Race to Quality


Thank you Chicago!

A record 43 paid attendees turned out for my 2017 manufacturers’ representative business forecast at a joint MANA/ERA breakfast meeting, about double the average turnout.

MANA CEO Charles Cohon’s Chicago forecast for the representative business in 2017

An overflow crowd sent restaurant staff scrambling for extra chairs at MANA CEO Charles Cohon’s Chicago forecast for the representative business in 2017.

My forecast: 2017 will be a great year for manufacturers’ representatives. And it will also be a terrible year.

Let me explain.

As CEO of MANA I get a lot of calls from reps and from manufacturers who sell through manufacturers’ representatives. And the single most consistent message I get for 2017 is that when it comes to selling through manufacturers’ representatives, more and more manufacturers have begun to participate in a Race to Quality.

What do I mean by a Race to Quality?

Back in the day, often all you had to do to keep a line was to keep sales up and “don’t do anything wrong.”

Today many manufacturers are starting to set the bar higher. “Not doing anything wrong” is not going to be good enough to keep their lines, they say. Instead, they are looking for manufacturers’ representatives who routinely ask themselves, “What more can I do for my principals?”

For representative firms that constantly enhance and expand their services, this Race to Quality will make 2017 a very good year. They will be hotly pursued by excellent principals who have decided to recruit “Best of Class” representative firms in every territory of their rep network.

For representative firms where managers work only in their business but not on their business, 2017 will be a bad year. The Race to Quality will cost them lines as principals impatient with the status quo recruit replacements for representative firms that have a “this is how we’ve always done it” attitude.

Or, to borrow a metaphor from Wayne Gretzky, 2017 will not be a great year for representative firms who skate to the puck, but it will be a terrific year for reps who can figure out how to skate to where the puck is going to be.

Editor’s Note: If you missed Charley’s presentation you can listen to it as a podcast — your March iToolbox newsletter will include the link.

What Manufacturers Value in Their Reps


The selection of manufacturers’ representatives can be one of the most overlooked yet critical activities that a sales manager or leader can undertake. Once the decision is made to include the use of reps as an alternative or supplement to an internal sales force, the process for the evaluation and selection of the reps must be as meticulously designed and followed as any process for hiring a full-time internal resource. A year or more lost with a rep can set a company back even longer when considering the time required to train and replace the rep.

As a global director … Read the rest

Back to Basics: What Manufacturers Value in Their Reps


In interviews with manufacturers on the subject of what and how independent manufacturers’ representatives should present themselves when describing their capabilities to prospective principals, a number of factors regularly come up in the conversation. It would appear that the rep that can ably show that his agency possesses those attributes, the chances of the agency getting the line increase immeasurably.

Among those factors or attributes are these:

  • Professionalism and Integrity

The first two, professionalism and integrity point directly at the agency’s reputation among principals and customers in the territories in which they work. In addition, what do other agencies think … Read the rest

Expert Advice on Effective Presenting


When it comes to independent manufacturers’ representatives being able to deliver a first-class presentation in front of a prospective principal, at the outset Steve Boyd points to the importance of trust and credibility.

According to Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati, when the rep stands in front of a principal “You want to establish your credibility with them. I’m assuming they do not know you well at this point and you want to say things that will make them trust you and rely on you for your expertise. I sometimes … Read the rest

Manufacturers Offer Some Presentation Tips


No discussion of how a rep should make an effective presentation to a prospective principal would be complete without input from those who are on the receiving end of such presentations — the manufacturers.

Peter Zafiro, general manager, LinMot USA, Elkhorn, Wisconsin, was quick and to the point when asked what he recommends reps keep in mind when making presentations to prospective principals. Zafiro maintains, The biggest issue I have seen is independent representatives setting realistic expectations with the manufacturer, especially on where the rep can make an immediate impact. For many reps it is very hard to straight … Read the rest

Profiting From an Investment in Reps


It was a combination of due diligence in the form of research of the independent manufacturers’ rep business model and knowledgeable input from company sales veterans that saw Advanced Micro Controls, Inc. (AMCI), make the move from a direct to an outsourced sales force six years ago.

According to Bob Alesio, director of sales and marketing, “Before I joined AMCI, the company worked with reps, but eventually moved away from that business model. In 2009 we firmly set our sights on company growth for the next five years. That’s when we made the move back to reps. That decision was … Read the rest

Getting Your Staff to Get Along


Common Teambuilding Approaches — and Why They Don’t Work

“I can accept it when one of my employees makes a mistake. What I don’t have patience for is when my employees don’t play well with one another.” This was a client, a business owner with 45 employees, who explained, “When there’s a problem with a customer, employees focus more on blaming other departments and covering their own backsides than stepping up to help each other to resolve the problem. We need a stronger commitment to teamwork.”

Over the many years that I’ve helped teams to strengthen trust with their customers … Read the rest

Empowerment Is Bending the Rules


Empowerment means every employee has to make fast decisions in favor of the customer. It’s important that we are honest and sincere in our efforts to service our customers. The only way we can do that is by empowering employees to satisfy the customer quickly and to their satisfaction.

