You Can’t Sell From an Empty Wagon

image of an empty wagon

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“I want to hire some reps for the new product I am bringing out in six months,” said the manufacturer who called me. “Can you help me?”

My response was not what she wanted to hear, but it was what she needed to hear.

“I’m glad to hear about your interest in reps. Reps will be the best way to take your new product to market. I understand your eagerness to start recruiting reps right away. In your shoes, I also would want to start “getting my ducks in a row” before my product was ready to launch.

“With apologies, though, my experience working with reps suggests this will not be effective. Reps you contact before your launch are most likely to respond in one of two ways:

  1. “Your prototype looks great, but I only get paid once I actually sell something. If you don’t have anything I can sell yet, there is no way for me to get paid, so I will need to wait until you have a product I can sell and you can ship to a customer before moving forward.”
  2. “I don’t doubt that you intend to launch your product, but I have had previous experiences where I have started to work on a product, only to discover that some unanticipated issue arose, and the product never launched. Lots of things can happen. A major investor can back out, there can be a regulatory issue like a failed environmental test, or a competitor can unexpectedly corner the market by launching ahead of you. I am ready to start once you launch, but I can’t start before you launch.”

“There is one other option. You could offer reps you hire pre-launch a monthly Market Development Fee to start selling now. But if you pay reps to start selling pre-launch, their customers will probably say: ‘Sounds great, come back and talk to me again later when I can actually buy this product.’”

Whether you are trying to recruit reps or customers, as my late father used to say, “You can’t sell from an empty wagon.”

How to Successfully Sell Through Independent Reps


Selling through independent manufacturers’ representatives can be a very rewarding business partnership if a few key areas are taken into consideration.

The first step is for the manufacturer to understand the rep-principal model. MANA can serve as a great resource for those manufacturers who have never gone to market using reps. Insight into a rep’s role of selling in a defined geographical region, handling synergistic but non-competing lines and adding value through applications engineering assistance are just a few areas of responsibility in which MANA can serve to educate.

Next, it is important to find the right partner. MANA has … Read the rest

After Your Principal Is Purchased — What Now?


An independent manufacturers’ rep is in the midst of enjoying years of a positive relationship with a principal. The tenure between the two companies is something they both boast about. Mutual expectations have historically been agreed upon and realized and sales continue on an upward path.

Then, one day the principal is bought out by another manufacturer, or a venture capitalist enters the scene with its own plans for the future. What follows are the dreaded words: “I don’t expect to make any changes to our current relationships.” Shortly thereafter that rep — and very probably the entire independent rep … Read the rest

Is This the Future for Many Outside Salespeople?


Don’t employ a kneejerk reaction by labeling John Ahlering as a pessimist when he begins to detail some of the many challenges that independent manufacturers’ reps face today. Instead, give him the benefit of the doubt that he is in fact a realist and one who embraces what MANA and Agency Sales magazine have long espoused when it comes to the importance of reps providing value to their principals and customers.

Looking back over a more than 22-year rep career, Ahlering, founder and president of Coastal Technology Group, LLC, is the first to admit the rep-profession landscape has changed considerably. … Read the rest

The Courage to Lead Means the Courage to Manage!


Learning to build an agency on hard-edged demands is the road to success. Each salesperson who works for a rep agency should be managed against a very specific set of standards.


The first requirement that should be made a part of the salesperson’s responsibility and work plan is detailed planning for the territory, each significant customer, and each significant line.

One of the problems salespeople encounter is managing their time. Time and territory management go hand in hand.

  • Where does a salesperson need to be? Of course, it depends on the business situation, but it also depends on the
Read the rest

True or False? Protecting Down Is Failed Leadership


I was recently reviewing some old client files and stumbled across a case where a senior leader in the middle was not coaching down to his management team.

You see my client, let’s call him Tom, was focused on protecting down. Meaning, he didn’t want to break the status quo by following the recommended changes made by the head of the company to reorganize his team.

Eventually, Tom removed his kid gloves, stopped protecting down and instead coached down. Things turned around and his story took a different route. Today, I want us to play a little game about the … Read the rest

How to Stand Out in Business and Sales


These days it’s extremely easy to stand out in business and sales. Work ethic, sales skills, follow‑up, and attention to detail are all at historic lows in many sales forces.

