Planting for the Future


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“A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they shall never sit.” — Greek Proverb

What trees does MANA plant to help ensure the rep industry’s future? Here’s an example.

Reps struggle to recruit recent college graduates as employees, in part because college classes don’t mention reps. Why don’t college classes mention reps? Because decision-makers who pick the content for college classes have never heard of reps.

Where do those decision-makers gather the content they include in college courses? Academic journals, so this is where we must plant the seeds for trees in whose shade we may never sit.

In 2018 I first met with Trond Bergestuen, a Ph.D. candidate writing his thesis on manufacturers’ representatives. I helped him gather the data he needed to write and defend his thesis and earn his Ph.D. I continued to work with Trond to help him with articles about reps for academic journals.

Trond’s first two articles have been published in highly respected academic journals.

  • “Dual distribution systems: Investigating their effects on independent manufacturers’ representatives’ perceptions of manufacturers,” Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, November 22, 2021.
  • “Principal-independent manufacturers’ representative relationships: Review, synthesis, directions for future research,” Industrial Marketing Management, January 31, 2022.

After helping Trond collect the data he needed for articles about reps in North America, I connected him with my counterparts in Europe. They are assisting him with data collection that will allow him to write articles comparing and contrasting North American practices with European practices.

As more articles like these reach academic decision-makers, more information about reps will become part of future college classes. In the future, recent college graduates will know about the rep industry and give us strong consideration as they begin their careers.

I can’t say when we will be able to sit in the shade of the seeds that were planted in 2018, but I can tell you that those saplings have taken root and are thriving.

Meeting the Challenge — Building and Maintaining Relations With Customers Who Are Burned Out


I don’t know about you, but I’m noticing my customers are burned out and maybe even showing some signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Perhaps you’ve noticed it also. Salespeople serve on the front lines to the customer and are better able than anyone else to identify issues firsthand. The deep relationships we have been carefully developing over time allow us to measure the customer’s pulse during each visit. That is a gift — and it’s one we should share with our customers.

So, how do we support and build trust with our customers at a time when they do … Read the rest

In Hiring Salespeople: No One Size Fits All


One of the most valuable bits of advice that came from a MANAcast on the subject of “Hiring Salespeople for Your Manufacturers’ Rep Firm” was that “one size hardly fits all.”

By that, MANA-member Phillip Ferrell meant that when an agency is faced with the task of filling a sales position, there’s no one approach that is going to fit the needs of all agencies.

Ferrell, president of Agri-Sales Associates, which employs 20 salespeople, explained that by and large, his agency has followed fairly traditional steps when it comes to filling vacancies. “However, your approach to finding new people really … Read the rest

Rep Firm Finds a Home


If ever there was a “friendly camp” for a rep firm to call home it proved to be Gallagher Fluid Seals, Inc.

According to Chris Gallagher, CEO of the King of Prussia, Pennsylvania-based company, “When we learned from Dupont, one of the manufacturers that we work with, that the owner of its distributor in New England (IES Technical Sales, Danvers, Massachusetts), was interested in transitioning out of the firm, we opened acquisition conversations with the firm’s owner Mike Berry.”

Gallagher explains, “IES is a segmental distributor for Dupont Kalrez and deals only with targeted customers in the semiconductor and vacuum … Read the rest

Six Pricing Strategies for Success


The price a customer will pay is a reflection of the value you create.

When learning about your prospect becomes knowing your customer, you can customize that value.

There are six things you should know and have in your prospecting tool belt before you present your next price.

1. Your Confidence Impacts the Price

Never allow a price to go out the door without legs being attached to it. In other words, allow your human presence to do the work. Don’t sit there and think, “Well, I’m not sure if they’re going to take it, so I’m just going to … Read the rest

What’s the Ultimate Sales Tool: Personality, Product or Price?


Recently, I was consulting with a sales professional, and we were discussing his success, or lack thereof, with attracting new clients.

