Who Says 2020 Will Be a Great Year for Reps?


Manufacturers and reps both say 2020 looks great for reps, according to MANA’s second annual member survey.


© Artur | stock.adobe.com

What do manufacturers say?

  • 84% increased or maintained the number of rep firms they used last year.
  • 90% plan to increase or maintain the number of rep firms they use next year.

What do reps say?

  • 79% increased or maintained the number of lines on their line card last year.
  • 90% expect to increase or maintain the number of lines on their line card next year.
  • 87% expect to increase or maintain their company’s revenue next year.
  • 88% expect to increase or maintain their company’s profits next year.

Will all reps benefit equally?

No, say manufacturers, who report they are increasingly selective when they search for reps. To even get on the list to be interviewed, top manufacturers say reps must:

  • Regularly update their MANA member profile.
  • List a professional e-mail address in their MANA member profile.
    • AOL, Yahoo, and even Gmail accounts can hurt your chances.
    • E-mail addresses like sales@repcompany.com also can hurt your chances. Manufacturers want to contact a specific person, not a department. Anything less than jsmith@repcompany.com may bump you off the list of reps to be contacted.
  • List a professionally created website in their MANA member profile.
    • Manufacturers say that websites that do not include the rep’s line card make them assume that rep has something to hide — so that rep won’t be contacted for an interview.

For reps with MANA member profiles that hit the sweet spot manufacturers seek, 2020 looks like a banner year. Want help checking your MANA profile to be sure it sparkles? Contact MANA VP & GM Jerry Leth at jleth@manaonline.org or me at ccohon@manaonline.org. And grab your share of banner year profits in 2020!

Full details of the survey are available to MANA members. Request a copy at ccohon@manaonline.org.

The Sales Force — Working With Reps


This is the 14th in a number of articles serializing The Sales Force — Working With Reps by Charles Cohon, MANA’s president and CEO. The entire book may be found in the member area of MANA’s website.

Maria Gonzales was a welcoming and gracious host. She ushered Jim into her conference room, invited him to help himself from the coffee pot, and sat down to hear his concerns. Maria always had been very direct with her advice and suggestions, so Jim didn’t pull any punches when he detailed the flaw in their salaried sales force system and asked her if … Read the rest

Netflixing Rep Search


© HQUALITY | stock.adobe.com

Rep search technology has been stalled at the Blockbuster Video stage for the last 19 years.

Today we launch smartphone-based rep search that is going to hit old-style rep search like Netflix hit Blockbuster Video. And it’s available exclusively to MANA members.

Let me explain.

Back in August 2000, MANA launched the online rep search to supplement the printed directory that dated back to 1949. And for the next 19 years, the technology manufacturers used to search for reps remained pretty much the same.

  • Search the online database for reps from your desktop or laptop computer.
  • Download a list of potential candidates.
  • Start contacting those reps by phone or e-mail.

Other than rep search, a lot has changed in 19 years. More and more we use smartphone apps instead of our laptops for banking, shopping, and booking travel. Pretty much all the business we use to transact on our laptops can now be done on smartphone apps.

Except rep search. Until we launched the RepFinder® by MANA smartphone app.

Is the RepFinder® app just a way to download the old style list to a smartphone? That would not be good enough! On-the-go Millennials are not content with apps that just let them browse a list. They expect to complete their transactions from smartphone apps. And with some Millennials turning 38 this year, more and more are starting to have rep search responsibility at their manufacturing companies.

Now MANA is making sure that MANA rep members can be found by these smartphone-wielding sales managers.

RepFinder® lets manufacturers use our smartphone app to search for reps, view each candidate’s MANA member-profile, and contact the best candidates right from the app.

That’s right — manufacturers “Swipe Right” if they want to contact that rep and “Swipe Left” if they don’t.

RepFinder® by MANA is now available for download on the Apple App Store and Google Play. It’s the very first rep search app available, and it is exclusively for MANA members.

To read more about the app, turn to page 10 of this issue. Questions or comments? Contact me at ccohon@manaonline.org.

RepFinder® by MANA Rep Search Smartphone App Launches Today!


RepFinder appRep search technology has been stalled at the Blockbuster Video stage for the last 19 years.

