Succession Planning


The time has come for me to take the succession planning advice I have often given to manufacturers’ reps.

image of sunset

© Li Ding |

It has been my honor to serve as MANA’s CEO since 2011 and to help celebrate MANA’s 65th, 70th, and 75th anniversaries. But MANA’s future anniversaries, and there will be many, will be celebrated with a new CEO at the helm.

My thanks to MANA’s Board of Directors and staff for making it possible for MANA to support our community of reps and manufacturers with activities like:

  • Developing the industry-leading platform for connecting reps and manufacturers.
  • Championing Market Development Fees to both manufacturers and reps.
  • Challenging 30-day termination clauses as a standard way to work with reps.

It is a bittersweet reality that my goal as a retiring CEO is to leave the association in such good hands that I will be remembered fondly but not missed organizationally. Your new CEO will take MANA to the next level. No one will be cheering more loudly from the sidelines than me.

As a reminder that CEO succession is the nature of things, I close with this 1949 message from the first person to have my role at MANA, P. Edwin Thomas:

The members of this National Association extend to you a sincere invitation to help make this Agent and Representative magazine* the “Common Meeting Place,” in the interests of “Economical Distribution” of the products of those who specialize in production but who, by size of circumstance, are not equipped, or prefer not to equip, to handle the selling function in all of its many ramifications and extenuations.

Manufacturers’ Agents, as “independent contractors and free agents,” are free from many of the restrictions applicable to private salesmen, in interstate and intrastate commerce, and their employment as a satisfactory sales outlet is every day being recognized by more and more producers and suppliers in every part of the country and in every industry.

* Later renamed Agency Sales magazine.

With Gratitude for a Job Well Done


Charles Cohon, MANA’s president and CEO since 2011, retires at the end of June. As someone who works at MANA, I want to say that those who hired him in 2011 made an outstanding and excellent choice. Thanks to his leadership skills, the MANA of today differs significantly in a positive way from when he took over.

During his tenure, he created a long-term strategic plan with the help of a strategic planning committee. We retained Mary Byers, coauthor of Race for Relevance, to help in this process, and the implementation of the plan resulted in a significant improvement … Read the rest

Building a Rep Firm


Talk to husband-and-wife Johnny and Laci Davis about their growing rep firm and the word that surfaces the most is “grit.” That shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise given the agency name. But it’s important to understand how they came upon that name and what it means as they continue to grow their agency.

In 2022, after a 16-plus-year career in the pool and spa industry, Johnny Davis, the agency’s CEO and co-founder, together with his wife Laci, made the decision to build something of their own.

According to co-founder and Chief Content Officer Laci Davis, before they … Read the rest

Group Tackles Single-Person Agency Concerns


If participants in a MANA single-person agency special interest group discussion earlier this year learned anything it was that they’re more alike than they are different when it comes to the challenges that they face.

That conclusion is borne out from the variety of subjects that were introduced by the group, all of which showed that just about every one of them shares the same concerns and challenges as the others. Whether it was having difficulty getting appointments with customers, pulling timely quotes from principals, or dealing with manufacturers who are anxious to have reps conduct pioneering work for them, … Read the rest

Single-Person or Multi-Person Agency?


I am not aware of any recent studies detailing what percentage of independent manufacturers’ representative businesses are single-person or multi-person agencies. During my 46 years as a rep, I met hundreds of reps at manufacturers’ sales meetings and rep councils. Most of them owned single-person agencies or agencies that included family members.

Business Model

Prior to launching my agency in 1975 I had earned both industrial engineering and MBA degrees. My work experience included nine years with two Fortune 500 companies where I managed sales teams and inside sales support teams. A multi-person agency was a logical business model for … Read the rest

Total Customer Knowledge Is Key to Sales Success


Knowing everything about your customer opens doors. Selling is about relationships. No one questions that fact, but does the rep salesperson really understand the process of knowing their customers in depth?

