The Biggest Challenge

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Happy New Year and welcome to another exciting year of Agency Sales, the voice of the manufacturers’ representative industry. Over the past year, I have asked thousands of you the same question: “What is the biggest challenge facing your rep firm today?”

I’ve had the opportunity to speak with many of you on the telephone and face-to-face, at 21 presentations to Sister Rep Associations, other associations’ rep groups (distributor and manufacturer associations) and manufactures’ sales meetings, as well as at 19 (MANA) All-Rep events in cities throughout the U.S. and Canada. In 2007 I asked more than 2,000 reps this thought-provoking question, and as a result, have had very engaging discussions. Here are some of the more common (and consistent!) answers:

  • Increased cost of rep firm operations (healthcare, insurance, even just gas!)
  • Keeping up with the increased demands of manufacturers.
  • Decreased commission rates (reduced rep firm income) — just combine these three and create a huge challenge — more cost, more work, less income.
  • Finding, attracting and hiring good salespeople (some great ideas in this issue).
  • Keeping good salespeople and having motivational compensation plans.
  • Succession planning within the rep firm.
  • Buying and/or selling a rep firm.
  • Split commissions and tracking commissions (customers going off shore).
  • Rep firm contracts with manufacturers.
  • Mergers and acquisitions of both our manufacturers and our customers.
  • Getting to the customer; face-to-face selling time with key busy people.
  • Relationships with manufacturers.
  • Technical issues and rep software, as well as the various software applications used by manufacturers.
  • The Internet.

So, what are we going to do?

MANA’s biggest challenge is finding the best and easiest way to get you to network, communicate and learn. We will be creating an ongoing dialogue about the “biggest challenges” and will continue to use teleforums, webinars, special reports, surveys, local and regional meetings, blogs and other communication methods and tools.

The bottom line — you need to participate. And MANA is committed to helping you face the challenges and create better long-term success.

Best wishes for a prosperous 2008.

Looking to Hire New Reps?

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A wise man once said, “If all my people-related issues could be solved, I’d have a perfect business and no problems.”

Amen, brother! That statement applies in spades to small, people-intensive businesses known as independent manufacturers’ representatives. The rep business, by definition, is people-focused. The rep is the guy in the middle who is always trying to balance the needs of his principals with those of his customers — and his own needs. That requires an exceptionally specialized person, who has the ability to see all sides of the issues and find and forge solutions. Those solutions are called “orders.” … Read the rest

The Never-Ending Search for Good Salespeople

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When rep firms today find themselves in need of attracting, hiring and retaining productive salespeople, they can face a daunting task. In years past, filling sales slots was the fairly simple act of promoting a family member, or attracting someone from a competitor (or principal), training them in the needs of your market, and sitting back to watch the results. But now, how times have changed!

A number of trends are at work, today, to drastically impact how and where agencies can satisfy their sales staffing needs.

  • Attitudinal differences between older generations of reps vs. the new crop of outsourced
  • Read the rest

If You Can’t Hire a Good Salesperson… Make One

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Turnover for salespeople typically hovers around 25%, and at some organizations it’s even higher. As a result, managers spend weekends or lunch hours sorting through countless resumes, trying to find that elusive candidate who has demonstrated expertise in sales. And if you’re one of the lucky managers who has found a salesperson to hire, consider how long it has taken your new employee to get up to speed. And how much of your time has it taken to get him or her there?

If this sounds like your experience, I’d like you to think about an important question: Is a … Read the rest

Strategies for Successful Exit Planning

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Exit planning is a modern-day business strategy and the most effective process for learning to work on your business while you work in your business — even if you’re not quite ready to leave.

A review of the market and exit planning stakeholders shows that:

  • The exit planning market is approximately 10 trillion dollars.
  • 7.2 million business owners 50 years and older own more than 9 million businesses.
  • 4.2 million businesses are successful.

The typical exit planning candidate has been in business for 10 years, has one or more key employees and does in excess of one million dollars plus, … Read the rest

Where Are All the Salespeople?

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The following quote from the Harvard Business Review may have a familiar ring to it:

“More than 35 years ago, the insurance industry embarked on an intensive program to solve the problem of costly, wasteful turnover among its agents. After spending millions of dollars and 35 years of research, the turnover in the insurance industry remains just as high. And what accounts for this expensive inefficiency? Basically this: Companies have simply not known what makes one person sell and another not.”

This quote is from an article entitled “What Makes a Good Salesman,” by David Mayer and Herbert M. Greenberg, … Read the rest

Are You Making a Sale… or Making a Client for the Long Haul?

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Let’s face it. A major challenge to the sales process is that it is often difficult to dedicate to every potential customer the time and energy required for developing quality, long-standing relationships. More often, it is much easier to service the customer, make the sale, or accept their rejection and move on. Achieving and surpassing your goals determines success, not the “warm fuzzies” of building a relationship with prospects and clients, right? Wrong!

If you continually strive to build a relationship with potential or current clients, you’ll find that even the toughest objections may not be the end of the … Read the rest

Maximizing Your Sales Potential With the Effective Use of Referrals

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As a thoracic (chest) surgeon, Aaron was used to working on hearts and lungs. He’s a gifted surgeon, with a wonderful bedside manner, impeccable skills and true caring for his patients’ and families. But the truth was, his case volume was down, and so too was his income. What to do?

Aaron was surprised to realize that he had a sales problem.

In the medical community that deals with America’s epidemic of heart disease, the cardiologist is king. When surgery is indicated, the cardiologist recommends a surgeon, and most patients, firmly bonded to the cardiologist, accept those recommendations. Aaron needed … Read the rest

Improving the Process

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It was interesting how quickly a consensus developed at a recent meeting of manufacturers’ representatives and many of their principals when the subject came up of manufacturers terminating their reps.

A rep started the conversation when he related how two manufacturers recently terminated him and several of his peers throughout the country. “With the first manufacturer,” he began, “a change in their sales management pointed them in the direction of going direct rather than staying with their rep network. We had heard of their decision early on via the industry grapevine. When we asked them about it midyear, they confirmed … Read the rest

Sound Advice for Relationship Farming

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Relationship marketing — which I refer to as relationship farming — involves a process that can help you operate your sales and marketing optimally. The principles of effective marketing are similar to effective farming and how a farmer begins the process which leads to harvest.

Study the Soil

Before the farmer plants the seeds, he has to study the soil. This means that the farmer has to think hard before even sowing the seeds. The successful farmer discovers what types of crops grow best in certain kinds of soil. You don’t plant orange trees in Alaska and expect a great … Read the rest

Advance Directives: Making Your Wishes Known

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The Terri Schiavo case a few years ago brought the nation’s attention to a difficult but important issue: Who will make critical decisions regarding your health care if you are unable to do so? Fortunately, there is a legal means of addressing this potential future concern — an advance directive.

Generally speaking, an advance directive names someone to act on your behalf or outlines how you want medical decisions to be made if you are unable to speak for yourself. While advance directives are not financial documents, they are often part of the overall estate planning process, because they arrange … Read the rest

Tips & Tactics

Manufacturer Offers Insight

There were no real surprises in the conversations that took place at a recent MANA in-house manufacturer seminar. What did come out of this one-day event, however, was some candid views concerning what reps do, what they should do, and what they might consider doing better — at least in one manufacturer’s eyes.

Typically the sales personnel from the manufacturer voiced the typical expectations of reps in that their outsourced salespeople should possess the qualities of being trustworthy, educated, personable, organized, etc.

Things got a little more interesting when the conversation turned to what the manufacturer expected … Read the rest