October 1, 2019 we launch the RepFinder® by MANA smartphone app that is going to hit old‑style rep search like Netflix hit Blockbuster Video. And it’s available exclusively to MANA members.

On-the-go manufacturer sales managers now can search for reps, view each candidate’s MANA member profile, and contact the best candidates right from the app.

“Swipe Right” to contact a rep, “Swipe Left” to see the next rep on the list. Available for download on the Apple App Store and Google Play.

You asked … Read the rest

The Sales Force — Working With Reps


This is the 13th in a number of articles serializing The Sales Force — Working With Reps by Charles Cohon, MANA’s president and CEO. The entire book may be found in the member area of MANA’s website.

Jim Anderson felt smug. His salaried sales force program had been in place at Troothe Industries for the last four years, and the most recent refinement he’d made on his sales force management technique seemed like the final, finishing touch on a system that almost ran itself. It gave him an almost real-time account of his sales force’s activities each workday with such … Read the rest

Saving the Earth — One Sales Call at a Time


© 9comeback | stock.adobe.com

We all know the business reasons to sell through multi-line manufacturers’ reps. Things like these:

  • Reps are known and trusted resources for customers in their local territories.
  • Reps help manufacturers avoid fixed costs, like salaries and benefits, of direct salespeople.
  • Reps tend to remain in their territories and work with the same customers for decades, while direct salespeople tend to relocate every few years.

But here’s a new reason to sell through reps: Multi-line reps are fantastic for the environment!

Let me explain. Multi-line reps tend to cover two to three manufacturers’ products during each sales call. If separate direct single-line salespeople had to be sent to call on those same customers to cover the same topics, it would take two to three times the number of single-line salespeople, each working for a single manufacturer and driving their own vehicle.

What happens if twice the number of salespeople and twice the number of vehicles make those same sales calls? If the average salesperson drives 50,000 miles annually, then every time one multi-line rep is replaced by two single-line direct salespeople, it means an extra 50,000 vehicle miles.

The average passenger vehicle emits 404 grams CO2 per mile.1 So, 50,000 extra vehicle miles means 20,200 kilograms more CO2 in the atmosphere annually.

But there is more! Single-line direct salespeople tend to fly more air miles than multi-line reps, perhaps 20,000 miles a year. So, the two single-line direct salespeople in our example would also add 40,000 air miles that would not be flown by multi-line reps. The average commercial airliner emits 184 grams of CO2 per passenger mile,2 so that’s 7,360 additional kilograms of CO2 emissions.

Total environmental impact: 27,560 kilograms of CO2 emissions. That’s 60,760 pounds. Roughly 30 tons. About the same as losing 12 acres of new forest.3

So, selling through reps is not just fiscally responsible, it’s environmentally responsible too! Why would you go to market any other way?

1 https://www.epa.gov/greenvehicles/greenhouse-gas-emissions-typical-passenger-vehicle
2 http://urbanforestrynetwork.org/benefits/air%20quality.htm
3 https://www.carbonindependent.org/sources_aviation.html

The Sales Force — Working With Reps


This is the 12th in a number of articles serializing The Sales Force — Working With Reps by Charles Cohon, MANA’s president and CEO. The entire book may be found in the member area of MANA’s website.

With the economy strong, Troothe and Bigglie continued to jockey for position in the flange market. Troothe’s sales force continued to improve at Bigglie’s expense, but so slowly that Harold and Jim sometimes needed to remind each other of the strengths of their management system. As it turned out, it was at a meeting called by Joe Troothe during a slump in the … Read the rest

Can You Write Me a Business Plan?


Recently I’ve heard from reps who report hearing a new question during line interviews: “Can you write me a business plan?”


© Gorodenkoff | stock.adobe.com

Eager to outshine other reps competing for the line, these reps pulled out all the stops to be sure that their in-depth business plans proved their knowledge of their territory and market.

Their business plans detailed all the customers they planned to convert to that manufacturer’s product and the competitors’ products those customers were using. To really impress the manufacturer, sometimes they even reported the prices those customers were paying.

It seemed like a good strategy at the time. But when reps who submitted business plans didn’t get the line, they looked back at the process with mixed feelings.

“We wrote a business plan for a product we don’t currently have on our line card, so if the manufacturer uses that information to sell his products, it won’t actually take any money out of our pockets*.”

