A Marriage Made in Seven


The seven steps and the seven key ingredients to a successful rep-manufacturer “marriage.”

We often refer to the rep-manufacturer relationship as a “marriage” and it makes sense. Like the commitment we make in any relationship, there are certain necessary steps to take along the path to success:

  1. We meet: Reps and manufacturers connect via MANA, a trade show, or a rep search.
  2. We date: We talk, we get to know each other, we learn about each others’ wants and needs.
  3. We court: We are getting more serious, and we determine if we will stay together.
  4. We engage: Now we have told each other that we really are ready to make a commitment.
  5. We marry: We sign up, and with blissful optimism, we start the wonderful honeymoon period.
  6. Years 1 & 2: This may be more like years 1-7 in marriage; we really know each other now.
  7. Life-long success: We continue to grow together, prosper, share success — and life is good.

Why is the divorce rate so high? Why doesn’t the rep-principal relationship last forever? One reason is the fact that it is so easy to get out of the relationship. But the underlying reason is that we selected the wrong partner to begin with. At MANA, it is our job to help educate manufacturers on finding the right rep and to educate the rep on how to select the right manu­facturer and build stable and long lasting relationships. The goal is to make commitments that succeed and last.

When it comes to the subject of manufacturers’ representatives, there are only two types of manufacturers: the ones who “get it” and the ones who “don’t get it.” Let me tell you a story about one manufacturer that doesn’t get it.

Last year, I talked with a rep who was quite upset. the rep told me the story about developing a very big account over a long period of time, and of what happened when the company recognized that they were about to win a three year deal for $10 million in sales per year (do I have your attention now?). As it got closer, the principal informed the rep that it would be a 2% commission instead of the normal 5%, even though pricing had been submitted already with a very ample margin to pay the 5%. After some short discussions, the rep agreed to the 2%. The rep successfully obtained the order, $10,000,000 this year, with a contract for 2 more years at $10,000,000 each year. Yea! There would be lots more work to do, to start the shipments, monitor quality, expedite, etc.

After the champagne was empty, and the principal looked at the commission dollars, they coerced a Junior Buyer into agree­ing that it would be better if they handled the account “direct” (it hurts me to even type the word). $30,000,000 total over the 3 years at 2% was lots of money — $200,000 per year, to be exact. Everyone knew it was the rep’s relationship with, and knowledge of the account that created the win. The principal would never have had a sniff at this opportunity. Then, they offered the rep a finder’s fee of $10,000 and told the rep that they could continue to pursue a similar large opportunity at another account which was very close in likeness to this one. Wow, that’s motivating! This manufacturer clearly does not “get it” and is also forgetting about the $9.8 million that they would get each year as a result of the rep’s efforts. The manufacturer was too greedy and too selfish to pay the mere 2% ($200,000). Guess what happened next?

All manufacturers are not bad — and we have many great manufacturer members of MANA. And to be fair, I would never try to convince you that every rep is the greatest thing since sliced bread — of course there are some bad reps too. But mostly, when it doesn’t work, it’s a bad fit from both sides. You may have picked the wrong partner and as a result, the marriage failed. So what are the seven key ingredients to a successful rep-principal “marriage”? Well, I’m glad you asked:

  1. We have mutual trust and respect for each other, and this is how we treat one another, always.
  2. We have set clear expectations and agree to the goals, and we communicate candidly on progress.
  3. We are responsive to each others’ needs and requests, and provide information easily and quickly.
  4. We knock down obstacles quickly — those things that are blocking us from getting orders and growing (we adopt a ‘yes we can’ attitude when it comes to solving customer problems).
  5. We are focused on the customer, and continue to foster and promote a customer centric culture.
  6. We are patient and persistent with each other, in a patient and persistent way (we understand).
  7. We both like to have productive fun.

There are some great articles in this issue about the importance of building better rep-principal relationships. It’s not really that hard, and it’s mostly about clear expectations, candid communication, trust and respect. Do what you say you will do, do the right things, and do them well. You can succeed!

Considering a New Principal


When a manufacturer contacts a manufacturers’ rep to see if they’re interested in repping the line, in the mind of the rep, it’s a two-step process.

First step is to look at the product or service and determine if it is something that helps the manufacturers’ reps customer base. If it is, then the rep goes to step two, which is looking at the company to determine the potential for long-term and mutually profitable relationships.

Our MANA manufacturers’ rep members work very hard to develop a reputation with their customers of being trusted problem solvers. After all, we each like … Read the rest

Musts for Any Independent Manufacturers’ Rep


Earlier this year, Electrical Wholesaling magazine published an article that examined those very musts. Bylined by Jim Lucy, the publication’s chief editor, the article focused on many of the attributes a rep must have if he is to garner the attention of manufacturers. Included in his study is the following adapted from that article.

