“If I could just get my reps to do exactly what I tell them to do….”

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We don’t hear that from manufacturers who consider their representatives to be their partners, but companies with a top-down management philosophy sometimes complain that representatives push back when they are told exactly how to accomplish that principal’s goals.

A character flaw on the part of representatives? Or a virtue that protects overly top-down managers from undermining their own companies’ success?

A popular problem-solving computer algorithm called Ant Colony Optimization that takes its name and principles from nature may give us the answer as to whether day-to-day operations are best guided from headquarters or from the field.

Figure 1

Figure 1

When ants leave the colony to search in the field for food, they start their journey randomly, leaving behind a trail of pheromones that slowly evaporates. And when ants come across the trails of pheromones from other ants they follow the trail that is strongest and therefore the most recent.

As ants find food and carry it back to the colony, they double back on their own trails, leaving behind even more pheromones. And, of course, the shorter the round trip, the less the pheromones dissipate.

Figure 2

Figure 2

That strong pheromone trail attracts even more ants, which bring back more food and further reinforce the pheromone trail. (See Figure 1.)

Note that the queen of the ant colony has no role in telling ants where to go look for food in the field. That’s a job for the ants that actually spend time in the field.

Figure 3

Figure 3

The most impressive aspect of this self-organizing, field-driven system is demonstrated when ants encounter a fresh obstacle. (See Figure 2.)

Ants then randomly turn left or right to bypass the obstacle. (See Figure 3.)

Figure 4

Figure 4

The pheromone trail of ants that took the shortest path is refreshed more quickly than the trail of ants who took the longest path, so the shortest path is the most attractive and ants quickly abandon the longer path. (See Figure 4.)

The only instructions the ants receive is “bring food.” No step-by-step instructions from headquarters are required; it is up to the ants to sniff out the most efficient path to quickly bring the most food back to the colony. And the queen never tells them to go look under the third shrub from the left and report back with their results.

Examining the Attributes Required to be a Successful Independent Representative

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As the result of the time I’ve spent in my career, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect upon the attributes one must possess in order to be a successful independent manufacturers’ representative.

I had many other things written down before I came to a realization just recently that perseverance and risk-taking were actually necessary attributes. I was a corporate representative who felt I should be making more money. I worked for a great company but was only making $36,000 managing a $5-million territory. Understandably, I felt underappreciated and overworked. As a result, I left without knowing the first thing about … Read the rest

A Self-Motivated and Positive Approach to the Agency Business

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There probably hasn’t been a better recitation of the attributes an individual must possess in order to become a successful independent manufacturers’ representative than was recently put forth by Scott White.

When asked whether he’d recommend his profession to others, White, who heads Production Components, Inc., Wallingford, Connecticut, was immediately positive. “Without a doubt, if the individual is cut out to be a rep, that’s exactly what they should do. Having said that, however, I’d maintain that the individual must be a self-motivated people person, who has a high level of positivity in their approach to everything they do. In … Read the rest

Driving Sales Channel Results

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Investing in Your Representative Sales Channel Can Deliver Increased Revenue and Profit

“Why aren’t our representatives selling?” This is an all-too-familiar cry heard during monthly sales meetings. Lackluster sales could be an indication of changing market demand, but more often are an indication of a deeper sales channel issue. So whose fault is it, and how can you address these problems?

Here are four issues that I’ve seen companies identify as factors affecting representative sales:

  1. Lack of consistent communication and planning processes between the principal and representative.
  2. The representative lacks adequate product training.
  3. The representative is busy focusing on their
  4. Read the rest

Focus, Focus, Focus

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Running an independent manufacturers’ representative business is a day-by-day, minute‑by‑minute business. That intensity means that agency leadership is constantly in the business. When can a rep owner/manager find the time to work on the business?

In my experience working with agencies in many different industries the only way for leadership to plan and re-plan the business is to find a time to focus on the business.

How can you find time to step outside the business and think? Here is a suggestion — make a list.

To succeed in the agency business you need to work on your:

How Do They Do It — Year After Year?

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It’s amazing to see the contrasts of successful companies that dot our history to the newer companies of recent history up to today. I was astounded at the marketing genius of people like Richard W. Sears, who started his company in 1886. At that time there were only 38 states and 65 percent of the population lived in rural areas. He started selling a mis-shipment of — watches. He hired Alvah Roebuck as a watchmaker and later he bought into the business, hence Sears, Roebuck and Company. Guess what they offered in 1891: Free delivery and parcel post. They offered

Read the rest

Characteristics of a Professional

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Are you serious about your job?

“I wish my people were more professional,” executives and managers often commiserate to me. Even with those who don’t voice it, that unspoken yearning often hovers just under the surface of their conversation.

Ah, if only the people around us were more professional. Our lives would be easier, our businesses would grow more effortlessly, we’d find our jobs more fulfilling…. the list of dramatic benefits can go on and on. But what does it mean to be more professional? More important, what can we do to make sure that we, and our associates, are … Read the rest

Misreading Customers Means Missed Sales

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Selling is never easy. Never. But salespeople often make it even tougher for themselves by letting customers get away empty-handed. It isn’t that customers don’t find what they want or what they’re looking for. It’s just that they don’t want to deal with the salesperson.