“At the time we had an internal discussion about asking the manufacturer to sign a non-disclosure agreement, but it would have thrown cold water on our discussions for sure.”

“In retrospect, we showed the manufacturer way too many of our cards way too soon. If I had it to do all over again, I would give a list of prospective customers but not share any information about the current brands they use or the prices they pay. I would give a total of prospective sales in the territory, but not break it out customer by customer. And I would include a polite footnote indicating that I would share granular details after the rep agreement is signed.”

Have you been asked to write a business plan when you were interviewing for a new line? Did you write one? Did it work out well, or would you do things differently next time? Please e-mail ccohon@manaonline.org to let us know!

* Details may have been added, removed, or altered to protect the privacy of those who share their stories with us and to better illustrate the concepts discussed in this article.

The Sales Force — Working With Reps


This is the 11th in a number of articles serializing The Sales Force — Working With Reps by Charles Cohon, MANA’s president and CEO. The entire book may be found in the member area of MANA’s website.

It took only a few more weeks for Brocaw to gather enough supporting documentation to fire Jim. During that interval, Jim had continued without effect to scour the flange industry for employment opportunities. When the ax fell, Jim found himself facing two unpleasant alternatives — unemployment or working for a company that was known as the worst supplier in the flange business. When … Read the rest

Important Lesson From World‑Renowned Sales Consultant, Coach, Speaker, Influencer, and Best-Selling Author


© John Takai | stock.adobe.com

Today a book arrived in the mail. It was written by a “world-renowned sales consultant, coach, speaker, influencer, and best-selling author,” according to the press release that came with the book.

Very quickly, it became obvious that this book illustrated three points worth sharing with MANA members — but not points the author intended.

1. One over-the-top, unsupported claim casts doubt on every other claim you make.

Tony Robbins could claim to be world-renowned without offering supporting evidence. But the author was not Tony Robbins. If you are not a household name and make an unsupported claim to be world-renowned, every other claim you make is tainted.

Reps know that their livelihoods depend on credibility with their customers and principals. We don’t make claims unless we can back them up.

2. Prospective customers don’t appreciate receiving a homework assignment.

A 240-page book and an 8-page press arriving in the mail looks to me like a homework assignment. If the book includes some genuinely unique insights, share a few bullet points in a short note, don’t expect me to search a 240-page book to find them.

Reps know that a brain-dump of all their product’s specifications does not win customers. A short individualized presentation that identifies the specific benefits that particular customer will value is the way reps close orders.

3. You have only seconds to differentiate yourself before losing a prospect’s interest.

I know you have been disappointed by other sales books, but mine is different, claims this author. As claimed by pretty much every other author of every other sales book ever written.

Reps know prospects hear “Our prices are low, our quality is great, and our service is excellent” from every salesperson. So reps do pre-call research to uncover one or two differentiating characteristics of their offering that will be important to this prospect, and leave generalities to the amateurs.

I have never met a rep who was world-renowned. But I have met countless reps who are recognized by customers and principals as the go-to experts in their sales territories. So they are renowned where it counts by the people who matter.

The Sales Force — Working With Reps


This is the tenth in a number of articles serializing The Sales Force — Working With Reps by Charles Cohon, MANA’s president and CEO. The entire book may be found in the member area of MANA’s website.

Ruth Anderson sat quietly after reading the memo her husband had asked her to review. When Jim came into the den, Ruth measured her words carefully. “Darling, I can’t disagree with any of your points. I’m wondering, though, how well Buchanan takes constructive criticism. I can’t help thinking about the movie we saw on our honeymoon — remember Jerry Maguire?”

Jim thought back … Read the rest

Why There Will Always Be Reps


A week of snorkeling and kayaking in the Florida Keys reminded me of one of the reasons there will always be manufacturers’ reps.

Mangroves tressEverywhere the Atlantic met the shore, I saw mangrove trees, and only mangrove trees, thriving in the shallow ocean water.

Why only mangrove trees? Because mangrove trees adapted to thrive in environments that would kill any other tree. Ocean water salty enough to kill any other tree. Ocean tides that would drown any other tree. Waterlogged soil so barren of oxygen it would choke any other tree.

And not only do they thrive in toxic environments, mangrove trees gradually actually make the environment around them better because their massive in-the-water roots slow tidal water just enough to let sediment settle and build soil up around the tree.