What should be involved with gaining complete knowledge of the customer?

Knowing the People

This is the first step. Who works for the customer and what do they do? Who are they as people — wife, kids, hobbies, activities, other in-depth knowledge about every person at the customer who can possibly influence or interact with the salesperson, the rep company and the manufacturer? Which dealer/distributors does each person at … Read the rest

Follow These Basics to Ensure Sales Success


John Wooden, perhaps the best college basketball coach ever, used to start each season by showing players how to properly put on their socks and sneakers, as a mistake here could “domino‑effect” its way all the way to lost games. Vince Lombardi, the great Green Bay Packers coach, once said that football basically comes down to two things: blocking on offense and tackling on defense, and those great Packer teams spent 80 percent of their time practicing those two basics. Red Auerbach, who coached the Boston Celtics to eight consecutive championships, is known for having players practice basic shots like … Read the rest

This Is Why You’re Failing to Meet Your Sales Targets


Let me tell you a little story about Stuart. Stuart has an MBA from one of the best universities in the country. He’s got all the right contacts and he’s just been appointed to a new leadership position in sales. Go, Stuart!

Unfortunately, Stuart has not been able to meet any of the sales targets of his predecessor; a friendly, humble and hardworking man named Bob. No, Stuart! Sure, he’s great on paper, but what could he be doing wrong? I heard a rumor that he even did his thesis around sales in this particular market. Son, where did things … Read the rest

Considering the Sales Masters


What sets the best salespeople apart from the average?

For 35 years I have pursued that question. I’ve read more than 300 sales books, authored 13 of my own, worked with more than 500 sales organizations, talked with thousands of sales managers and executives, and trained tens of thousands of B2B salespeople to sell better.

I believe I have an answer. But, first, let’s define our terms.

The best salespeople are the top five percent in their industry. These are the people who are so far above the mass in their performance that they will often produce about 50 percent … Read the rest

When All Else Fails, Default to Action!


I met with a friend this week, who told me about a saying one company uses to keep people focused on success: “Default to action.”

Do you ever find yourself paralyzed with indecision? Sometimes we get so busy that we don’t know what to do first. “Default to action” tells us to at least do something. Getting started with something right now is better than fretting about what to do first (because that just leads to procrastination and no progress).

Do you ever find yourself in a down market and therefore demotivated? Default to action! When all else fails, and … Read the rest

Service Strategy: The Most Powerful Tool You Can Have


The reason most organizations deliver poor or mediocre customer service is that they don’t understand the power of a customer service strategy. What do I mean by this?

Strategy is a powerful tool you can use to gain market share and market dominance. When you develop a customer service strategy, you will crush your competition and grow the value of your business by 100 to 400 percent. It’s a powerful and cost-effective tool, but it requires commitment and relentless support from top management. Only a handful of companies deliver great service or understand the real financial impact it has on … Read the rest

MANAchat Takes on Challenge of Finding Reps


While it can remain a challenge to find reps to represent their lines, manufacturers maintain there are steps to take when it comes to finding the right fit. That was a major takeaway from a MANAchat when manufacturers got together to discuss their challenges and successes when it comes to signing on with rep firms.

Setting the stage for the discussion, one manufacturer explained, “Typically, like just about everyone else, we generally go through the search and interview process, followed by a trial period in an effort to establish what the expectations and relationship would look like. We’ve had some … Read the rest

Better Termination Provisions for Sales Reps (And Why You Need Them)


An electronics sales rep contacted our office and said he had been terminated after taking two years, and tens of visits with purchasers and engineers, to gain a lucrative design win from a new customer. Based on the rep’s prior dealings with this customer (on behalf of other principals) the rep was able to procure the key design win which had produced no sales as of the termination but would result in long‑term substantial sales after the termination. The win was clearly attributable to the rep, as evidenced by an attaboy email from the regional sales manager stating: “great design … Read the rest