Tips & Tactics

A three-pronged attack on waste….

“Kaizen” is Japanese for “change for the better” or “continual improvement.” That’s exactly what Rick DeFazio, CPMR, had in mind when he described what Brazill Brothers & Assoc., Metuchen, New Jersey, did to eliminate waste and improve processes between themselves and their principals.

DeFazio was describing his agency’s “best practices” during NEMRA’s Annual Conference as a part of a larger presentation covering a study called Eliminating Wasteful Activities in the Representative and Manufacturer Sales and Marketing Channel.

According to DeFazio, “What we did was to employ a combination of high-tech, low-tech and no-tech principles to some of the day-to-day activities we perform.

“For instance, in the high-tech area we took a close look at what we did to manage information. For us, that’s something of critical importance.

“Our goal in this area was to eliminate redundant activities. What we started with were multiple databases that weren’t regularly updated and were seldom available to the right person at the right time. What we did was to implement a customer relationship Management (CRM) system and make sure that we shared it with our principals. We put all the best information together and made sure that the correct person had the ability to add or delete from the database — as needed. Right now I have all of our critical contacts available to me in my phone. Our goal here — and it’s one we realized — was to enable all of our inside staff to have the ability to serve our customers and our principals, not our own people.”

When it came to the low-tech area, DeFazio explained that “all of our customer service personnel were equipped with wireless headsets. We also reduced our on-hold time and eliminated call backs and dropped calls.”

That wasn’t all. “We took a close look at our office configuration including the rationalization for the seating locations for our personnel. Some people were sitting in the same locations for 25 years. We reorganized the office and eliminated unnecessary walking time that resulted in delays of service. Nothing we did was extremely brilliant, but just made sense.”

Finally there’s the no-tech area where DeFazio maintains “most of our eliminating waste ideas come from. We’ve begun bi-weekly operations’ meetings that cover all of our processes including paper flow. We aim to take steps out of our processes that didn’t add value.”

The never-ending search for more time….

The chief complaint one rep voiced at an industry event earlier this year was the fact that there simply weren’t enough hours in the day for him to get all his work done. This rep was quick to admit that the management of time was probably the major problem he has encountered in the 18 months he has been running his one-man agency. Thankfully, he was relating his experience in a roundtable format, and he encountered plenty of suggestions on how to solve his problem:

  • “Ask other reps how they addressed this problem. Don’t be afraid to network with non-competitive reps to learn how they maximize every hour of the day.” An important part of this advice included making sure that he stayed active in his rep association. “There’s no need to reinvent the wheel here. We’ve all faced the same problems you have. Learn from our errors.”
  • “Plan your activities for every day — that includes considering even the smallest detail. When you establish your schedule for the day/week/month, commit it to paper and check it often. Don’t deviate from your plan unless an emergency develops. Once you go off course, you’ll find the time you waste expands geometrically.”
  • “Don’t be afraid to start each day earlier — and end it later — than your competition. You might be surprised how the ‘early-late’ approach can greatly expand the time you have to develop sales contacts.”
  • “Qualify your sales contacts. Be sure that the people you’re calling on are the decision makers. Don’t waste time with gate-keepers.”
  • “A major fault is wasting time between sales calls. Route your sales calls in the most economical manner so that you group them as close as possible. If needed, save your office work for off-hours or the weekends.”

Recognizing and overcoming challenges….

While many reps are similar in how they operate, we’re also well aware of the fact reps are more dissimilar than they are alike. With that thought in mind, whenever we conclude an interview for Agency Sales, we always ask, “What’s the greatest challenge you face as a rep?”

Recently two reps were together when the question was asked, and each one offered a different answer:

The first rep had time on his mind — much like the rep in the previous item. Here’s his perspective, however. “The greatest hurdle I have to regularly overcome is getting the attention of my principals and customers. I need to get their attention in time to get the job done. Principals are doing more business than ever with fewer resources, and I’d put my customers in the same boat. As a result, it’s doubly difficult for me to ensure that everything that needs to be addressed is covered.”

The next rep volunteered that his concern is that he’s got to get everything done himself. “The toughest part about going solo, as I do, is that I’ve got to discover problems all by myself. Then I’ve got to get the solutions to those problems. Finally, I’ve got to put those solutions into place, many times without any of the financial or personnel resources that are needed to get them done effectively.”

Wrestling with consolidation….

In the course of interviewing reps for an article on resigning lines, we came across one rep that had a bit of a twist on the more typical scenario. “One principal we represented for years was acquired by another manufacturer that manufactured a product very close to theirs. We knew immediately that we couldn’t represent both clients and chose to immediately discuss it openly with both of them. Strictly from a financial point of view, it was our decision that we had to go with the larger of the two companies. The principal whose line we dropped went out of their way to put us in touch with another manufacturer of related products. Luckily we got the line, and it really added to our synergistic approach in the territory. At the same time, we were able to help the manufacturer locate a very good rep we were familiar with.

“The message I’d like to deliver here is the importance of good relationships and the importance of maintaining them. Although we parted ways, we parted as friends, and remain so today.”

The value of honesty and communication….

During the second month of employment, a rep knew he had hired the wrong associate for his agency. The new hire was having difficulty adjusting to the agency’s culture, not to mention being reluctant to follow processes that had served the firm well for years. Finally, when a major order was lost, the owner of the firm took action and terminated him — but that’s not the end of it. He then contacted the principal whose product was involved in the lost order. “I was very honest with him,” the rep said. “I let him know
that my agency had let him down. I knew where the problem
was and took decisive action as quickly as I could. If he
would stay with me, I assured him it wouldn’t happen again.”

The rep continued that probably owing to the combination that the principal had been with him for more than a decade and his track record was impressive, “He stuck it out. I rewarded his faith within six months and brought in an order a bit larger than the one we had lost.

“What I learned through all of this, however, was that honesty and communication pay off. I leveled with him and let him know I knew how to make a bad situation better.”

End of article