Tips & Tactics

What reps want in a regional manager….

When the question of what makes a good regional manager was addressed by a panel of five manufacturers’ representatives at an industry meeting, it didn’t take them long to detail four separate areas that they thought such an individual ought to excel at:

  1. Product Knowledge — What the reps emphasized in this area was not only strong product knowledge, but also strong product application knowledge. As one of them said: “When the regional manager knows how and why our customers will be using their products, then they can generally handle the questions from the field that we send their way.”
  2. Selling Skills — “There’s nothing worse than having a regional manager tell us how to sell his products when we know he’s never earned his stripes in the field. When the regional manager shows that he’s experienced in the selling process, then he adds value to our relationships and can assist us in closing the deal — when needed.”
  3. Communication Skills — In this area the reps indicated that they were looking for a regional manager who returns phone calls and is effective in other forms of communication; uses the sales data that is sent in from the field; provides the proper notice for territory visits; and, “continually reviews and provides feedback on the jointly agreed upon business plan in a consistent manner.”
  4. Management Skills — What the reps are looking for here are the same attributes anyone would seek in their management personnel. Included were time management, organization, advocates the rep way of going to market, provides encouragement and coaching when needed and deals with tough issues in a straightforward manner. Finally, the reps indicated the regional manager must possess “the highest level of integrity and a thorough understanding of all his company’s initiatives — and communicate the latter to their reps.”

Thinking like the customer….

In the course of a conversation with one rep, he related an experience he had about six months into his career that changed the way he approached his job. “I don’t think I’d be doing a disservice to myself by saying I was a typical salesperson.

I had products to sell and my job — as I viewed it then — was to get the prospect to open up his checkbook. That all changed, however, when I hit it off immediately with a new customer. One of the reasons we got along so well from the very beginning was that he communicated to me his need to have someone — me in this case — as a resource in my product area that he could tap whenever he had a problem. I appreciated his honesty and the fact that he was willing to ask for help. In general terms, this caused me to change my approach. Instead of just being available to fill an order, I began making every effort to learn as much as I could about my customers and what their needs were. I began asking myself questions such as:

  • ‘If I was the customer, how would I like to be treated in this case?’
  • Or, ‘If I had this problem, how would I want a supplier to solve it for me?’

This approach doesn’t always lead to sales, but over the years it’s led to lasting relationships which have served as the lifeblood for my agency.”

There are calls, and then there are calls….

One rep explained how his company stressed measuring performance — but not all measurements tell the story. “For instance, one of our salesmen reported on his regular calls to one of our largest customers. Normally we don’t question what he’s doing because his numbers are good — especially his numbers with this customer. But one time we took our measurements a step further and took notice of the fact that his calls to this customer generally took place on a Friday or a Monday. Then we noticed the customer was located very close to his residence. What he was doing is just letting the customer serve as a convenient stopping off place for him to extend his weekend, or get a later start on the week. All it took was a reminder on our part that we felt this wasn’t necessarily the most efficient use of his time. After our reminder, he’s made better use of his time.”

The importance of time management….

Incentives and belief in company also differentiate top sales reps.

When it comes to delivering profitable revenue growth, it’s not how many hours a sales force works, it’s how they allocate their time. And rewarding salespeople with more incentive- and stock-based pay can make a big difference as well, according to a survey by Watson Wyatt Worldwide, a global consulting firm.

In the survey, Watson Wyatt found that salespeople at financially high-performing companies spend 40% more time each year with their best potential customers and an additional three to four hours each week in high-value sales activities than salespeople at low-performing companies. Furthermore, they spend 30% less time on administrative duties than their counterparts at low-performing companies. High-performing companies experienced faster sales growth and superior financial performance compared to their industry peers.

The results are based on a survey of 841 sales professionals at 500 companies with large sales forces.

“It may seem fundamental, but the way sales professionals allocate their time is critical — even a couple more hours per week on these key activities can make a real difference,” said John Bremen, director of Watson Wyatt’s sales force effectiveness consulting practice. “Who they spend their time with is also important. Not only do sales reps at successful companies spend more of their time identifying customer needs and demonstrating products, they also spend more time with qualified leads and prospects they know.”

High-performing companies also provide their sales forces with greater earnings potential through variable pay based on their sales performance. Salespeople at high-performing companies receive approximately 40% more of their total cash compensation in the form of variable pay than sales professionals at low-performing companies (38% of total compensation vs. 27%). Additionally, twice as many sales professionals at high-performing companies receive stock, stock options and other equity pay than sales professionals at low-performing companies (36% vs. 18%).

“High-performing companies offer more performance-oriented rewards to help attract and motivate their sales forces. And by getting more of their salespeople to become overachievers, leading companies can help ensure higher overall company performance,” said Ted Briggs, a senior consultant at Watson Wyatt and co-author of the book Sales Compensation Essentials.

The survey also found that salespeople at high-performing companies tend to be “believers” in their companies, and have more favorable views of their companies’ products and internal support. For example, 83% of sales professionals at high-performing companies believe their products and services are among the best offered in their market vs. 57% at low-performing companies. In addition, 70% at high-performing companies consider their products and services to be innovative versus just 39% at low-performing companies.

“The most well-respected and successful organizations grow by finding ways to engage and get the most out of their salespeople,” said Bremen. “Managing a sales force is about creating a win-win situation. A company that helps its salespeople become successful will ultimately reap the benefits of their achievements.”

Copies of the survey report are available at

Help is on the way….

Here’s the gist of a correspondence Agency Sales received: “I need your help. Through an oversight in my office, we allowed our MANA membership to lapse, and we haven’t seen an Agency Sales magazine for months. To rip off an old MTV line: ‘I want my Agency Sales magazine!’ What do I need to do to get the last four monthly issues?”

In response, we let this rep know the magazines would be sent out immediately, but we also offered the following: “It would be a good idea to renew your membership in MANA so you don’t find yourself in this situation again.”

Thankfully, he let us know that he’d already done that. Our tip to others is this: Don’t let yourself get caught in this same situation.

End of article