He had a serious challenge with landing new prospects: they would often avoid meetings with him or were simply unresponsive. Understandably, he was pretty broken up about it and quite demotivated. A career in sales is not for the weary, and his sentiments are often felt at some point by most sales professionals. However, in our oversaturated world, differentiation beyond product or price is key. In this article I’ll break down why and how you and your personality is … Read the rest

Is “On-the-Job” Training the Best Way to Develop Salespeople?


In our surveys, CEOs indicate “on-the‑job” training as the predominant method of developing salespeople. If everyone is doing it, it must be OK, right?

I don’t think so. See if this sounds familiar. You are ready to expand your sales force, so you hire a nice guy who has some experience in the industry. You start him with a few days in the warehouse, have him sit in customer service for a week, and meet with whichever manufacturers’ rep happens to stroll in. You send him out with a senior salesperson for a week or so. Then, he’s deemed ready … Read the rest

Too Many Interruptions? Consider This


Supply chain shortages, backlogs, and price hikes have caused increasing numbers of customers to voice questions and concerns that may have you and your team feeling pressured. Employees trying to finish a task for one customer may become flustered when “interrupted” with another request. That’s a formula for a bad day for a lot of people.

That’s why, when managers bring me in for team training, we talk about several guiding principles when juggling multiple customers.

Customers Are Not Interruptions

As LL Bean put it, customers are not interruptions to our work, they are the purpose of our work. Rather … Read the rest

Prospecting vs. Closing


More than 40 percent of sales professionals say prospecting is the most challenging part of the sales process according to a HubSpot survey. Thirty-six percent said closing was the most difficult part while 22 percent cited qualifying prospective clients as toughest.

Would you like to know what surprised me most about these survey results?

The fact that prospecting only had 40 percent.

I believe that prospecting is the most important part of the sales process and the one that causes the most stress, worry and procrastination among people who sell for a living.

When speaking to sales reps, I sometimes … Read the rest

Closing the Knowing‑Doing Gap


Perhaps you’ve seen it in the people around you. The purchasing agent who fails to act on a decision she knows is correct. The customer rep who spends too much time thinking through decisions that should come automatically. The supervisor who lets people slide in their performance rather than working to correct behavior.

When I was a new boss, I hired someone who listened intently to all the training. She had the smarts to do the job, but she couldn’t seem to act on any decision that involved an element of uncertainty. I thought she just needed more training, so … Read the rest

Strengthening the Relationship


It’s hardly unusual that rep‑principal relationships start off very well, but before anyone realizes what’s happening, things begin to sour.

Part of the cause for this disintegration of the relationship is that once reps are signed on, they are all too often forgotten. A bad situation can be exacerbated when principals fail to offer reps any orientation, visiting the home plant is not encouraged or there’s no strategic plan and no real commitment to the rep way of going to market. It would appear that as long as the orders keep on coming, nothing has to be done to maintain … Read the rest

Telephone Selling Tips


I spent my first six years in sales successfully selling over the phone, making between 200 and 300 hundred calls a day. For me, the phone was an effective way to sell to strangers all over the country. If you use the phone at all, whether it’s initial calls or follow-up calls, here are some tips that will be helpful.

Tip #1: Have a Mirror With the Word “Smile” on It

As you are speaking on the phone you want to look into your own eyes in the mirror as if you are looking into the eyes of the person … Read the rest

Hell Hath No Fury Like a Principal Scorned — Part 2


Sharp-eyed readers will recall that BI‑QEM, owner and operator of certain manufacturing facilities, was featured in the last edition of Agency Sales for the exceptionally “shabby treatment” it directed at Trade Links, its longtime exclusive rep. “In the lengthy annals of sales rep-principal relationships ending badly,” began the last column, BI-QEM’s conduct “deserves exceedingly prominent mention.”

Rather than clean up its act, in the nearly two years of ensuing litigation, BI-QEM stuck to its guns.

BI-QEM’s First Shot Was Not Even Close

To recap, back in 1999, the parties entered into a Sales Representative Agreement or SRA containing an initial … Read the rest