Why did mangroves remind me of manufacturers’ reps?

Because savvy salespeople around the world look at their local markets and say: “There may not be enough business here for a factory to base a full-time salesperson locally, or even for a salesperson to stop here very often. But there are definitely orders to be written here.

“A salesperson trying to live off the orders from one factory’s products would starve here, but if I could find 10 or 12 manufacturers who need local sales coverage, I could thrive here.”

So, mangroves and reps both adapt and thrive in environments too harsh for their competition. Too salty, too drastic tides, too little oxygen in the soil for trees that would compete with mangroves. Orders too sparse and too dispersed for direct salespeople who would compete with reps.

That is why there will always be reps. Because while some look at a market and say, “nothing could grow here,” reps look at the same market and see opportunity.

The Sales Force — Working With Reps


This is the ninth in a number of articles serializing The Sales Force — Working With Reps by Charles Cohon, MANA’s president and CEO. The entire book may be found in the member area of MANA’s website.

“I’m swirling in the bowl,” thought Jim as he drove home that night.

“I spent a bunch of time with Harold working on distributor council issues, which means when Ernie goes through the salespeople’s call reports he’s going to see that for the last two months I’ve made the fewest sales calls of any Bigglie salesperson. Plus I just gave a presentation that … Read the rest

We’re Better Together

image of golf bag

© Photocreo Bednarek | stock.adobe.com

Golfers wouldn’t dream of hitting the links with just irons or just woods in their bags. Many manufacturers’ representatives feel the same way when it comes to the rep associations that support them in their profession. Let me explain.

MANA is a horizontal rep association, so we focus on rep and manufacturer resources that can be applied to any industry that uses outsourced sales forces.

Because MANA can serve all reps and manufacturers who use reps, we have thousands of members. Thousands of members means we have the budget, for example, to invest very heavily in RepFinder® rep/manufacturer matchmaking tools and print Agency Sales magazine every month.

Vertical rep associations focus on rep resources for one particular industry. Many times this is a conference specifically for reps in that particular industry.

Six vertical associations now purchase MANA memberships for all their rep members, giving their rep members the very best of both horizontal and vertical rep association resources.

  • AIM/R, Association of Independent Manufacturers’ Representatives, Inc., plumbing, HVAC/R, kitchen/bath, waterworks, irrigation and related industries.
  • HDMRC, Heavy Duty Manufacturers’ Representatives Council, commercial vehicle supplier industry.
  • IHRA, International Home + Housewares Representatives’ Association, home, housewares, gourmet, giftware, consumer electronics & hardware industries.
  • ISA, Industrial Supply Association, the association for the industrial Maintenance Repair Operating and Production (MROP) channel.
  • NMRA, National Marine Representatives’ Association, marine industry.
  • PTRA, Power-Motion Technology Representatives’ Association, power transmission and motion control industry.

From all of us at MANA, hats off to the leadership of these six associations for having the vision to be sure their members have both irons and woods in their bags, to help them to effectively manage their professional manufacturers’ representative firms.

The Sales Force — Working With Reps


This is the eighth in a number of articles serializing The Sales Force — Working With Reps by Charles Cohon, MANA’s president and CEO. The entire book may be found in the member area of MANA’s website.

Jim felt well-prepared for his visit to see Enrique and Maria Gonzales. Maria met him in the lobby and walked him to the distributorship’s conference room. “Jim, we appreciate your coming back to discuss how Bigglie’s compensation plan affects your distributors,” she said as they made their way through the bustling inside sales department toward the meeting room. Enrique joined them just as … Read the rest

Punching Above Your Weight Class

image of boxing gloves

© Nikolai Sorokin | stock.adobe.com

The rep in one of ABC Widget Manufacturing Company’s most important territories retired abruptly. So, ABC Vice President of Sales Sue Smith had a problem. And an opportunity.

Sue used MANA’s RepFinder® database to find candidates to take over the territory.

Several looked like they would be at least as capable as the rep Sue needed to replace. And one of the reps looked like a head-and-shoulders stand‑out.

