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Editor’s Note: In the February 2015 issue of Agency Sales we described MANA’s continuing outreach to the academic community through MANA President and CEO Charles Cohon’s service as a judge for Professor Craig Wortmann’s “The Hard Sell” case-based sales presentation contest at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. MANA’s outreach continues this month by discussing manufacturers’ representatives with Professor Eric Baron’s “Entrepreneurial Selling” class at New York’s Columbia Business School.

“ABC” is not “Always Be Closing,” Professor Eric Baron tells his Columbia University Business School “Entrepreneurial Selling” class. That kind of high-pressure, manipulative sales technique is a relic left over from the 1992 film, Glengarry Glen Ross. The correct “ABC” is “Always Be Collecting” information about your customers’ needs. Do that so you can provide consultative solutions, says Baron, who also recommends that his students build credibility and rapport by occasionally identifying and offering solutions for customer problems for which the salesperson’s company is not the solution provider.

phone of Cohon and Baron

Charley Cohon (left), MANA’s President and CEO, was a guest speaker this spring for Professor Eric Baron’s “Entrepreneurial Selling” class at Columbia University’s Business School.

Baron also sees the value in making sure his students know all they can about outsourcing the sales function. That’s why this spring he invited MANA’s Cohon to spend an hour discussing manufacturers’ reps with his students.

“To run a business you need to understand law, but you don’t have to be a lawyer. You need to understand accounting, but you don’t need to be an accountant,” explained Cohon. “You need to understand sales through courses like Professor Baron’s,” Cohon continued, “but once you understand sales, you don’t necessarily need to be your company’s sales force. You can outsource the sales function just like you outsource legal and accounting needs.”

Cohon used MANA member Bill Yorston of Yorston Associates, Hellertown, Pennsylvania, as an example of how a representative’s line card of complementary, non-competing products adds value. The example was especially compelling because it was close to home for these New York City students as Cohon described how Yorston’s sales of one of his principals’ lamps for the Marriott Marquis Times Square’s new sign led to orders for two of his other principals.

If this comment from one student is any indication, MANA’s goal of positioning manufacturers’ representatives “front of mind” with students and academia was successful: “I like this new business sales model of outsourcing, which previously I never thought of.” She continued by expressing interest in learning more about manufacturers’ representatives: “It would be great to have it in more detail.”

Facing the Challenges of Choosing a CRM System


In 1992 when I started West-Tech Materials, the only thing people knew about a cloud was that it was in the sky. Working out of my house, as a single-rep operation, monthly I was calculating commissions by hand on a tablet, writing my trip reports on paper and faxing them to principals. I made phone calls out of a phone booth or from hotel lobbies.

I had three volumes of the Thomas Guide for Los Angeles, San Diego and Ventura Counties that served as my “Google Maps.” My CRM system consisted of a stack of index cards organized alphabetically … Read the rest

The CRM Struggle


From a salesperson’s perspective, the old adage, “Nothing is certain save death and taxes,” needs to be modified. It should read, “For salespeople, nothing is certain save death, taxes, and hatred of entering data in my $%^&* CRM!”

It doesn’t matter if you are a one-person agency struggling with how to manage volumes of customer interaction data without spending hours each night in front of your computer, or the president of a large rep firm trying to get your outside salespeople to submit their opportunity reports. Both of these individuals have the same problem — their CRM is not creating … Read the rest

Line Card Review and Revamp Can Mean Huge Growth


Whom do you represent? Why? How do the lines fit together into an explainable portfolio of lines?

The explanation of your portfolio is a major issue for you to consider with your sales team. Do the lines you represent make sense as a multiple-line package of products that your customers understand and appreciate?

This question is key to your firm’s ability to leverage the package of lines you have been able to acquire for sale in your territory. It does not make sense to represent lines that do not benefit from being a synergistic part of your package.

Your customers … Read the rest

How to Get the Most Out of Your Sales Team


Getting the most out of your sales team will most likely take some work and effort. That said, here’s a fairly straightforward, step-by-step process that will maximize team sales and performance.

Steps to Maximum Sales Team Performance

Step 1: Remove the Roadblocks

Roadblocks include paperwork, computer work, order entry, and all the other day-to-day items that don’t have your salespeople in front of a prospect or customer. These should all be delegated to highly capable, competent people. The only activities that pay your salespeople, and ultimately you, are these:

  • Prospecting.
  • Presenting.
  • Closing.

In addition to those three activities, your salespeople … Read the rest

Serving a Different Industry With Similar Challenges


A close look at MANA’s membership rolls uncovers a number of independent representative firms working outside the sphere of the typical MANA member. One such firm is PRYSM Marketing, Inc. Focused strictly on the fenestration industry, PRYSM markets and sells component parts and related products to manufacturers of windows, doors and insulated glass in the Eastern portion of the United States.

Established in 1989, the agency offers highly trained sales professionals with years of experience in the window and glass industries. The corporate headquarters in Doylestown supports regional salespeople by providing customer service and account follow-up.