Most employees are rule and process driven. They worship rules. Almost all employees assume they will be immediately fired if they make a decision in favor of the customer, when in fact, most decisions require no money and about 80 percent will cost under $50. They have to bend the rules.… Read the rest

Popcorn and Other Marketing Mistakes in a Changing Economy


Ten years of competitive hell!

That was the title on the seminar brochure I received recently. As I survey some of the forces flowing through our economy and witness the way in which they affect my clients, I have to agree. “The Information Age” is certainly one of the most turbulent times business people have ever seen.

And the force causing the greatest turbulence is rapid, unrelenting change. Consider this: in 1900, the total amount of knowledge that mankind had was doubling about every 500 years. Today, it doubles about every two years. And the pace continues to increase. One … Read the rest

Why Doing a Good Job Won’t Get You Anywhere


The Skillset That Puts You at the Head of the Pack

If you think doing a good job is what it takes to get to the head of the pack, you’re naïve, confused, delusional, or all three. Take your pick.

And here’s why. Doing a good job is the starting point, the baseline. It’s what’s expected. There are plenty of people doing a good, even a great job. But they’re dead in the water. They aren’t going anywhere, other than out the door in the next restructure.

Tough words, but they don’t need to be the last words. Here’s what … Read the rest

Blast From the Past — Straight From the Shoulder

MANA 70th AnniversaryThe year was 1947. Harry S. Truman was president, Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier, and on October 17, 1947, the Manufacturers’ Agents National Association joined the community of not-for-profit trade associations.

To celebrate our 70th MANAversary year, each Agency Sales magazine through October will include a “blast from the past” article from the early issues of The AGENT and Representative magazine, which eventually became Agency Sales.

These nostalgic looks back at how our counterparts from seven decades ago conducted their businesses and their lives are really eye-opening, in some cases because they conducted their business so differently from … Read the rest

To Tell or Not to Tell


We have long advocated for independent manufacturers’ representatives to be completely honest with their principals when it comes to letting them know that they’ve taken on a new line. However, the fact remains that often reps will be reluctant to pass that information along because they fear that some of their principals would view an additional line as something that would allow the rep to allocate less time on their own line.

When this scenario was laid out for one medium-sized manufacturer, he responded that he’d always want to be kept in the loop regarding activities of his reps. “I … Read the rest

Essential Steps for a Strong Online Identity


The digital media transformation has changed everything for businesses. When anyone and everyone has access to media channels, a compelling online identity is essential to ensuring your company won’t disappear into the din of information overload.

Whether it is a website, blog, or social media presence, digital media requires companies to have a clear position and an arresting message. To be attractive to an audience, people need to know what you are about, what you stand for, and whether they can relate to your identity.

Here are key steps to build a strong online identity.

Crystallize the Purpose

Identify the … Read the rest

Is Your Marketing “Salty” Enough?


The best marketers know that what worked before does not necessarily work today.

The old idea of “push” marketing has now been replaced. It is not even “pull” marketing. Today, the key is to be able to persuade people in a pleasant way to embrace you, your products, and your services.

Today, things are different. You can’t force people to watch your ads. There are so many choices that people are programmed to flip channels at light speed. We have a whole generation trained in “the art of the delete key” when it comes to junk mail.

I recently conducted … Read the rest

Independent Sales Representative Laws and Delinquent or Unpaid Sales Commissions


If your company makes use of commissioned independent sales representatives to sell its products, or if you are a commissioned independent sales representative, you need to understand your rights and obligations under various states’ Independent Sales Representative statutes. California, like 35 other states, including Washington and Oregon, has an Independent Sales Representative statute that is designed to protect independent sales representatives. These statutes go by various names, but they share the common goal of making sure independent sales representatives are timely paid the full amount of their commissions.

As a manufacturer or distributor, failing to understand and comply with your … Read the rest

How to Get Into Position for a Market Hit


Imagine a scenario where the market drops 20 percent this year. Sounds drastic, but in fact it did just that in 2001, and again 2002 and once again in 2008. Back then, many investors used the majority of the next big move up just getting back to even instead of making money. (See my article, “Two Beers, a Napkin and a 401k,” May 2013, Agency Sales).

But suppose in this scenario you were able to avoid the “big hit” and experience a flat return or just a minuscule loss. Wouldn’t you agree that you’d be in good shape going … Read the rest

MANA Members Attend the 2017 CPMR Program

The MRERF CPMR program completed another successful week in Austin, Texas this January. Over 220 manufacturer representative owners and their successors spent the week investing in their future success.

2017_03-02_MRERF-CPMRThe Certified Professional Manufacturers Representative program is executive education whose graduates earn the designation and distinction of joining over three decades of professionals who set themselves, and their firm, apart with the recognizable CPMR logo.

These are members of our association who attended this year:

Grant Agee, CSP
Power Equipment Specialists, Inc.
Arvada, CO

Keynae Agnew
Agnew Pacific Enterprises, LLC
Aliso Viejo, CA

Jeremy Anderson
MVK Group
West Palm Beach, FL… Read the rest