Fred Jones’ rep firm was a head-and-shoulders stand-out over any other candidate, but all the other manufacturers on Fred’s line card were heavy hitters in Fred’s industry. ABC Widget Manufacturing was more of an up-and-comer. So, to hire Fred, Sue had to figure out how to punch above her weight class and sell Fred on representing ABC.

Sue met with Fred and shared the following:

  • “Our top management is very responsive to our rep council’s recommendations. I can share with you a list of changes and improvements ABC has made that came out of rep council meetings.
  • “We treat our reps like part of the team and members of the family. I have a list of reps in other territories who would be happy to speak with you about us.
  • “And when you’re talking with those reps, here are some topics I hope you will discuss:
    • We communicate quickly and accurately with our reps for information and quote requests as well as any problems that may come up.
    • We ship on time and our quality is excellent, so once you make a sale, you don’t have to think about taking calls from customers with complaints about deliveries or quality.
    • We do not have any house accounts.
    • Whatever it takes, we will always make you look good to your customer.”

Fred signed up to represent ABC and couldn’t be happier that he did! “Yes,” said Fred, “We probably do spend a little more time working on ABC than the commission income strictly justifies, but when a manufacturer treats you right, you just can’t help spending more time on her line.”

The Sales Force — Working With Reps


This is the seventh in a number of articles serializing The Sales Force — Working With Reps by Charles Cohon, MANA’s president and CEO. The entire book may be found in the member area of MANA’s website.

Jim had welcomed the opportunity to adjourn their meeting for lunch. Harold’s arguments all had been logical and Jim could find no flaws in Harold’s reasoning, but Jim could not bring himself to abandon the natural intuition that a commission system was necessary to drive a sales force. By the time the two men returned to Harold’s office, the break had given Jim … Read the rest

I Drink Your Milkshake!

milkshake image

yavi | stock.adobe.com

“Drainage! Drainage, Eli, you boy! Drained dry! I’m so sorry. Here: if you have a milkshake, and I have a milkshake, and I have a straw — There it is. That’s a straw, see? Watch it — my straw reaches across the room, and starts to drink your milkshake, I drink your milkshake! I drink it up!”

Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood, 2007

Daniel Day-Lewis won the 2008 Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal ruthless fictional oilman Daniel Plainview.

Plainview bought up oil leases cheaply from property owners across Southern California during a late 19th and early 20th century oil boom. When a hold-out property owner finally comes to Plainview begging to sell, he delivers his famous speech. The property owner’s oil is long gone, gloats Plainview: “I drink your milkshake!”

Has someone got their straw in your milkshake? Here are some things to think about to help you protect the value of your rep firm.

  • Most principals would say that the value of your rep firm is your customer relationships. Do you only have relationships with today’s decision-makers? Or have you also built relationships with junior staff who will probably be the decision-makers in the future?
  • Principals also value your rep firm for your deep market knowledge of your territory. Do you continue to prospect for and build new relationships with new customers? Or have you become comfortable with orders you can secure from customers you already know well?
  • Are there services that your customers or principals need and other reps in your territory supply that you have been reluctant to supply?
  • When you start to think about selling your rep firm, the prospective buyer will value your firm more highly if you have deep relationships at all levels with your most important principals. Do you visit key principals periodically to build those relationships?

If a few key players at your customers retire, will your orders be in jeopardy? If a few key players at your principals retire, are you at risk to lose the line?

Whether you see it or not, there is always someone nearby, looking in your direction, holding a straw. To maintain the value of your rep firm, you must remain vigilant and keep their straw out of your milkshake.

The Sales Force — Working With Reps


This is the sixth in a number of articles serializing The Sales Force — Working With Reps by Charles Cohon, MANA’s president and CEO. The entire book may be found in the member area of MANA’s website.

People eating lunch in Bigglie’s break room tended to spread out one per table until all of the tables were full. By the time Henry Buchanan walked in to wait for his brother David to be ready to go to lunch no empty tables were left, so he had to sit with somebody. Henry recognized Jim from the company’s Christmas party, and gestured … Read the rest

Except “Of Course” in the Home Territory

image of missing piece

© Michael Brown | stock.adobe.com

“We have had great success selling through reps,” said the manufacturer, “and we use reps throughout North America. Except of course in the home territory.”

He said “of course” as if there was no other choice.

Why do some manufacturers think selling without a rep in the home territory is an “of course” decision?

