How Long Is a Piece of String?


The manufacturer on the phone asked a question I couldn’t answer.


© New Africa |

“I’m interviewing reps for a territory where my company has no existing business. I understand that a well-established rep can’t work for free, so I am willing to pay a monthly Market Development Fee (MDF). What should that cost?

Great question! So I asked a rep who often accepts new lines based on an MDF. The answer they gave me was puzzling: “How long is a piece of string?”

I asked for an explanation, and the rep happily supplied it.

“The point I am trying to make is that there isn’t enough information in your question to answer it. I need to know what the manufacturer needs before calculating an MDF. For example:

  • “If the manufacturer asks me to make four calls a month on their behalf, the fee could be pretty modest. If the manufacturer wants 15 calls, the fee would be quite a bit higher.
  • “If the manufacturer only wants monthly feedback by phone or text, the fee could be modest. If the manufacturer wants a formal written monthly report, the fee would be higher.
  • “How many salespeople does the rep firm employ? A $1,000 monthly MDF won’t go very far if it has to be split between the salespeople of a 10-person rep firm.

“My rule of thumb for quoting an MDF is to start by calculating my cost to deliver the services they want. Then the MDF has to be at least 50 percent of my cost, so we will both have skin in the game.”

“If my MDF doesn’t fit their budget, then they need to accept fewer monthly sales calls and less reporting. Until I know the services the manufacturer requires, asking me to quote the cost of an MDF is pretty much like asking, ‘How long is a piece of string?’”

Note: This article combines several different conversations, which were edited for length and clarity.

MANA Helps Smooth the Road for Agencies


Recently I was going through some older business records to see what I could discard. There were copies of commission checks from two principals that I no longer represent.

Principal One terminated me and I terminated with Principal Two. Principal One informed me that I was not bringing in enough new business. This was when the market crashed in 2008. Prior to the market crash everything appeared to be fine. I was never told that I was not performing and there was concern on the principal’s behalf regarding the need to develop new customers. On the contrary, I was actually … Read the rest

MANA Marks 75 Years of Service to Reps and Manufacturers


The Manufacturers’ Agents National Association (MANA) celebrates its 75th or “Diamond” anniversary in 2022. And, while marking that milestone, the oft-repeated phrase, “The more things change, the more they remain the same,” comes to mind.

It was just five years ago that Charles Cohon, CPMR, the association’s CEO and president, noted that while “digging through” the first few issues of The Agent and Representative (the predecessor to Agency Sales magazine) it was notable that while MANA has undergone major change over the years, it was remarkable “how much it has remained the same.”

As he considered some of the changes … Read the rest

Principal Agreement Terminations


MANA member attorney Scott M. Sanders identified three key areas to consider as he covered situations related to principal agreement terminations during a MANAcast:

  • Key contract terms and the ability for reps to collect unpaid commissions.
  • Potential ways around 30-day termination.
  • A discussion of state laws favoring reps when they make a claim for unpaid commissions.

At the outset of his presentation, which was followed by a question-and-answer session, Sanders maintained that independent manufacturers’ representatives were what he considered “road warriors.” As such, “They often take a long time to build up a book of business with a particular principal. … Read the rest

Turning an Operational Negative Into a Backselling Positive


Stuff happens! There is no avoiding occasional negatives for your rep firm.

One of the most troubling negatives is losing a good person for any reason. It is critical that rep firm management recognize that communication with manufacturers about personnel changes is absolutely critical and urgent.

Your manufacturers (I like to call them principals) have every right to know everything about your team — their sales force — as soon as something develops.

A Great Letter

I recently received this letter from a rep client:

“I regretfully announce that Charlie Smith [fictional name] will be leaving The Smith Group this Read the rest

Why Hiring the Best Person Is a Major Competitive Advantage


Recruiting good hires to any organization has been a persistent challenge for years. Furthermore, in what has seemingly been dubbed “the great resignation,” 2022 continues to be particularly difficult for leaders to recruit and retain staff. But there is a workaround, and it starts with hiring the best person, not the best resume for a job. In this article, I’m going to break down how we can turn this challenge into a major competitive advantage.

A (Scary) New Dawn

These days it is not an unfamiliar sight to see businesses with newly chained doors or experience poor customer service due … Read the rest

How to Follow Up With a Prospect


Following up with prospects is crucial to closing.

