Property of NASA


“What is the difference between dealing with a rep and dealing with the factory?” Let me tell you my story.

image of car wash

© monticellllo |

When I was a rep I sold industrial timers to a car wash manufacturer.

The customer called to report a defective timer. I secured a Return Material Authorization, and the customer sent the timer back for evaluation.

The timer factory reported that the timer worked perfectly, so they shipped it back to the customer. The customer called me again, reporting a different timer was defective. But when it went back to the factory, it tested out fine.

After a few more times, the timer manufacturer wanted to start charging the customer for testing and return freight. The customer was angry that so many timers were defective. Resolving the problem fell on my shoulders.

Eventually, I tracked down the person who was reporting that the timers were defective. I asked him how he determined that our timers were defective.

“We know that they are defective because our car wash stopped working.” A car wash has hundreds of electrical connections and dozens of parts that could fail. But the customer insisted that whenever the car wash failed it was our timer’s fault.

My principal and my customer had both drawn lines in the sand. Neither would budge. My dad came up with the solution. “Let’s build them a timer tester.”

It was that simple. And because the tester had lights that reminded Dad of 1960s NASA mission control, he labeled the timer “Property of NASA.”

Problem solved. Each time a timer was suspect, the customer tested it. We never had another failure.

Reps are creative problem solvers. That was my story. To share your story, email me at

Education Is a Two‑Way Street


In the ever-evolving relationship between manufacturers’ representatives and their principals, the need to educate one another remains vitally important.

Manufacturers educate reps on capabilities, quality systems, lead times, polices and procedures and best practices that they feel will assist the rep to be more successful in marketing and selling their respective lines. Do we ever stop to think about how important it is for reps to reciprocate this education back to the manufacturer?

Manufacturers should always consider their rep agencies as extensions of their business. The communication should be transparent, open and frequent, for the two sides are truly “partners” … Read the rest

Operating Room Nurse to Independent Rep


Armed with a self-described “big mouth,” a love of medicine and a desire to wear a suit and carry a briefcase, Willa Moats, CPMR, made the jump from operating room nurse to independent manufacturers’ representative 35 years ago. Today she heads Willcare Associates, LLC, Milford, Pennsylvania. The agency serves the greater New York area, northern New Jersey, and upstate New York.

Given her extensive medical background, the obvious questions for Moats are how and why she embarked on such a dramatic career change. She explains, “In the mid-1980s, as a single mother, I wasn’t making a great deal of money … Read the rest

The Need to Educate Principals


When MANA members considered whether they had a responsibility to educate principals new to working with an outsourced sales force, caution was advised. In response to the question, “Is it a red flag that a potential principal has no experience working with the rep business model?” participants in a MANAchat responded with a resounding “Yes!”

In the chat, conducted over a week with 26 association members participating, some cautionary words were heard, however:

  • “If a manufacturer has performed his due diligence (and, why wouldn’t he do that?) before approaching an agency, you’d think that they’ve educated themselves about the ins
Read the rest

MAC Meeting Tackles Covid Response


While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to negatively impact business and the world of reps specifically, there are a number of positives that have developed over the course of the last 12 months. That, in general, was the tone of the conversation from a Manufacturers’ Agents of Cincinnati (MAC) meeting held late last year.

In a luncheon meeting moderated by Jerry Leth, MANA’s, vice president and general manager, and Jack Foster, Agency Sales’ editor, a group of MAC members discussed how the pandemic has impacted their lives and the lives of their principals and customers.

Founded in 1971, MAC is a … Read the rest

Preparation Over Correction: The Difference Between Coaching and Managing


As leaders we have a responsibility to make our employees better, not just more knowledgeable or experienced (by the way this is imperative for leaders of leaders as well).

One of the most common mistakes made by leaders is the focus on “correction” instead of “preparation.” To give direction is to share clear expectations on what we the leaders expect from our people, not just job descriptions and sales goals or results. Preparation is about helping our employees understand how we expect them to think, prepare and execute. This mistake looks like this: leaders spend more time correcting their employees … Read the rest

Nine Habits That Cause Us Unnecessary Trouble


Most of us are talented at excusing personal habits as trivial idiosyncrasies or minor infractions. Yet, they can come together to form a clear picture of who we are in the eyes of others.

Here are nine habits — among many others — that we can easily overlook or ignore. However, if we do, they can cause us unnecessary trouble, both personally and professionally.

