“Really? You Represent a Line of Crossbow Laser Boresighters?”


If you asked MANA members to produce a list of products commonly found on the line cards of manufacturers’ reps, chances are that crossbow laser boresighters would not be on very many of those lists. And neither would be wine shippers or fashion jewelry.

But it shouldn’t be surprising to find a wide range of products on MANA members’ line cards. In fact, it would be surprising if MANA members didn’t represent products in a very wide range of market niches. MANA members include some of the most aggressive entrepreneurs I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet, and one of the things entrepreneurs do best is find an underserved market niche and serve it.

And many MANA principal members are entrepreneurial too! Entrepreneurial enough to find one of those underserved market niches, create a product to serve it, and then recognize that they should focus on what they do best and outsource the sales of that product to manufacturers’ reps. It’s the most natural thing in the world for entrepreneurs who are trying to break into new markets to choose the variable cost of a manufacturers’ rep over the fixed cost of a salaried salesperson.

That’s why MANA members’ line cards include products as diverse as:

  • Clay bricks
  • Fireplace accessories
  • Hardwood logs
  • Playground equipment
  • Snacks
  • Police badges
  • Body armor
  • Dust collectors

Chances are, if a product is new and exciting, the first sales force to bring it to market will be manufacturers’ reps. And just like that crossbow laser boresighter, MANA reps make it possible for their principals to hit the target first time, every time.

Playing the Same Game on a Different Field


basketball photoA scene from the movie Hoosiers came to mind recently when reps selling to varied industries were interviewed about their businesses.

In the movie, a small, unheralded high school boys’ basketball team finds itself in the championship game to be played in an arena larger than anything they’ve ever experienced. In an effort to get rid of their fear and intimidation about playing on the big stage, their coach (played by Gene Hackman) takes out a tape measure to demonstrate to them that the dimensions of this intimidating arena are exactly the same as those of their own high school … Read the rest

“We Bring the Tradeshow To You”


Rep Takes Promotional Products On The Road —
Directly To The Customer

Even the quickest perusal of MANA’s membership shows that the huge majority of agencies that belong to the association sell what would be referred to as manufacturing or OEM products. These products run the gamut from plastics to machine parts. But a closer look at the membership roles shows that there are a number of independent manufacturers’ reps who sell not only the aforementioned types of products but also those that specialize in everything else from baby products to recreational vehicles and a whole bunch of stuff in … Read the rest

Reps Say Challenges Cross Industry Lines


photo of highway

Exhibiting further evidence that the challenges and travails of being an independent manufacturers’ representative cross industry lines, two other reps — one from the furniture industry and the other who sells “green” products — explain some of their concerns and experiences with being a rep.

It should come as no surprise that reps working in the fabric/furniture industry — just as their peers in other industries — rely heavily on their personal relationships to serve as the foundation for their businesses.

At least that’s the view of Brian Gallagher, Homcraft, LLC. Homcraft, an agency that markets and sells fabrics to … Read the rest

The Emergency of the Specialized Independent Rep


Back in the 1970s and 1980s, I managed a division that manufactured complex machines called palletizers. Our sales organization for the U.S. was independent rep firms, and it worked pretty well. The customers did not know very much about the machines, and they had corporate engineering departments that did the buying and engineering. The rep’s job was much simpler and only required gathering a little information and presenting the factory quote.

I came back to Columbia Machine in 1999 as general manager of the same division but found that everything had changed. The Fortune 500 companies (our customers) had completely … Read the rest

Guide to Understanding the Sales Rep‑Manufacturer Relationship


This is the first of three installments of a Small Business Guide to help manufacturers and sales representatives understand each other better, so that their relationship is not adversarial, as it is in many instances. Both parties need each other, and a mutual understanding should create a positive partnership that will yield more profits for each, while extending the duration of their relationship.

Parts II and III will appear in the August and September issues of Agency Sales magazine. A link to this complete e-book may be found on MANA’s website: MANAonline.org.

photo of a GPSA manufacturers’ representative, also known as a sales … Read the rest

The Deadly Sins of Sales Management


I have been part of many business turnarounds in my career, and in all situations I have noted the errors consistently made by sales management, all of which negatively impact team morale and sales. Here are the deadly sins of sales management.

Conflicts With Marketing

We have all heard of the traditional conflict between sales and marketing. The sales team says the product is priced too high or not what the customer wants, or that the marketing programs are ineffective. Marketing may say the sales force is not well trained, too small, ineffective, or myriad other complaints. Sometimes these are … Read the rest

Why Buyers Love to Delay Buying


Salespeople love to complain about buyers. One of the complaints salespeople share the most is that buyers never seem to make up their mind. Just about the time it looks like they’re going to make a buying decision, they suddenly hold off.

