“We Shape Our Rep Firms; Thereafter They Shape Us” *

Statue of Winston Churchill

© dbrnjhrj | stock.adobe.com

A quote from Sir Winston Churchill reminded me how much of our futures were determined by the first manufacturer we worked with when we launched our rep firms.

We rarely consider how our futures were decided when we signed up with a line that seemingly came our way as if by a throw of the dice.

For many of us, our first job was working for a manufacturer or distributor. We had never even heard of reps. When we eventually learned about reps and started rep firms, we took a path less traveled that determined our futures.

How would your life be different if your first line was die-casting instead of plumbing fixtures?

  • It would have changed your ideas about how to go to market. Instead of selling through distributors, you would have been selling direct. Instead of having a warehouse, you would have worked from home or an office building.
  • The conferences and conventions you attended would have clustered in different regions. When you stretched business travel into a vacation, the places you visited would have been different.
  • Your customers would have been different, so none of your business friends would have been the same.
  • And more than a few of us have met our spouses during a sales call we would never have made if our products had been different.

When we are young and just starting our careers, we think we are shaping our rep firms. As we become older and more reflective, we realize how much our rep firms really shaped us.

* My apologies to Sir Winston Churchill for adapting his quote. “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us,” said Sir Winston Churchill in his speech to the meeting in the House of Lords on October 28, 1943, requesting that the House of Commons bombed out in May 1941 be rebuilt exactly as before.

How to Effectively Use Trade Shows as a Complement to Market Strategy


If there is any common challenge that reps cite as they continue to enter the post-Covid sales and marketing environment, it’s that it has become ever more difficult to reach prospects and customers.

Long-tenured reps recall the days of being able to reach prospects via their cold calls when existing customers would readily be available in their offices. Today, however, buying decision makers no longer populate offices as they did prior to the pandemic. While many of them continue to work at home, others that do come into the office have been able to avoid contact with the outside world … Read the rest

Retired Rep Spreads the Word


While Bob Gillen claims that he retired in 2008, that really doesn’t seem to be the case. Instead, the former independent manufacturers’ rep explains that today he intends to devote efforts to spreading the word about who and what a rep is.

In a recent conversation with Agency Sales, Gillen, who for years ran the single-person Gillen Associates in Raleigh, North Carolina, explains, “Now I’d like to do something different. I’d like to conduct seminars in a free venue focused on the career of being a manufacturers’ rep. I’m thinking of something like two-year community colleges, public libraries, churches, … Read the rest

The Single‑Person Agency and “Ghosting”


Several reps who participated in a MANAchat devoted to the single-person agency reported that they were being faced with “ghosting” by prospective and existing principals. For the uninitiated, ghosting is a colloquial term that refers to abruptly cutting off contact with someone without giving that person any warning or explanation for doing so.

Here’s how one of those reps faced with that experience explained his dilemma: “I’ve had four or five experiences recently where I’m interviewing with a principal. We go over each other’s wants and needs, and I get excited about the prospect of working with them. They promise … Read the rest

The “Timing” Excuse That Kills Sales and Business


Monday, January 2, 2023, was the perfect day to make some sales calls.

Because January 1st was on a Sunday, most businesses were closed to give employees an “official” day off from work. The closed companies included most of the ones I do sales training for. That made Monday, January 2nd the perfect day to test the sales reps I train, in particular, the ones I had coaching calls with that day.

I have different ways to test sales reps to see which ones are committed and have their head in the game and which ones don’t. One way I … Read the rest

Stop Telling and Start Asking Clients What They Need


I want to address something I frequently observe when I give sales workshops or sales-related keynotes. Too often sales professionals focus on telling clients about their products/services instead of putting the effort in to find out their actual needs and then working to meet them. These days especially, we’ve got to go the extra mile to maintain and attract our clientele. There is no room for inefficiencies, so let’s chat about the right sales strategies to employ, shall we?

Here’s Why Your Sales Strategy of Solely Telling Clients About Your Offerings Is Ineffective

Recently, I had the honor of being … Read the rest

How Top Salespeople Win the Day


Top performers just do things differently. They have a very succinct strategy because the only day we can truly impact is today. Yesterday has passed, and tomorrow is yet to come. Today is for making a difference.

1. Attitude

Top performers don’t moan and groan when Monday rolls around. They’re excited, and seek to make Mondays absolutely successful.

Monday is without a doubt, the best day of the week because it sets the tone for the week. Top performers have an attitude of success and expectation of being able to influence and impact other people.

2. Routine

Have a routine … Read the rest

Goals: Tracking Commission Progress


I have delivered three goal-setting workshops for sales teams this week alone.

I talk a lot about goals this time of year because goal-setting is essential for sales success. But there’s one thing you must do after setting your annual goals to make success possible: tracking.

Even if you’re 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 … Read the rest

Building Positive Relationships With Rep Principals


Part II: Building for the Long Term

An independent manufacturers’ representative must maintain strong relationships with the principals they represent to be successful and profitable. Part one covered the first four tactics a rep should always remember: Agree on a fair contract, maintain regular communication, the rep‑principal relationship, and treat the customer service group as a customer. This article will cover the remaining four.

Follow Company Procedures

This concept can present a challenge for a rep, particularly if some company procedures are out of line with the procedures and principles of the rep’s organization. Following company procedures is part of … Read the rest

Do Your People Know Your Company?


Can they present and sell the company?

For most of you reading this, your firm has four to 10 outside salespeople. At one time or another, each of these salespeople must present your rep firm. How well do they do this?

My experience is that most salespeople would get a “C” grade or worse. Most salespeople regardless of industry are neither trained nor capable of making a high-quality presentation of their rep firm.

Why is this important? First of all, the salespeople are the product that the manufacturer is buying. In the rep business, the only product is the sales … Read the rest

Are You a Victim of Infobesity?


In truth, we all are at times. As the name implies, infobesity is being unable to make decisions because you have too much information to consider. This challenge is nothing new. Social scientists were talking about information overload 50 years ago. Because of the “marvels” of digital technology, we now have it on steroids. Infobesity is the snazzy new term for it.

As you, every time I search for information on the Internet, Google takes .6 seconds to provide me with 4 billion possible links. This is part of the reason that 90 percent of people never look past the … Read the rest

Dealing With the Merry‑Go‑Round


It was a little bit like a self-fulfilling prophecy when one manufacturer described the difficulty he continually faced when it came to filling direct sales positions in a number of his territories.

According to the manufacturer, “It seems as if they (the factory direct salespeople) can’t wait to get out the door. We just get them trained and attuned to developing relationships in the territory and then they either take another position in our company or leave the company entirely. It’s like being on a merry-go-round that keeps spinning people off.”

This manufacturer is hardly alone in facing this problem. … Read the rest

Beware of Commission Plans That Calculate Compensation as a Percentage of Profit


One of the cases my office is currently handling involves a commission agreement that requires the calculation of compensation as a percentage of profit.

The Problem

The agreement provided that the principal would pay my client one-third of the “profit” for the sale of remanufactured air conditioner compressors sold to two customers.

Several years earlier, my client had procured the two customers for another remanufacturer of air conditioner compressors. When that manufacturer went out of business, my client purchased the remanufacturing equipment and started his own remanufacturing business. He continued selling remanufactured air conditioner compressors to the two customers for … Read the rest