Thank You Cincinnati!


One of my first trips to speak to manufacturers’ representatives after becoming MANA’s CEO in 2011 was to speak to the Manufacturers’ Agents of Cincinnati (MAC). It’s been a regular stop for me ever since, and it was a thrill on my most recent visit to find 35 manufacturers’ agents and manufacturers registered to take part in a “PowerPoint-Free Zone.”

Manufacturers’ Agents of Cincinnati (MAC)

The “PowerPoint-Free Zone” at the Manufacturers’ Agents of Cincinnati (MAC) meeting.

The “PowerPoint-Free Zone” has become one of MANA’s most popular presentation formats, and its heritage goes back to my first MAC visit six years ago. It was common practice then, and remains common practice today, to pick a topic, prepare a slide deck, launch a speech, and hope that the audience that had arrived to receive it was the right audience for the message you had prepared.

It’s the public speaking equivalent of broadcasting: Crafting a message for the audience you hope to attract, and trusting the pull of that message to attract that target audience at the time and place it will be delivered.

Over the years, two things became apparent.

1. PowerPoint overload at work left audiences with little tolerance for PowerPoint outside of work.

2. Q&A after the PowerPoint was often much more dynamic and powerful than the presentation that preceded it.

With this in mind, MANA’s “PowerPoint-Free Zone” was born.

Instead of MANA picking a topic and hoping it would resonate with the audience, we launch each “PowerPoint-Free Zone” presentation with 15 minutes on a topic chosen to elicit questions and vigorous discussion, and then open the floor for Q&A.

photo of Tom Hayward

Special thanks to MANA Past Chairperson Tom Hayward for his regular outreach to get me onto MAC’s speaker agenda once again.

The audience decides what they want to discuss, and we discuss it. Vigorously. Productively. No holds barred.

Instead of broadcasting, it’s narrowcasting. Instead of our chosen topics, it’s the audience’s chosen topics. And some of the best insights are shared not by the presenter, but by members of the audience.

It’s not unlike the advice we get from sales trainers, applied to audiences instead of prospective customers. Instead of telling prospective customers everything you know, according to most sales trainers, find out what they are interested in, listen more than you talk, and help them find useful solutions. Sage advice for salespeople and MANA presenters!

Defining the Perfect Principal


“Perfection, like beauty,” we’re told, “is in the eye of the beholder.” We all agree but don’t reflect on the lens. What is this mind’s “eye,” the eye that spies the perfect spouse, the perfect family, and of course the perfect life? For “reps” the perfect search is for the perfect principal. How is that perfection imagined?

New Year’s Resolutions reveal that over the year, we’ve gone off track, and they highlight the asymmetry between reality and our often self-defeating “eye’s” vision. Better choice: Look inside, adjust, accept — then define “your perfection.” Define yourself and your business first! The … Read the rest

Revisiting: The Perfect Principal


More than 15 years ago, long-time MANA‑member Harry Abramson authored a series of articles for Agency Sales magazine focused on the importance of perfection. Before he was done, Abramson, who founded Electronic Salesmasters, Inc., over 40 years ago, had tackled the subject of perfection from the vantage point of the rep, principal, customer and other perspectives. While Abramson retired from his agency in 2015, he is still “hands-on” in his capacity as a consultant to ESI.

Beginning last month and continuing this month and next, Agency Sales will be revisiting the subject of perfection as it applies to the rep, … Read the rest

Following a Path to “Perfection”


There are really only a few, very important, things that a principal must do in order to make their agents happy and really want to sell a lot of their products. All agents want to be treated as professionals and true partners with the principal. Below are the main attributes each principal should strive to achieve if in fact they want to be considered “perfect.”

  • Integrity
  • Teamwork
  • Open communication
  • Friendly
  • Mutual respect


Without a principal being totally upfront and honest with an agent, there is no chance for a great relationship. The agent will never trust the principal and … Read the rest

One Rep’s Advice: Pay Me Now or Pay Me Later


Well into his 51st year as an independent manufacturers’ representative, Howard Collier took the occasion to recall a conversation he was engaged in at the beginning of his career. “Years ago, as a very young man, I attended a MANA luncheon in Cleveland. Situated at my table was a sales veteran who asked me one simple question: ‘What is the highest point of your relationship with a manufacturer that you represent in sales?’ I didn’t know so he quickly answered: ‘When you both sign a contract for sales representation!’”