The agency was started … Read the rest

Service Recovery Handling the Screw‑Up


When you screw up (and we all do) you can count on customers contacting you to let you know what you’ve done. If it’s a phone call, you can expect to hear ranting and raving and people saying things that are rude and inappropriate. If they are in your place of business, they will confront you face-to-face and it’s up to you how to diffuse the situation and put a smile on that customer’s face.

When things do go wrong, it’s how you recover and delight the customer that truly sets you apart from other companies. Opportunities for service recovery … Read the rest

Talking to Strangers:
Reasons Potential Customers May Distrust You


Interesting to hear the response from managers when asked about what factors impact sales. Many will reference the economy, customer demographics, competition, and recent innovations. While those factors certainly play a role, I often find, when brought in to train sales and service teams, that employees inadvertently chase away new potential customers. It usually happens within the first 10 seconds of customer communication, and most employees have no idea that they are committing these offenses. See if this is true in your organization. Consider these reasons potential customers may distrust you or your team members.

Faking Familiarity

Imagine that you … Read the rest

Taking Advantage of Government Help


Long-time friend of MANA Bob Reiss has graciously allowed Agency Sales magazine to serialize his book Bootstrapping 101: Tips to Build Your Business with Limited Cash and Free Outside Help, available now on The book looks at surprisingly effective low-cost and no-cost ways to acquire the resources you need to run your company. Whether your company is an existing enterprise or a start up, a manufacturers’ representative company or a manufacturer, this book will introduce you to innovative ways to cut your costs and drive more of your income into bottom line profits.

“Government help” may sound like an … Read the rest

The Value of Independent Sign Reps

by Ashley Bray, Managing Editor, Sign Builder Illustrated, reprinted with permission,

In a market as small, yet convoluted, as the sign industry, manufacturers often need additional help getting their products into the hands of suppliers/distributors, architects/specifiers, and most important, sign shops like yours.

Enter independent sales representatives. These reps have served the sign industry for many years and often play a big part in bringing products to market. Yet they remain a little-known entity.

Reps typically have a background as a distributor or a direct sales associate for a manufacturer but choose to switch careers to avoid the … Read the rest

The Upside of the Dreaded Cold Call


Two manufacturers were bemoaning the reluctance of their agents to embrace the benefits of cold calling when a third weighed in. According to the newcomer to the conversation, “I’m a production equipment manufacturer so I’m well aware of the reluctance — if not the lack of success — my agents have had in making cold calls. At the same time, however, I don’t completely ignore the benefits of cold calling.

“I’ve made it a habit of regularly citing what can happen when they call on someone with the prospect company who doesn’t make the final decision on purchases. Rather, I … Read the rest

Where to Invest in Social Media and Get the Best Return


In today’s whirlwind of social media exists a seemingly endless string of opportunities available for investing. But where is the best place to invest in social media to get the best return?

You can put money into Facebook advertising, LinkedIn advertising and now we have Twitter advertising. Let’s not forget about YouTube advertising that is also available. In addition to all that, we have some of the more traditional Search Engine Optimization tools (SEO), Google Ad Words and more.

Plus, don’t forget about the options you have for putting ads on your own website linking to products you’ve created, ads … Read the rest

Including Essential Provisions in a Sales Representative Agreement


Companies seeking a way to streamline their sales process and create time to focus on their product lines may find that sales representatives are an efficient and effective way to drive sales, perhaps by tapping into existing networks of prospective buyers or by allowing the company to reallocate its human resources to more pressing internal needs.

Since the sales representative agreement often ties the representative’s compensation to his work production through a commission structure, the incentives for both manufacturer and representative align. A well-drafted contract between the manufacturer and the representative can ensure a fair, mutually beneficial relationship.

When seeking … Read the rest

Can Playing Poker Make You a Better Investor?


The other day I turned on the television and there was Lon McEachern and Norman Chad from ESPN calling the World Series of Poker tournament live from Harrah’s Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. As I watched the broadcast my mind began to wander (as it often does), and I began to think about how the game of poker is a great analogy for what I do in real life.

Now I’ve played a lot of poker in my life, and I can assure you that the game really has nothing to do with gambling. When I sit down at … Read the rest

Bob Evans Honored With Ray Hall Spirit of ERA Award

The Electronics Representatives Association (ERA) has announced that Bob Evans, CPMR, president of EK Associates, Inc., Palatine, Illinois, is the most recent recipient of the Ray Hall Spirit of ERA Award. Evans has served as the chair of ERA’s Chapter Leadership Council (CLC) since 2011, is closely involved in developing the member and industry surveys conducted by the association, and also serves on the committee now searching for a new ERA CEO.

In addition to his national leadership roles, Evans has held many offices in ERA’s Chicagoland-Wisconsin Chapter over the past 12 years, including as president and chairman of the … Read the rest

Good Sign

Talk about rolling out the welcome mat — here’s the message that was waiting for past MANA Board member John Sandifer, SanCo Sales Inc., when he called on a prospect recently in East Texas.

2015-06_02_good-signRead the rest