning what he didn’t know….

Following one of MANA’s fall seminars, a rep approached us with his relatively novel approach to get better prepared to deal with future business demands. According to the rep, who sells products needed for contract manufacturing, factory automation and medical devices, he devoted time and money to taking a weeklong seminar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). “Normally this wouldn’t have much interest or application for me, but I thought I’d give it a try to see what was there.”

The seminar was devoted to the future of manufacturing in this country, and the rep admitted that in his view, he’s already achieved a payback for his investment. “I’ve been able to reference the information I received in my relations with principals and customers. I think this has positioned me well as a solution provider for the markets I serve and the people I work with. My message to other reps would be to not be afraid to expose yourself to subjects far afield from what you normally work with. You never know what will pay off for you.”

Finally, success with a rep council….

One rep described how he had to endure four — not the typical three — strikes before he was able to successfully get on base with his principal. Here’s how he described his travail and eventual success on the subject of rep councils. “We had experience with four different principals who asked us to serve on their rep councils. To say it was frustrating is an understatement. From the beginning, they did their best to create an adversarial environment — they let us know that all they expected from us were complaints, and we’d probably all be better served if we just went back to our territories and sold products. I don’t know why they even went through the motions. We quickly lost interest and gave up.”

Finally with the fifth manufacturer, however, he admits they hit pay dirt. “When this manufacturer asked us to serve on their rep council, we reluctantly agreed. Their effort worked. They wouldn’t allow any animosity to exist. They created an environment where they let us know they valued our opinions and they promised — and delivered on the promise — to take action on the matters that were brought up during the council meetings.”

He added that because the council worked so well, a certain amount of prestige has become associated with being asked to serve. “Other reps are lining up to take the place of those that rotate off.”

Value in face-to-face meetings….

A meeting of the minds between manufacturer and rep was described recently. The subject of field visits by manufacturers and factory visits by the rep elicited the following input by first a rep and then by a manufacturer that works closely with him.

Rep — “Just like other reps, we don’t want to be distracted with regular field visits by our principals. What galls us the most is when we can tell there’s no real reason for the visit other than the sales manager wants to get out of the office. What we’ve been able to communicate to most of our principals, however, is that if they have a solid reason for coming to see us, we welcome them with open arms. We do that first of all to further cement our relationships with them, but also we’d rather have them come see us than to have us leave our territory for a couple of days to visit them in person.”

Principal — “This rep in particular has done a good job to establish the ground rules for our visits to the field. In addition, whenever we’ve identified a need that we can only meet by visiting them in their territory, they are more than accommodating. As proof that we’re all working on the same page, when we request that he make an annual visit to the factory to meet with us, he’s just as accommodating. We’ve found that these visits are great because they allow us all the time we need for new product and sales training programs. Just as important are the face-to-face networking benefits of the visits. When the rep meets our new personnel or renews acquaintances with someone they mostly deal with over the phone, they realize benefits that are paid off for months in the future.”

Just ask, see what happens….

When the subjects of product liability insurance and shared territorial development costs were raised at a MANA seminar, the response from a couple of manufacturers was interesting and hinted at a lack of proactiveness among reps.

On the first subject — product liability insurance — a number of the reps in attendance were bemoaning the cost of coverage. In response, one manufacturer offered, “Why wouldn’t a manufacturer list you on his policy? I do it all the time when I’m asked, but the problem is that not many reps ask me to do it. It costs me nothing or next to nothing. I can’t imagine why all reps aren’t more aggressive.”

When it came to the subject of receiving retainers from principals, one rep started the conversation by stating, “I’ll never ask for a retainer. I make a determination at the beginning of the relationship that if a principal is worth taking on, I’ll take him on because he’s worthwhile.”

Another rep countered, however, by describing how he’s frequently contacted by manufacturers new to the territory with no existing business in it. “There’s a lot of work I’ve got to do to get that manufacturer established before I can even hope to get an order. In order to keep me and my sales force interested, there’s got to be some sort of an incentive. I get that in the form of retainers. I’m not talking about big bucks here, just something to let me know that the manufacturer is serious about his commitment to the territory and to working with reps. I’ve communicated this to many of the manufacturers that contact me, and all but one have been agreeable.”

Doing more than just selling products….

A rep who was justifiably proud of the relationships he’s built and sustained with his principals described some of the benefits he’s enjoyed by having open communication with several of his long-standing manufacturers. “One thing we’ve worked overtime to convince our manufacturers of is the depth of our process knowledge. In other words, we don’t just sell products. We’ve learned the various processes of our customers and we know where our principal’s equipment can fit into the process. So instead of just selling equipment, which I would maintain the direct salesman does, we concentrate on specific markets, build a product portfolio that allows us to know how each product we represent fits into the process, then we’re there to meet the customers’ needs. But more important, we communicate this ability to our principals. It won’t do us any good to exercise this talent unless we let the principal know we do it. We communicate that ability well and are rewarded accordingly.”

He continued that there’s something else he works on with his principals. “We work to gain an understanding of the principal’s big picture. We know that the manufacturer wants to penetrate as many markets and customers as possible within a given territory. Too often reps can possess a frustration that the principal’s efforts aren’t directed at what the rep wants to accomplish in his own territory. We try to temper our frustration and work with the principal on accomplishing his larger goals. But, once again, it doesn’t do any good to do this unless we communicate with the principal. That’s what we do, and we’ve found the principal to be receptive to our efforts.”

The importance of reps standing firm….

“A rep’s worst enemy is another bad rep.” That’s how one rep at the MANA/NEMRA Keystone conference urged his fellow reps to stand firm in the face of business challenges. He continued, “The rep who doesn’t stand up for his contract is the one who hurts all of us. If one of us bends, we’re all hurt. If we all sing the same tune, meaning that we let our principals and our customers know that we’re all in business to make a profit and we’re all professionals, then people will listen to us. That’s why subjects such as shared territory development cost and LOP-LOP clauses in contracts are so important. Unfortunately, the reps who have to hear this message are not here. That’s why meetings such as this are so important to our professional improvement.”

End of article