Sometimes a small company’s founder feels customers he or she developed in the company’s early years require the founder’s continued personal attention.

Other times a manufacturer thinks it’s cheaper to tack responsibility for local customers onto the other duties of a local employee.

What happens when the founder is still the salesperson for customers in the home territory? One of the founder’s two jobs suffers.

  • A founder who devotes enough time to being the salesperson in the home territory spends less time managing the company, so crucial decisions are stalled while the founder is distracted by sales calls.
  • A founder who devotes enough time to managing his or her company can’t give customers and prospects the attention needed to grow sales in the home territory.

What happens when sales calls on local customers are tacked onto the duties of a manufacturer’s local employee?

  • The local employees’ primary duties always come first and local sales calls get pushed back “until I have time for them.”
  • The local employee calling on customers knows that every customer visit means work piling up at his or her “real” job at the company, so sales calls become halfhearted “I need to check the box that I was here and get back to the office” events.

It’s a no brainer. Why would a company squander its home court advantage by assigning local sales responsibility to someone who can only make sales calls when they can squeeze them into their schedule around the duties of their “real” job.

That’s why many manufacturers use reps in their home territory. They need a sales force that has one job — to call on customers and prospects all day every day.

Of course.

The Sales Force — Working With Reps


This is the fifth in a number of articles serializing The Sales Force — Working With Reps by Charles Cohon, MANA’s president and CEO. The entire book may be found in the member area of MANA’s website.

When Harold arrived in the conference room carrying a coffee cake, Jim was relieved. The mood as their last meeting ended had seemed a bit tense, but the pastry told Jim that Harold either hadn’t noticed or wasn’t carrying a grudge. Harold set the coffee cake on the conference table, and before he even sat down began slicing it with a plastic knife.… Read the rest

Hey, It’s the Candy Man!


It’s time to share my favorite backselling story.

image of candy bars

© grandeduc | stock.adobe.com

What is backselling?

It’s a word coined by John Haskell, a frequent contributor to Agency Sales magazine and author of Profit Rx under his pen name, Dr. Revenue®.

In my own manufacturers’ representative firm, I took backselling to mean, “Communicate with principals as if the line were in jeopardy even when it is not, because once the line is in jeopardy anything you say will sound like an excuse instead of communication.”

Here is my backselling story.

I had broken one of the fundamental rules of running a manufacturers’ representative firm. I had let one principal become more than 50 percent of my company’s income. Much more than 50 percent.

We were so busy selling the product that it just happened without us noticing it. Once we did notice, we needed to think about ways to make sure that this principal knew how much value we brought to their company; not just the local regional manager, but also the team at the principal’s headquarters. So, we asked to schedule a visit.

Apparently, it was the first time one of their reps had asked to visit headquarters, perhaps because the only way to get to their small town was to fly to Oklahoma City and drive 139 miles southwest or fly to Dallas and drive 141 miles northwest.

On that drive we realized we had come empty-handed. So, we stopped at Walmart and bought one-hundred one-dollar sleeves of “fun size” candy bars. Arriving at our hotel, I emptied my roller luggage and filled it with candy.

We visited customer service, product marketing teams, product engineering teams, and pretty much everyone we could see in the day and a half we’d scheduled. And at the end of each visit I opened my luggage and asked, “As a very small thank you for all you do, could we offer some candy?”

You would have thought we were giving away gold bars instead of candy bars. No one had ever come to headquarters to thank them for their help, and no one had ever brought them even a small token gift to thank them.

Each year our visits got longer and our discussions became more productive. Each year our bond with that principal grew stronger. And each year we gave away more sleeves of candy bars. I knew we had made our mark when we arrived for our third annual visit and saw a head pop up over one of the cubicle partitions and announce loudly, “Hey, it’s the candy man!”

The Sales Force — Working With Reps


This is the fourth in a number of articles serializing The Sales Force — Working With Reps by Charles Cohon, MANA’s president and CEO. The entire book may be found in the member area of MANA’s website.

Jim had never before made a major presentation directly to Bigglie’s president, so when the time came for his private meeting with David Buchanan and Harold Katz, Bigglie’s most senior VP, he was both excited and nervous. Katz’s formal title was VP of operations and manufacturing, but he’d been pinch-hitting some of the sales manager’s administrative responsibilities during the search for Edgeworth’s replacement. … Read the rest

“Is My Rep Getting Too Rich Off This Order?”