Yes, there are times when a buyer legitimately can’t make a decision. Many times, though, the delay is nothing more than a tactic on the part of the buyer to get a better deal. This is especially true of professional buyers, who see numerous salespeople on a regular basis. Why should anyone make a decision quickly if they … Read the rest

It’s Time To Link Up with LinkedIn


Mention the phrase “social media” and most people automatically think of Facebook and Twitter. But if you have any dealings in the corporate world — whether you’re a CEO, salesperson, human resource manager, administrative assistant, or anything in between — you’ll want to take a closer look at LinkedIn. You will find it a useful tool to make your business relationships more meaningful — and more profitable.

Before you dismiss the idea of using LinkedIn because you only know it as that “bland” social media site where people go when they’re looking for a job, realize that currently there are

Read the rest

What Separates the Good Marketers From the Great Ones?


If you go to work every day, you might as well go all the way and shoot for the pinnacle of your profession. It’s a competitive world, so set your sights high. If you’re going to take the risk and invest the time, strive for greatness.

Ever since Jim Collins wrote his best-selling book, Good to Great, in 2001, business people worldwide have been fixated on greatness. Why do some companies do so well when a similar competitor languishes? Why do some companies transition from being merely successful to being truly great? What traits and behaviors separate the good … Read the rest

Paradox of the New Business Environment


eagleAt the end of the session the previous day, I left the group with the following paradoxical proposition to ponder: “It is wrong to teach how to soar to an elephant — yet the mother eagle never needs to teach the baby eagles how to soar — and she is very smart.”

A paradox is a statement or proposition that is absurd or contrary to conventional wisdom, but when resolved or understood, reveals a significant truth. It is absurd to think that anyone would try to teach an elephant how to soar and it is true that the Mother Eagle … Read the rest

A Welcome Change


Early this year Agency Sales reported that a major electrical manufacturer — Schneider Electric — had decided to depart from its traditional method of taking products to market via factory salespeople in favor of 10 U.S.‑based independent manufacturers’ representative agencies. The reps that the manufacturer decided upon boast an average of 25 years’ experience selling automation and controls products and have a combined total of 100 salespeople selling the Schneider package in the local market areas.

In announcing the sales and marketing change, a company press release noted, “In addition to extensive market knowledge and expertise of the motion, drives … Read the rest

Elevating Your E-mail Marketing


imageSuccessful e-mail marketing campaigns are typically defined as such because of their higher open and response rates, and ultimately revenue generation. Small businesses busy with everyday tasks often need a little help — a blueprint leading them to results they’d define as “successful.” Here are several suggestions to help you craft more effective e-mail campaigns.

Subject Line is Key

Everyone has heard the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Unfortunately, there is a reason — because it’s a natural instinct. First impressions are critical in any form of communication. When people receive an e-mail, the first thing they … Read the rest

Manufacturer Believes In Superstars

When he was asked what he liked best about his top-performing reps, one manufacturer pointed to an axiom he had recently become re-acquainted with thanks to a book that had come across his desk.

According to the manufacturer, in the book How to be a Sales Superstar, by Mark Tewart, the author emphasized how important it was to “Dance with the one who brought you.” He pointed out that the author said “Most salespeople and businesses totally ignore this notion. They make a sale and then move on as quickly as possible.

“Our good reps don’t do that.

Read the rest

Preference Claims in Bankruptcies (A Primer for Manufacturers’ Reps)


Imagine you are a representative for a principal who is struggling financially. You are owed commissions and have been patient in dealing with the principal’s slow pay. After many promises, you push the principal and finally, you receive a long-awaited commission check and life is good.

imageWithin three months of your receipt of the commission check (or checks), your principal files for bankruptcy protection. Several months later you receive a letter from the trustee appointed in the bankruptcy claiming your receipt of commissions was “preferential” and demanding that the payments you received be returned. You say to yourself, “How can … Read the rest

Pearls of Market Wisdom from Savvy Investors


There is an old saying that children don’t come with instructions. Instead, we rely on the wisdom and knowledge we’ve gleaned over the years to teach our children what they need to create a happy and fulfilling life. So where does that wisdom come from? It comes from years of personal experiences and the experiences of our friends and loved ones.

Just as we’ve learned our lessons on how to raise children, we can learn some important lessons from savvy investors on how to succeed in the market. So without further ado, I bring you my “Ten Pearls of Market … Read the rest