Tips & Tactics

Plotting a course through voice mail….

While the majority of reps we speak with count voice mail as one of the major challenges to overcome when it comes to contacting prospects and customers, one rep can count some hard-won victories in this constant battle. “I’ve got the same complaints everyone else does,” he explains. “With some customers it’s next to impossible to get in touch with the main decision-maker. One tactic I employ that’s resulted in allowing me to get by the phone ‘gatekeeper’ is to carefully schedule my phone calls. I find that if I call at 7:55 a.m., 11:55 a.m. and 5:10-5:30 p.m., I have a pretty good track record of getting the real ‘live’ voice of my contact. Before they begin working in the morning, leave for lunch, or after their office is closed for the day, their guard can be down and I’ve got my open window. All I need is that live voice on the other end of the phone and I’m home free. Once I get them, I let them know I don’t need too much of their time, but there is something important we have to cover. When I approach them that way, I’ve had some pretty good successes.”

Reps comp their principals’ education….

MANA members visiting the association’s website ( have probably come across the item describing how two agencies have encouraged their principals to attend MANA manufacturer seminars by offering scholarships. The answer to the obvious question of why an agency would do this is offered on the “This Week At MANA” page:

  • Immersion in a one-day MANA program is a great way to convince a principal that this philosophy is the way to go.
  • Even though manufacturers usually have adequate budgets for training, the offer to pay the principal’s tuition is a great way to show your commitment to continuing education and to get them to focus on the importance of attending.
  • The registration cost for any MANA seminar is a small portion of the total cost to attend the program. The free tuition provided by the rep is simply a way of conveying to the principal the value that the rep puts on these programs.
  • Finally, once they’ve completed the seminar and realize the value of the course, many manufacturers end up paying for the program themselves and not billing the rep for the tuition.

The two agencies that have made the scholarship offer to their principals are United Sales Associates, Cincinnati, Ohio, and MK Marketing, Camarillo, California.

According to George Hayward, United Sales Associates, “It’s all about the rep and his principals being inter-dependent upon each other. I believe that by making a scholarship offer to my principals, I encourage them to learn more about us. And the more we learn about each other, the more inter-dependent we’re going to become. In my view, here’s the key to our relationship: I can’t be a rep without a principal, and they can’t be a successful principal without reps. We both need customers, and we won’t get those customers unless we learn how to work together. Attending the seminar is going to help in that process.”

Mark Kent, of MK Marketing, indicates that the manufacturer he signed up for the manufacturer seminar became interested as a result of the year-end review with the principal. “In the course of our conversation, the manufacturer asked me what he could do to work better with us and with reps in general. I threw out the idea of his attending the seminar, and he agreed to do it. The gentleman I’m speaking about is very open-minded, and I actually think he’s looking forward to the experience.”

Kent adds that at the beginning of his 11-year rep career, “I attended a full-day seminar for reps that was put on by MANA. As I look back, what I learned at that time has prevented me from stepping into some buckets I otherwise would have stepped into. One thing I found was that MANA doesn’t differentiate or favor the rep or the manufacturer in these seminars. They look at the relationship in a completely objective manner. I have faith the manufacturer seminar will be conducted in the same professional manner.”

Possible deal breakers….

When a roundtable of reps was asked what would constitute a “deal breaker” for them when it came to considering whether they would go to market with a manufacturer, they offered a couple of considerations that they thought would constitute major challenges for them in establishing a working relationship. Do any of these ring true?

  • Reluctance to identify customer targets in the territory.
  • Lack of a marketing plan to share with the rep.
  • Little or no input as to how much business there is  in the territory.

Avoiding a sales slump….

Among the many books that cross our desk each month is one whose title is especially descriptive of a problem the independent manufacturers’ rep can face. There’s a Fine Line Between a Groove and a Rut, by G.D. Kittredge III, carries an especially apt subtitle: “How to Avoid a Sales Slump and Re-Energize Your Marketing Team.”

The author’s points on how to avoid a sales slump are especially well-made in one chapter where he enumerates indicators to consider if someone who works in your agency is approaching the point where they are no longer truly productive. Among those indicators are:

  • Reluctance to change — This one heads the list and can affect anyone, especially veteran salespeople. Showing a reluctance to change may mean someone is getting burned out or may simply believe that their way is the only way. This is possibly the hardest indicator to address. Demonstrating that new sales techniques really work and can make selling enjoyable again may be the best way to change the individual’s thinking.
  • Declining list of prospects — This can signal a declining interest in doing the hard work of prospecting for potential new customers and the lack of soliciting referrals.
  • Looking for shortcuts to create sales — Taking shortcuts during a personal sales visit occurs when someone is not using a selling agenda. The result is that the business relationship, if established, becomes more of a buyer-seller arrangement rather than a true business partnership. Continued growth with this customer is limited.
  • Becoming less interactive during sales meetings — This type of reaction is part of the “not wanting to try new ideas” way of thinking.
  • Inconsistent sales performance — You may see an individual’s sales results up one month and down the next. They break quota one month and miss it the next. Their business performance becomes a rollercoaster. This is typical of anyone who successfully closes a prospective sale, but fails to replace that prospect with a new one. The result is that they have to spend every other month rebuilding their prospect list.

These indicators are just a few of the tips that are included in Kittredge’s book. Other topics that he tackles include cold calling, establishing credibility and the importance of the sales presentation. The author may be contacted at The book may be ordered at

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