© ashva73 | stock.adobe.com

It’s a question I hear all too often.*

“I’m the sales manager for a manufacturer, and my boss thinks our rep is getting too rich off a new order. I don’t know for sure whether I agree with my boss or not,” said the sales manager.

“I can see the argument that the rep should be rewarded for bringing in a huge order that took five years to close, but the rep’s check last month was bigger than my boss’ check — that is not sitting too well.”

My reply?

The sales manager made the most obvious argument himself. The rep worked for five years before any commission was earned. Now the rep is being compensated for the five years of unpaid work leading up to the order he or she earned for your company. Each commission payment the rep receives covers both payment for that month’s shipments and an installment payment toward reimbursing the rep for all the unpaid work during the past five years.

But there is more to it than that. It will be easier to explain if I use an example.

Let’s say you invested in 50 risky stocks five years ago. Most of the companies went out of business. Some of them earned you a modest profit, and one of them was a big winner.

What was your five-year profit?

Is the gain on the big winner your five-year profit? Of course not. You calculate your net profit by totaling all your losses and all your gains.

Consider that the rep had many losses on prospects in which he or she invested time and effort that never returned a cent of commission.

These losses, which are an expected and normal part of being in the rep business, come from pursuing prospects where the rep’s principal ultimately can’t meet the prospects’ price, delivery, or performance standards.

Reps don’t expect their principals to be an ideal fit for every prospect. Quite the contrary. They expect that only a modest percentage of prospects will be a good fit for their principals and use the commission from the orders they do receive to offset the cost of making calls on prospects that turn out not to be good candidates for their principals’ products.

“Pursuing five to eight prospects for each order that eventually closes is part of the rep business,” explained one rep. “I came into this business with my eyes open. But when I do make a big win, I have to be sure to remind my principals that the commission I receive on each closed order has to cover my cost pursuing that order, and five to eight that didn’t close.”

* This article combines conversations with a number of MANA members. Their comments have been edited for clarity and brevity.

The Sales Force — Working With Reps


This is the third in a number of articles serializing The Sales Force — Working With Reps by Charles Cohon, MANA’s president and CEO. The entire book may be found in the member area of MANA’s website.

Interrupted only by the arrival of box lunches at noon, the council worked straight through until 4 p.m., when Jim arrived to receive the group’s recommendations. Maria had been chosen to present the group’s findings and was standing next to the overhead projector when he walked into the conference room. Jim sat down in the front row, but Maria made no move to … Read the rest

“If You Say You Sell Everything to Everybody Everywhere, You Sell Nothing to Anybody Anywhere.”


© topvectors | stock.adobe.com

Here’s how one manufacturer explained it.*
“We find lots of good candidates to represent our line in MANA’s RepFinder® database.

“But once in a while we also find a rep member profile that is a real turn-off. It’s what I call the ‘I sell everything to everybody everywhere’ profile.

“One turn-off is when the rep claims to sell every one of the RepFinder’s 100+ product categories. Everything from Advertising Specialties to Veterinary supplies.

“Great rep firms focus on a few key markets and have great relationships with decision-makers in those markets. A rep who claims to sell in every market has no focus and will never get an interview to rep our line.

“Sometimes it gets even worse. Sometimes the rep claims to sell all of the product categories in all 50 states, and perhaps even in Canada and Europe. A pretty bold claim for a rep firm with just one or two salespeople.

“That’s why I said, ‘If you say you sell everything to everybody everywhere, you sell nothing to anybody anywhere.”

Want to be sure your MANA rep member profile isn’t a turn-off? Keep these rules in mind and update your MANA member profile today:

  • Manufacturers look for reps with focus. Choose only categories where your rep firm really shines.
  • Choose the product categories you sell, not the markets you sell to. If you sell castings to the pump industry, choose “castings” not “pumps.”
  • Your sales territory should make sense compared to the number of your firm’s salespeople.
  • Update your MANA member profile annually. Starting soon, manufacturers will be able to see if a profile has gone untended for more than year.
  • Seventy-seven percent of MANA rep members have a website. Don’t be one of the 23 percent who don’t.

