Paying Attention to His Peers


The vice president of sales for a manufacturing firm related the unexpected benefit he realized as a result of his involvement in his industry’s rep association.

“It’s natural that when I got together with my peers during our annual conference, we’d kick around problems, concerns and other matters related to working with reps. I don’t know how many times I heard one of them tout the benefits of establishing a rep council. We followed suit about two years ago, and it’s incredible how much progress we’ve made in our relationships with our reps. Communication and performance in the field have improved, and all it took was a fairly modest investment of time and money on our part. I think it was just an example of us opening the door a bit, and our reps took that as a long-awaited welcoming gesture.”

Agency Sales Magazine Article Feedback

Agency Sales received some interesting reactions from manufacturers concerning articles that have appeared recently in the magazine. In the first case, a manufacturer was responding to an article that described some reps’ experiences in terminating relationships with their principals. The relationships ended for a variety of reasons:

  • The rep determined that serving a particular principal didn’t provide him with the proper return on investment.
  • The rep was moving in a different direction and didn’t feel it would do justice to the relationship to continue.
  • The principal’s merger with another company caused a line conflict for the rep.
  • Lack of manufacturer support caused the rep to realize the business relationship was no longer tenable.

In response, one manufacturer wrote to us and detailed his experience with one of his reps. “We had been working together for six years, and we were completely satisfied with his performance. He regularly communicated with us and showed good growth in the market. However, due to the acquisition of some new lines, this rep felt his firm was moving in a different direction and he wasn’t sure he could give us our fair amount of time or continue to show the same progress in the territory. Rather than just leaving us cold, however, this rep let us know the move didn’t have to happen immediately, and he’d like to help us make the transition to another rep firm.

“True to his word, in short order he came up with recommendations for three rep firms in the territory. We followed up on his recommendations, signed one of them and haven’t missed a beat.

“While we certainly didn’t want to part company with this rep, he couldn’t have handled it any more professionally. We parted as friends and remain so to this day.”

The second article had to do with planning and executing joint calls in the field with reps. When one manufacturer read about the practice of some reps of sending a questionnaire to manufacturers in preparation for the sales call, he decided to take the lead.

“I’ve got to admit that in the past, we were a little selfish when it came to these calls. We generally figured that when we wanted to visit a customer in the territory, the rep should drop what he’s doing and provide us with the assistance we needed. After reading about the needs of our reps, we’ve changed our approach. Now we give the rep plenty of advance notice, and if he doesn’t have a practice of asking us questions concerning what we hope to accomplish, we make it a point to submit a proposed itinerary that includes the calls we’d like to complete — if it meets with his plans. At the same time we communicate to him that naturally we’d like him to emphasize our line during these calls, but we also understand his need to conduct other business while we’re there.

“We began this process with a few of our reps, and it’s worked out beautifully for all of us.”

Get the Most Out of Your Reps

Sales and marketing expert Dan Beaulieu offers a number of tips to manufacturers working with independent manufacturers’ representatives that are right in line with what MANA has long been preaching.

According to Beaulieu, it’s no secret that the independent representative/principal relationship has the potential to be one of the rockiest in the manufacturing world.

The dance between reps and principals usually starts this way: a company decides it needs more sales and wants to leverage its sales budget, so it recruits a network of reps.

But once they are signed on, these reps are often forgotten. They are offered no orientation, no visit to the principal’s company, no strategic rep plan and no real commitment on the part of the principal. After all, management expects that if the reps are any good, the orders should start rolling in.

Soon the quotes do start coming, but chances are they are for the wrong products. The principal is angry. The rep is disappointed, and management assumes the reps are no good. Even worse, after more sales mishaps, management concludes that the rep route just doesn’t work.

This cycle can continue, but it doesn’t have to. There are things that can be done to make sure that the rep/principal relationship turns into a win-win for both parties.

Here are tactics to get the most from your reps:

  • Find out about your reps. What kind of experience do they have? Have they been successful with your type of product? Are they the kind of people you want to work with?
  • Fully explain the company’s story and products to the reps. Tell them exactly what you are good at and what kind of customers you want. Be specific!
  • Stay in touch with reps after the initial courtship and signing.
  • Visit reps in their territory on a regular basis.
  • Insist the reps visit your company.
  • Provide new reps with the basic tools they need to do their job — paperwork, copies of quotes, orders and invoices, etc.
  • Hold weekly phone meetings with each rep firm.
  • Hold monthly meetings with your rep network.
  • Make sure your in-house salespeople know about independent reps and are encouraged to partner with them.
  • Pay your reps on time!

How to Find Great Reps

Make sure you know exactly what you want from your new reps. What market(s) do you want them to target? What products do you want them to sell? Then develop a profile for the ideal rep firm. Here are “must-haves” to look for:

  • Have the selling and technical expertise needed to sell your product.
  • Have relationships with your target accounts.
  • Have a reputation as the top firm in their territory.
  • Are financially sound.
  • Are well-run and organized.
  • Have time to dedicate to selling your product.
  • Are well-thought-of by the companies you want to sell to.
  • Have great references.
  • Are easy to do business with.
  • Have a track record of success.

Please, and this is very important, make sure that the reps you interview meet or beat these criteria. Do not sell your company short, or you will pay for it in the long run.

Also, don’t forget this is also a selling job on your part. The better the rep firm, the more persuasive you must be to convince them to work with your company.

Remember that independent reps must commit a great deal of time and money to sell your product(s). It will be months before they see a penny of income. This means you must sell a good rep on your company if you want his firm to sign up. Just like you, they don’t have the time, the energy, or the money to waste on something that won’t work.

Be a Great Principal

Finally, you have to be a great principal to sign great reps. Your company must do everything possible to help its independent reps succeed. Remember, the fatter the checks you write these reps, the fatter your sales will be; that is an indisputable fact.

Here are 12 things successful reps look for in a principal:

  • A great product.
  • A well-run company.
  • A good reputation in the marketplace.
  • Excellent technology.
  • Efficient quoting.
  • Customer-oriented organization, with a solid customer service department.
  • A well-defined sales strategy.
  • A good and fair contract.
  • A proven track record.
  • Financially solid.
  • Treats reps as partners; other reps speak well of them.
  • Pay their reps promptly for the full amount due.

A Good and Fair Contract

About the contract. Once you have chosen the reps you wish to sign on, don’t just offer them a boilerplate agreement. Write a long-term contract that’s fair and compensates them for getting exactly the type of business you desire. If you want more military business, offer an additional financial incentive for military business. If you want to gain new customers, offer your reps a bonus for signing new customers.

Follow up by paying your reps like clockwork. It will motivate them to stay productive and make more sales for your company.

In short, take care of your reps, and your reps will take care of you.

Dan Beaulieu is a sales and marketing expert who helps companies win new business with targeted strategies and communication plans. After working as a top sales executive for three fabrication companies, he founded D.B. Management Group. Go to or e-mail for more information.

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Jack Foster, president of Foster Communications, Fairfield, Connecticut, has been the editor of Agency Sales magazine for the past 23 years. Over the course of a more than 53-year career in journalism he has covered the communications’ spectrum from public relations to education, daily newspapers and trade publications. In addition to his work with MANA, he also has served as the editor of TED Magazine (NAED’s monthly publication), Electrical Advocate magazine, provided editorial services to NEMRA and MRERF as well as contributing to numerous publications including Electrical Wholesaling magazine and Electrical Marketing newsletter.