What Are You Doing Differently?


I have talked with and met with thousands of reps over the last three years, and I have asked many times, “What are the biggest challenges facing your rep firm?” I have also asked, “How is your business?” Most have answered “down,” but some in the room say “Up!” Of course, I ask why.

Those reps reply with a common thread of doing things differently, making difficult changes and diversifying their businesses. Most also respond with the two words that have seemed to escape some people: “hard work.” Yes, more sales calls, more cold calls, new accounts, and new directions: also known as “change.” You must change. Some ideas and strategies that MANA has provided (that we know lead to success) are the following:

  • Professional development and rep educational opportunities — make yourself better.
  • Networking with other reps at MANAFest, at local all-rep meetings, and MANA Professional Development Forums.
  • Diversifying your product offerings, focusing on your customers’ wants and needs.
  • Representing foreign manufacturers and even buying/selling products.
  • Selling services to customers, and/or getting fees for services from manufacturers.
  • Over-communicating to all customers, manufacturers, dealers/ distributors and your team.
  • Making more sales calls, seeing more people, making more connections.
  • Using social media and social networks to enhance relationships in all areas.
  • Greatly improving time management by examining all you do and implementing new tools.
  • Focusing on performance and results, and planning and visualizing successful outcomes.

I often ask reps a couple more questions: “Do you have a mission statement? Do you conduct strategic planning?” It’s amazing how few do.

This is the perfect time of year to set aside several days and get away from the office, turn off your laptop and cell phone, and even turn off your reactive brain for a moment. Write or re-write your mission statement. Do a S.W.O.T. analysis, and conduct a what should we stop-start-continue exercise.

Conduct line profitability and time analysis of what you and your team do. Look at your sales tools, look at your systems, and look at everything and determine if it’s necessary or just nice. Look at making some change.

It’s OK, and it won’t hurt, I promise. I recall my days as a rep — we are so reactive, and we really don’t get to proactively plan what we are doing. This distracts us from focusing on important, proactive things.

MANA has templates and formats for strategic planning, and we can help. We will be conducting a webinar, “Strategic Planning for Any Size Rep Firm.” Please look for these details.

Remember, MANA is here for you, and we are your unified choice and the voice of the manufacturers’ rep function. Happy holidays and best of luck for planning a successful 2010.

Stick to the Basics


About 10 years ago, MANA devoted a substantial amount of time and effort to developing coping strategies for manufacturers’ reps as they entered the new millennium. The lead article in this month’s Agency Sales revisits those strategies, and as the old saying goes, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” It’s amazing that, after all that’s changed in the past 10 years, with technological advances, off-shoring of so much manufacturing and how busy we’ve become, the basics are still the same.

As manufacturers’ reps, we have to remember that while the purpose of our businesses is to … Read the rest

A Novel Approach to the Market


It was just a couple of years ago that R/B Sales, Marion, Iowa, put a van on the road to deliver its marketing message to the distributors it works with. That was hardly the last innovative plan the firm put into action to meet the needs of the manufacturers and customers it works with.

Their latest effort is seen in the creation of the position of a “Merchandising Specialist,” who travels the rep firm’s territory and works with distributor counter sales teams to increase the visibility, appeal, and mix of products in the counter areas of their partnering distributors.

According … Read the rest

Reps Have Needs Too!


Earlier this year, I was asked by the Electronics Representatives Association (ERA) to moderate a panel discussion for select Illinois and Wisconsin sales, management, and manufacturer professionals in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The purpose of this open forum was to clearly identify expectations and competencies of each other to effectively move forward in this challenging economy.

This important event pointed out that mutual interests certainly out-weigh differences. For example, manufacturers and reps both want and need strong two-way communication. Both demand strong well-trained leadership of one another. And both manufacturers and reps strive for and require specific measurable objectives for territory visits, … Read the rest

Keys to Overcome Fear of Follow Up


The truth is clear: the majority of salespeople don’t take follow up seriously. After talking with a prospect they leave one follow-up voicemail or send one e-mail, and that’s it. A small minority will take it a step further and call or e-mail one additional time, but hearing that someone followed up three, four, five, six or even seven times is rare.

However, that’s exactly how many times you must follow up to get someone’s attention. That’s right, seven follow ups are critical if you want to be successful. Be honest now — how many follow-up attempts do you regularly … Read the rest

Revisiting Rep Coping Strategies


Several years ago, Agency Sales magazine took a close look at coping strategies independent manufacturers’ representatives would need to master as they grow their businesses through the 21st century. In the years since, the importance of those coping strategies has hardly diminished. That’s why this month we’re going to revisit them with the goal of allowing us to refocus our energies and to ask if any new strategies ought to be suggested for reps who may wonder how they’re going to weather the economic and business climate currently facing them.

Being the Complete Businessman

When MANA members are urged to … Read the rest

The Secret Strategy for Meaningful Sales Meetings


Oops! Got a sales meeting coming up in two weeks, better get ready for it. Let’s see, what should we do? I’ll go over last month’s numbers, that’ll take a half-hour. Then…I know! The credit manager has been complaining about the state of receivables lately. I’ll have him come in and complain directly to the sales guys. That’ll take about an hour. Now what…?

Does that scenario sound familiar? All too often that’s how we plan our sales meetings. The focus is on how to fill the time, what information we want to transmit, and who we want to present … Read the rest

Coping With a Shrinking Planet


For years we have listened to the claims that the planet is shrinking and the world is getting smaller due to technology and travel. Until recently, however, we have not really felt the effects or the costs of this global change.

The fact is the world is shrinking and, yes, technology and travel are contributing to this. But, more importantly, this “shrinkage” is caused by demographic shifts around the world, primarily in India and China.

These two countries now have the largest populations in the world as well as the fastest growing economies. Because of this they are the two … Read the rest

Key Budgeting Tips for Your Management Team


Most companies with sales under $10 million, and some much larger, don’t use budgets to help them meet profit goals. CEOs and operating owners reason that the effort to learn how to build, and then use, a workable budget is just too much. They seem to feel it’s more frustrating than just hoping the numbers will all work out, if they only sell enough products or services. There is no need to quote business failure rates among companies of this size, nor the steady stream of survey findings that say a lack of good management practices is usually to … Read the rest

Coping With the Web: How to Brand Yourself Online


A great idea can hit you anywhere. It can wake you at 2 a.m., so compelling that you jump out of bed, put on a pot of coffee, and begin outlining your business plan.

Remember, though, in the heady rush of dreaming up the business, to build a launching pad for it. In other words, create a presence on the Internet. In today’s buzzword search-engine climate, a website is the most powerful marketing and sales tool available to any company, large or small, cottage industry or inspired entrepreneur.

You don’t need to be a cyber genius to go online and … Read the rest