There are plenty of things that prospects like to hear, and can help make your follow-up more effective.

I think we both know the almost impossibility of making a sale on the very first contact. Without compelling follow-up, there can be no sales — and I’ve got seven ways your follow-up could improve.

1. Replay What They Say

This is the easiest one. You may have had one conversation with them, and they shared with you one piece of information. So, in your next email to them, you play it back. You … Read the rest

Ideas to Keep in Mind When Closing Sales


Without closing nothing happens, products aren’t manufactured, trucks don’t move, people don’t work, and money doesn’t change hands. If there is no closing, there will be no business. So, arguably closing is the most important part of the sale; however, if you have a great presentation and you give it to a prospect who is not qualified, the best closing skills in the universe won’t bail you out. In this article I’m going to assume you’ve done everything else right, in other words, you have a properly qualified prospect, you have a good presentation, you’ve sufficiently matched your solution with … Read the rest

Relentless Role Models


I have two rules for companies that want to provide exceptional service.

  • Rule 1: Serve the customer.
  • Rule 2: When in doubt, see rule number 1.

Being relentless means providing exceptional service to your customers. It’s a propulsive, self-directed passion to continue to learn, improve, and exceed expectations in everything you do. It’s a race without a finish line. It’s a reflection of the core principles, beliefs, and attitudes of people within healthy and hugely successful businesses.

I’ll cite three companies that are reaping the benefits of being relentless in serving their customers. Those businesses should serve as role models … Read the rest

Are You Burning Yourself Out Accidentally?


Who on earth would want to become a victim of burnout? I know, it sounds silly. But many of us do it because of one of three somewhat twisted beliefs. Stay with me here and I’ll explain.

Reason #1

We have a desire for success. Shouldn’t everyone have a desire for success? Of course, but not to the point that we sacrifice our physical and emotional health. When we develop a passion for what we’re doing, it is easy to become all-consumed. We think about it all the time. We spend all our extra time honing our understanding and skills. … Read the rest

Sales Forecasts Do Not Have to Be as Wrong as Fortune Cookies


There has been much talk in the news about forecasts — and while most forecasts have been wrong, they are still more accurate than fortune cookies!

Thanks to satellites, computer modeling and doppler radar, weather forecasts are more reliable than ever before. Yet despite those advances, they are still guessing — educated guesses to be sure — but guessing about what will happen, when it will happen, and where it will happen. I live in central Massachusetts and between late November and early April, most winter storms track up the east coast and when a storm tracks a few miles … Read the rest

Finding the Winning Formula


On the subject of the type of communication one manufacturer desires from its manufacturers’ representatives, one manufacturer appears to have landed right on top of a true winning formula.

Instead of asking for regular reports from the field, this manufacturer has asked its reps to only communicate when there’s something important to report. “The rep’s performance in the field shows us whether he’s doing a good job for us or not. If we were to push for regular reports, then that only muddies the water and to be perfectly honest, if we’re deluged with regular call reports, we’re not going … Read the rest

Professional Social Media Use


We are living in a dangerous time right now — a dangerous time for sales professionals, their personal brands and their continued employment.

The world in which we live has become politically and socially polarized. For many reasons, some nefarious and others unintentional, people are being sucked toward the outlying extremities of the opinion spectrum.

It’s unfortunate, and I don’t see it getting any better in the short run. As socio-political vitriol reaches new pitch levels, some people are finding social media to be too unnerving.

Like you, I have social media connections who regularly pontificate on their immoderate points … Read the rest

AIM/R Celebrates 50th Anniversary This Year

Big things are happening in 2022. AIM/R will hold the 50th Annual Conference from October 12-14, 2022 (Wednesday through Friday) at the Gaylord Rockies Resort in Aurora/Denver, Colorado.

Mission Celebrate, AIM/R 50th Annual Conference image

The association is returning to its roots and where the first Annual Conference was held back in 1973. The theme is “Mission Celebrate.” The planning has begun for the 2022 Conference Chair — Katie Hubach, CPA, Signature Sales, Inc. — and the Conference Committee. Mark your calendar now. Registration will open on Tuesday, March 1st. This attendee experience will not disappoint.

AIM/R greatly appreciates your continued support of the industry and its … Read the rest