What makes being a rep more than just a job?
Why do so many reps become professionally and emotionally attached to our industry?
I’ve been MANA’s CEO for five years and was a rep for three decades before that, but it’s only recent events that have led me to reflect deeply on questions like those.
Part of the answer is just pragmatic. Becoming a rep gives a budding entrepreneur a way to start a company with just business savvy, a robust work ethic, and enough savings to live off of while their company gets on its feet. And there is justifiable pride earned from relationships with long-term principals and customers.
But the strongest emotional attachments to our industry are probably because rep companies tend to be family businesses. Sometimes rep companies are fathers and mothers and sons and daughters, and sometimes they are just people who have become like family working together in a small business.
The trigger for my deep reflections on the powerful emotional attachment reps have to our industry was my father Harold Cohon’s recent passing.
In the days that followed, one of the memories that kept coming back over and over again was the first time Dad took me to make out-of-town sales calls.
We arrived in Rockford, Illinois, pulled into a gas station, and as I refilled the tank Dad announced, “You’d better figure out how to get to the customer.”
Dad was in the car, and he knew the directions to the customer’s office, but he also knew that the next time I went out on calls he wouldn’t be in the car. It was time to be sure that I wouldn’t be too bashful to ask for directions. The attendant pointed me in the right direction and also sold me a Rockford street guide that I carried in my car for many years.
In the car that day Dad knew that I needed to learn how to make sales calls on my own, but on my first out-of-town sales trip he gave me the gift of being my safety net. And then, over time, he gave me the even greater gift of guiding me to learn to work without a net.