One of the most common reasons that reps and principals end up going their separate ways is a breakdown in communication. So it’s no surprise that one of the most-requested topics when I speak to groups of reps (most recently to the Southern California Chapter of the Electronics Representatives Association) is how to effectively communicate with principals.
The single-most important piece of advice MANA has is to avoid being overly reliant on e-mail. When a topic is complicated, or when the exchange seems to be getting heated, or when the e-mail chain gets to be 10 pages long, there is no substitute for picking up the phone and having an old-fashioned conversation. You may have to play phone tag to get the conversation launched, but once you get the conversation going you can resolve issues that never would have been resolved by e-mail.
Another best practice in communicating with principals is to share information about problems early while the problems are still small, rather than waiting for a problem to become so monumental that it defies resolution. Bringing up a problem early has another benefit, notes one rep — it gives you the opportunity to share the problem’s back story with your principal before someone with an agenda contacts your principal with a version that has been spun in a way that is not to your advantage.
Communicating regularly — not just when there’s a crisis — does more than just build rapport with the principal. It also makes your calls more welcomed. Put yourself in the shoes of a principal who only gets calls from Jane when there is a crisis. Jane’s name popping up on the principal’s caller ID will always be met with a grimace, because the principal knows when he sees Jane’s name that it is always a difficult conversation.
MANA also counsels that the best communication is often unscheduled communication, during down time at a tradeshow booth, or driving between sales calls together, so resist the urge to abandon a slow tradeshow or take separate cars when a principal visits your territory.
The principal’s perception of what is going on in the territory will be primarily shaped by the information the rep communicates (or fails to communicate), so it is important for the rep to recognize that for the principal, perception is reality and the rep’s communication skills (or lack of them) will make all the difference between a positive perception and a perception that is not positive.
If you have not been able to attend a MANA seminar on this topic, you can view my presentation to the Southern California Chapter of Electronics Representatives Association on YouTube at http://bit.ly/17xLLCZ, or follow the YouTube link at the bottom of the home page at www.MANAonline.org.