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to succeed in the rep game. But as in any sales profession, the difference between winning or losing an order is often razor-thin, and you need to do the little things exceedingly well. It’s not always about the … Read the rest

Reps Looking for More Than Products


It would be more than slightly disingenuous to suggest a manufacturer’s product offering isn’t a major attraction for the rep looking for the perfect addition to his line card. However, according to reps who have performed this task, there are other critical attributes to consider beyond the manufacturer’s ability to build and supply a product. Conversations with reps and consultants indicate that communication, commitment, synergy and compensation all should be weighed heavily before the rep decides to take on a line.

For instance, when he’s asked what would attract him to a manufacturer — irrespective of product offering — Dave Read the rest

The Role of the Regional Sales Manager


Why do manufacturers think they need regional sales managers (RSMs)?

Most companies employing the RSM approach have two or three field “sales managers” operating regionally. This amounts to an investment of at least $500,000 per year for a typical company. If a company does $25 million or less, this investment is 2 percent+ of revenue. That is a huge investment. Where is the return-on-investment?

A substantial rep firm with 10-15 lines is probably dealing with an RSM for at least 50 percent of its lines. That is five to eight or more field sales managers who are responsible for rep … Read the rest

All Customers Lie


Recognizing false customer objections

The people you want to sell to don’t always tell the whole truth. In fact, sometimes they even lie. Perhaps you think I am losing my mind, but it’s true: prospects often put up barriers to new products and services that can actually help their company. They resist because they don’t want to shake things up. The bottom line? It’s up to us in sales to make sure that we cut through the BS.

Examples of Typical Objections

All my vendors are doing a great job, and we are not looking for anyone else right now.Read the rest

Implementing a Winning Rep Strategy for Your Rep Firm


Do you have a winning strategy in place for 2009?

We all know a company’s first impulse when bracing for an economic downturn is to cut costs. While a rep’s revenue and profitability are at risk during an economic storm, cost cutting can only take a manufacturers’ rep so far. It’s a short-term strategy. Revenue growth comes about during an economic downturn by intelligently taking market share. You don’t win the war in your market by cutting costs — you do it by taking share.

Over the last year we helped develop and implement winning strategies for many manufacturers’ representatives … Read the rest

Are Your Business Relationships Strong Enough to Survive in Hard Times?


Whatever your industry, your customers are most likely delaying projects and looking for ways to cut costs. At the same time, it is becoming more challenging to develop new business as companies scale back expenditures and use competitive bidding processes to get better deals from suppliers. This is a good time to take stock of the relationship-building capabilities of your team.

Are current relationships strong enough to withstand the destructive pressures of today’s tough economic environment? Do your salespeople know how to leverage personal assets and the assets of your company to “competitor proof” their customer relationships? To build enduring Read the rest

Keep Your Sales Up — Even in a Down Market


Salespeople are being hammered in today’s economic environment. Entire market segments have evaporated. Customers and companies are holding back orders or literally have no money to buy. Opportunities and new prospects are fewer and further between. In 2008, many salespeople earned only half the commission they earned in 2007. Half! When you take a 50 percent pay cut, you know what a recession feels like.

But not all sales professionals are in a slump. Some are thriving. Some are busy growing their client base and making good money despite the uncertainty around them. And you can do the same. Your … Read the rest

No Cutting Back With the Sales Force


Let’s not call it “misery loves company,” but more like a case of appreciating he was not alone when one manufacturer discussed his concerns with others. The manufacturer in question was relating the challenge he was faced with in terms of cutting costs while maintaining his market share. Like so many other companies today, this company chose to control one area of its costs by cutting personnel. That left the remaining people with two jobs — their own and the job of the person next to them who was let go. As he was relating his problem, another manufacturer smiled Read the rest

Leverage Technology to Build Relationships


Business is all about building profitable relationships with customers, suppliers, team members and other stakeholders. To facilitate those relationships, we use tools and apply time-honored principles. This is what relationship marketing thrives on today.

In this article, I’d like to share with you some tools that can help you in your work to build and maintain profitable business relationships. These tools enhance your communication with customers and other stakeholders, putting the power of human connections to work for you.

Connect Wirelessly — Amidst the Noise

Cell phones are a way of life now. We are using them for most calls. … Read the rest

Unreasonable Compensation


I urge many of you readers, whose first reaction is “this doesn’t apply to me” to: (1) read on and be surprised, and (2) save this article for future use. Like many IRS threats, it could happen to you — and, often, when least expected.


Many closely held, small and medium-sized business owners are probably not even aware that the IRS can challenge their compensation as being “unreasonable.” (This attack can only be launched against C corporations and not S corporations.) If their challenge is successful, your company will lose the deduction for that compensation, suffer severe financial costs, … Read the rest