1. Winging It

What is it? It’s assuming we’re so smart or experienced that we don’t need to prepare for a presentation. It starts out innocently. We run out of time and decide to “wing it.” … Read the rest

Are Your Producers Not Producing?


Last week I was talking with a friend of mine who owns a business, and he repeated something I’ve been hearing from a lot of business owners. He said, “Every year around my insurance expiration date, I have anywhere from three to six insurance agents, in addition to my current agent, show up looking to quote my insurance. You know how many showed up this year?” I knew the answer because, as I said, I’ve heard it from other business owners, but I humored him, “How many?” I asked. “Zero.”

What’s the definition of producer? (…fill in the blank.) Right. … Read the rest

How to Overcome Call Reluctance and Pick Up the Phone


I get them every day and you probably do too.

I’m talking about connection requests on LinkedIn that are really cold prospecting messages. You know the drill — someone you’ve never heard of sends you a connection request. Against your better judgment, you accept it partly because you’re a nice person and partly because you think, “Well, I guess a person can never have too many connections.”

About 15 seconds after you click “accept,” you receive a LinkedIn direct message from the person nakedly pitching some product or service.

There are a lot of reasons why we receive so many … Read the rest

Seven Steps on How to Survive the COVID-19 Sales Downturn


Customer service in the United States has reached a new low. Frankly, it is getting worse each week. You’d think with all the closed businesses, as a result of the pandemic, that the companies that are struggling would be so much more aware of their customer service.

The problem is almost all CEOs believe they provide great service, and almost everyone thinks it is awful. When top management does not see any problems with their level of customer service, they face a major problem.

My experience in the past is too many employees lie to cover up lousy service. I … Read the rest

Your Line Card — A Major Selling Tool


Manufacturers please pay attention. It may not seem important to you, but it is.

Why is your rep’s line card important to you? Later we’ll discuss why it is so important to the rep firm and the rep firm’s customers.

For a manufacturer, the line card that a rep firm presents to all of its publics is of vital importance. These are the publics:

  • You, the principals that they represent.
  • Their customers and buyers who purchase either directly or through distribution.
  • Their employees.

We will review all three.

First of all, the line card is a clear, concise overview of … Read the rest

Rep Councils Smooth Communication


Manufacturers’ independent rep councils go a long way to eliminate the “us vs. them syndrome.” That was one of the primary messages delivered by Charlie Ingram, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Eriez Magnetics, Erie, Pennsylvania, during a MANAcast.

“In a nutshell,” according to Ingram, “the rep council serves as an advisory board and operates as a way to provide information back and forth between manufacturers and their reps. A rep council’s purpose is not to hear reps’ complaints; rather, their ultimate purpose is to determine what improvements are needed when it comes to serving manufacturers’ and the … Read the rest

Sales in the Age of Technology


How customer relationship management solutions transform sales organizations.

Technology is an integral and mission-critical part of every business process today and a strong technology foundation is essential, no matter the industry. This is especially true in the area of sales. Successful sales executives are constantly looking for ways to sell more, sell better, and sell faster. A key solution to achieve these goals is Customer Relationship Management (CRM).

In this article I will highlight the many benefits and advantages of CRM and how it transformed Harvey Gerstman Associates (HGA), the New York-based manufacturers’ representative agency I manage, from a very … Read the rest

Seizing a Principal’s Assets Before Obtaining a Judgment


“Money is the most egalitarian force in society. It confers power on whoever holds it.” — Roger Starr, author and urban planning official

Reps who get stiffed on commissions usually agonize over what, if anything, to do about it. After undergoing root canals or tax audits, hiring a lawyer to pursue unpaid commissions usually ranks as a rep’s least desirable course of action.

Some might even prefer the endodontic drilling into a tooth to retaining legal counsel. And without anesthetic.

After all, withholding commissions is an easy and common exploitative tactic utilized by certain principals who view their sales reps … Read the rest

Lisa Wilson Elected to the MANA Board of Directors

MANA’s Board of Directors is pleased to announce that MANA rep members have elected Lisa Wilson, president of L.S. Wilson & Associates, Inc., Bristol, Wisconsin, to serve on MANA’s Board of Directors ballot for a two-year term starting May 1, 2021.

Wilson will replace MANA Director Charlie Ingram, who completes his second two-year term on April 30, 2021. Ingram recently retired from his position as executive vice president & chief marketing officer of Eriez Manufacturing in Erie, Pennsylvania.

Ingram is the only manufacturer ever to serve on MANA’s Board of Directors and his contributions to MANA’s governance have been invaluable. … Read the rest