Here are some ideas that will help you stand out from all salespeople, even the best. Some of these are tips for standing out among other salespeople from a client perspective, others are tips for standing out from a peer perspective. Many of these will make the average salesperson groan because they require next-level commitment and hard work. The top salespeople on the other hand will love these, and probably … Read the rest

How to Create More Time for Selling


Would you like to have more time to be prospecting and selling?

Perhaps a better, albeit obvious, question: Would more time for selling make you more money? (Of course it would!)

I want to help you have more time for what really generates money for you: selling.

Having a great process but not enough time to execute it properly is not a recipe for success. It’s a recipe for frustration.

I challenge you to read these five time-management tips, and then implement them this week.

1. Do Not Multitask

I’m going to pop the bubble right now.

When you multitask, … Read the rest

Mistakes Salespeople Make — Part II


Over the decades that I’ve been involved in sales, I’ve worked with tens of thousands of salespeople. Certain negative tendencies — mistakes that salespeople make — keep surfacing. Here’s numbers two and three, not necessarily in order of priority. See to what degree you (or your sales force) may be guilty of them.

#2 Mistake: Lack of Planning

The typical field salesperson has, as a necessary and integral part of his or her personality, an inclination toward action. We like to be busy — driving here and there, talking on our cell phones, putting deals together, solving customers’ problems — … Read the rest

Drive Your Business by Empowering Your Employees


Empowerment is a powerful tool that will drive your business. It is also the single most complicated skill to get employees to use. When employees are empowered, they have the authority to make decisions — to bend and break the rules — on the spot to take care of a customer.

Most executives and managers, however, are afraid to empower their employees. They don’t trust employees — and they don’t trust customers. They think employees will “give away the store,” and they think customers will take advantage of employees who are empowered.

Most employees are also afraid of empowerment. They … Read the rest

The Question of Exclusivity


When a MANA member described an issue they encountered when negotiating an agreement with a prospective principal, she got plenty of feedback from her rep peers.

According to the rep, “The principal in question does not want to define a territory and they want to work on an ‘account-by-account’ basis. They are not offering any exclusivity; they demand the agency be exclusive to them. They have yet to offer a defined reason other than it ‘is not in their culture to offer exclusivity and it’s something they haven’t done in the past.’ They have even hinted that it is illegal … Read the rest

Tracking Your Production Is Key


Even if you are thoughtful and deliberate when setting your goals, if you’re like most sales professionals, you don’t accomplish all of them. There are a number of reasons why you might fall short, but one of the most common ones I see is a lack of goal tracking.

Tracking is the magic ingredient that makes goal setting so powerful.

If you write your sales goals and put them in a binder that sits on the top shelf of a little-used cabinet, you are wasting a golden opportunity. Check your sales goals at least once a quarter, preferably once a … Read the rest

Minnesota Legislature Strengthens Termination of Sales Representative Act


Unpaid commissions will be easier to collect for Minnesota manufacturers’ representatives. The Minnesota legislature recently passed, and Governor Tim Walz signed into law, a significant amendment to Minn. Stat. §325E.37, otherwise known as the Minnesota Termination of Sales Representative Act (“MTSRA”). The amendment passed with bi-partisan support and makes it easier for sales representatives, as defined under the MTSRA, to enforce a claim for wrongful termination and unpaid commissions.

The 2022 amendment to the MTSRA prevents an out-of-state principal from requiring a Minnesota sales representative to seek compensation for a violation under the MTSRA, and unpaid commissions, in another state. … Read the rest

ISA Announces New Board of Directors 2022-2023

The Industrial Supply Association (ISA) has announced the new Board of Directors effective July 1, 2022.

ISA’s Board of Directors is a dynamic group of elected volunteer leaders dedicated to anticipating and serving the needs of ISA’s member companies (distributors, manufacturers, and independent manufacturers’ representatives). Directors contribute knowledge, time and experience. They are responsible for the development of ISA’s strategic direction while overseeing a series of initiatives focused on the advancement of the industry and ISA.

“I am thrilled to announce David Ruggles as chair of ISA’s Board of Directors and welcome three new directors joining our board,” said Brendan … Read the rest