With the 800-pound Internet gorilla lurking over every sale, today’s customers are much more demanding when dealing with salespeople. If the experience doesn’t meet their expectations, they’re gone.

More often than not, misreading customers causes them to look elsewhere — missed sales. It doesn’t need to happen and here’s how to avoid it:

Be Sure Read the rest

No, You Didn’t Lose Your Largest Account Because of Price

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This past week an insurance agency called me for help because they just lost their largest account that they’ve had for the past 24 years. When I asked how that happened, the clear, confident response was, “Price!” The only piece of good news I could glean from this initial exchange was that my gag reflex is working perfectly.

If you think you lost your great, long-term customer based upon price….

First, understand that people don’t change for the sake of changing, especially if they’ve been with you for a substantial amount of time. The only way a long-term customer … Read the rest

Advertising for Agents?

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There’s room for improvement.

It’s not unusual for manufacturers that work with a network of independent manufacturers’ representatives to contact MANA for advice on a fairly common problem: How to get agents to respond to their ads seeking representation. That’s why this month Agency Sales is reprinting this classic article from our archives.

Although it was written specifically to help manufacturers write effective “Rep Wanted” ads to be printed in Agency Sales, much of the article titled “Advertising for Agents?” by Bill Krause, past chairman of the MANA Board, is equally applicable to manufacturers who advertise for representatives online at … Read the rest

Getting the Most Out of Outsourced Sales

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It was telling when one manufacturer asked another about independent representatives’ willingness to introduce new products. Here’s how the conversation evolved: “We have a new product line and we would like to introduce it with reps. Are reps willing to undertake such a task?”

In response, the second manufacturer voiced the opinion that his fellow manufacturer sounded a little inexperienced when it came to working with agents. “Sure they’re more than willing to undertake the introduction of a new product line but there’s more to the manufacturer-rep relationship than that. I’d have to say that most of us see the … Read the rest

Stage Creep

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Most CRM software systems on the market today include a field for “Stages of a Sale.” The number of stages in a sale can vary according to industry and sales methodology. Whether the number is 12 or five, it is critical that the sales team clearly understands the criteria for each stage, as well as what does not qualify for the stage.

Salespeople in firms that use CRM tend to feel pressure to have their pipelines reflect movement from stage to stage. This pressure creates an open door for “stage creep,” where salespeople try to fit their situation into the … Read the rest

What to Do When Termination Is Likely

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The following article is reprinted with permission from PTRA (Power-Motion Technology Representatives Association), www.ptra.org.

This year, we received a phone call, like many we have gotten over the years, from an owner of a profitable independent manufacturers’ representative organization. He was serious and concerned. He explained that his company has several salespeople, a small support staff, and one manufacturer that accounts for almost 70 percent of its annual commissions. That manufacturer had recently been acquired by a larger company in the same industry and the majority of the acquiring company’s territories were covered by a direct sales force.

In my … Read the rest

Adapting to the Markets Puts Points on the Board

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At my firm, Balser Wealth Management, we like to say that we spend every waking moment being very concerned about your money. About how you earn your money, how you invest your money, and how your money is contributing to a happy, healthy lifestyle.

But in reality, sometimes our thoughts drift. This is particularly the case during football season when I find the most creative ways of relating the events of the workday to my beloved Dallas Cowboys and my fantasy football teams.

When I’m discussing with a client the stellar performance of a particularly strong ETF (Exchange Traded Fund), … Read the rest

How to Hunt Your Way to Financial Well-Being

“As dazzling as a high rate of return sounds to every investor, people need to understand what they’re ‘hunting’ with before chasing certain financial goals,” says Jeff Brummett.

“A middle-class investor is probably better aiming for a ‘reasonable rate of return,’ which includes consistent, steady growth over a longer period of time,” says Brummett, a former president and founder of a two-time Inc. 500 company who recently started Green Line Financial Services, LLC (www.greenlinefinancialservices.com) to, in part, improve his neighbors’ financial well-being.

“Going for the big-money return almost always means risking resources that most people simply cannot afford. The middle … Read the rest

NMRA Mel Barr Award Presented to Ron Bailey

The National Marine Representatives Association (NMRA) presented its 2015 Mel Barr Award to Ron Bailey, vice president of sales and marketing at Turning Point Propellers. The award recognizes an individual who has contributed to the improvement of the industry and is named in the memory of marine rep Mel Barr, one of the founders of NMRA and its first president. Jonathan Sweet, editor-in-chief of Boating Industry magazine, and NMRA incoming president Rob Gueterman made the presentation at the 2015 IBEX Industry Awards Breakfast in Louisville, Kentucky.

Bailey began his career in the industry in 1980 at Hoffert Marine. In 2008, … Read the rest