That question — and more important the answer — have stuck … Read the rest



Smart Entrepreneurs Avoid and Manage Them

A Google alert directed me to an article entitled “Beating the Odds When You Launch a New Venture,” authored by Clark Gilbert and Matthew Eyring, in the Harvard Business Review. It was one of the best pieces I’ve read about entrepreneurs, their attitudes, and management of risk. They maintained that entrepreneurs aren’t cowboys — they’re methodical managers of risk.

I contacted one of the authors, Clark Gilbert, the president of Brigham Young University-Idaho and formerly a professor at Harvard Business School, to discuss his ideas and decided I wanted to share his thoughts … Read the rest

Take a “Vow to Wow”


I am in the process of updating one of my books and I came across a heading that I had written in for Costco: “Vow to Wow.” Since day one Costco has had an unwavering commitment to doing the right thing for their members, employees, suppliers, and the community. Their strategy is to make sure its customers come back. Its merchandisers are meticulous about their choices of product for their customers and have set detailed standards on everything from the size of cashews to the thread count of bed sheets.

That unbeatable value proposition on quality products and customer service … Read the rest

Why Prospecting Fails and What to Do About It


Engaging prospects so they want to find you

Prospecting is arguably the number‑one hot topic in sales. In spite of all the seminars, podcasts, training programs, books, and pressure from managers, most salespeople are prospecting excuse experts. Even when cajoled, pushed and incentivized, salespeople have a tough time getting their prospecting engine to run on one cylinder — at most.

Why is there so much resistance to getting out and finding new customers? Why do people who enjoy selling find it so difficult to sell themselves to prospects? The answer may be that selling and prospecting require two different skill … Read the rest

Phrases That Pay


Simple statements that increase your perceived value

Quick — name two words which, when frequently used by waiters and waitresses, increases tips by 12 percent. (Hint: it’s not please or thank you).

Give up? The answer is, “…for you.” So, rather than saying to a customer, “Would you like some more coffee?” the savvy waiter would say, “I brought more coffee over for you.” The patron thinks, “Gosh, you did that for me, how thoughtful!” and tips accordingly — on average 12 percent more.

That’s what I call easy money. If you answered correctly — ignore the rest of this … Read the rest

Blast From the Past — The Selling Parade

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

Rep Forecasting


When the sales manager for a manufacturing company that is committed to going to market with independent manufacturers’ representatives posed a question in the MANA LinkedIn discussion room, quick responses indicated that the subject of rep forecasting was still a hot topic among manufacturers and their reps.

Here’s how the manufacturer initiated the discussion:

“This is an ongoing topic back and forth. We as the manufacturer want to get better insight on what our reps are quoting and when they can expect to land orders. Reps like to keep their cards close to their heart. From a manufacturing standpoint, it … Read the rest

The Benefits of Virtual Reality


Imagine a world where you immerse yourself into learning, training, and entertainment so vividly real that you forget you’re using a device. That world is not just theoretical. It is called virtual reality, and it is one of the hottest trends in technology today.

Virtual reality was vividly on display at the CES trade show in Las Vegas sponsored by the Consumer Technology Association. For me, this was an exciting time, as I was able to visit the booth of Chinese company 3Glasses as they demonstrated their new D2 headset.

Philip Kong the COO of 3Glasses, gave me my first … Read the rest

Home Court Advantage


MANA is doing its part to remind representatives and principals that from the moment the partnership is formed and throughout the time sales activities are conducted, both parties are best served by focusing on a win-win relationship. Any time that win-win relationship tips out of balance it puts at risk the success and profitability of both parties.

Principals who perceive themselves as the dominant partner are probably not MANA members, so this message is not addressed to MANA manufacturer members. But MANA representative members will from time to time represent a manufacturer less enlightened than most MANA manufacturer members, and … Read the rest

ERA Presents Key Award to Paul Nielsen

At its 48th Management and Marketing Conference, held in Austin, Texas, February 26-28, the Electronics Representatives Association (ERA) presented the ERA Key Award to its outgoing chairman of the board, Paul Nielsen, CPMR, of Brainard-Nielsen Marketing, Inc. The award honors an individual for volunteer service to ERA above and beyond “the call of duty.”

ERA President Dan Parks, CPMR, of West Electronic Sales made the surprise presentation to Nielsen in recognition of his 12 years of service on the Executive Committee and as ERA President and Chairman. Parks said, “Paul is one of the most generous in the business when … Read the rest