Update your profile today in the member area of www.MANAonline.org.

Sound like too much trouble? Schedule a free telephone profile coaching session with Jerry Leth or with me. We’ll walk through the steps together.

Let manufacturers know that your rep firm’s profile says what you do, and you’ll do what it says. Update your MANA member profile today!

* Comments from more than one manufacturer have been combined and edited for clarity and brevity.

The Sales Force — Working With Reps


This is the second in a number of articles serializing The Sales Force — Working With Reps by Charles Cohon, MANA’s president and CEO. The entire book may be found in the member area of MANA’s website.

Jim had hoped that Buchanan’s enthusiasm for his call-forwarding idea would catapult him into contention for Edgeworth’s old job, but if that was Buchanan’s intent, he was keeping his cards pretty close to his vest. The only hint Jim got that Buchanan was thinking of him as a manager was when Buchanan tapped him to stand in for Edgeworth at a meeting of

Read the rest

The Sales Force — Working With Reps


This is the first in a number of articles serializing The Sales Force — Working With Reps by Charles Cohon, MANA’s president and CEO. The entire book may be found in the member area of MANA’s website.

Somewhere, somebody just made a big sale. Was it skill or was it luck?

Any time an order is awarded, the winning salesperson credits success to ability. The loser blames a host of plausible reasons and claims the loss was unavoidable. The winner calls the loser’s reasons excuses. The loser claims a bad break and calls the winner lucky.

How does a sales … Read the rest

Go Right to the Front of the Line


At Universal Studios, an Express™ Pass moves you in front of everyone who only bought a standard ticket. At close to double the cost.


© Dashk | stock.adobe.com

Now MANA manufacturers’ representative members can move to the front of the list manufacturers see when they search MANA’s RepFinder® database. And the cost is: Free!

How do you get free priority placement when manufacturers do RepFinder® searches? Update your member profile using these guidelines:

  1. Pick only product categories where your firm excels. Manufacturers tell us, “A rep who claims to sell everything really sells nothing.” Choose fewer product categories to get priority placement over reps who choose too many categories.
  2. Pick only the product categories you sell, not the markets you sell to. If you sell castings to the pump industry, choose “castings” not “pumps.”
  3. Pick only the sales territories your firm covers well. Manufacturers tell us, “A rep who claims to sell everywhere really sells nowhere.” The number of salespeople at your firm and the size of your territories should make sense.
  4. Check any boxes that describe your firm:
    ☐  My firm has a business plan.
    ☐  My firm has a succession plan.
    ☐  All our salespeople have taken professional selling courses.
    ☐  My firm has a professionally done website.
    ☐  We work with all our principals as Trusted Partners in Profits.

Need help updating your profile? Schedule a free telephone profile coaching session with Jerry Leth, jleth@manaonline.org, or with me, ccohon@manaonline.org. We’ll walk through the steps together.

Be among the first manufacturers’ representatives that manufacturers see when they search to fill an open territory. Update your MANA member profile today!

What Happened to Straight Commission Reps? — Part Two


© denisismagilov | stock.adobe.com

Last month I answered a manufacturer’s question about why manufacturers’ representative agreements increasingly include clauses covering Life of Part/Life of Program (LOP/LOP), shared market development fees, and/or extended post termination commission.

This month I answer that manufacturer’s follow-up questions:*

“Let’s say my rep Fred closes a major order at Acme Company and I give Fred LOP/LOP commission on that program. Later I replace Fred in that territory with a new rep, Nicole.

“When that program comes up for renewal, Nicole is managing negotiations for a reorder that is still commissionable to Fred due to LOP/LOP.”

  • “Why would Nicole work hard to maximize the selling price on this reorder?
  • “Why would Nicole work hard to keep this reorder from going offshore?”

Why Would Nicole Work Hard to Negotiate the Best Deal for Her Principal?

Nicole plans to write new orders with Acme and earn LOP/LOP commission on those new orders. Nicole knows that if she lets prices tumble on this reorder it will be harder to get a good price later when Acme’s next new project comes up. Maintaining a good margin now serves Nicole’s interests when she negotiates with Acme on the next project.

Of course, if the principal still has lingering concerns about Nicole’s motivation to maximize the selling price, the principal can always give this negotiation extra attention and oversight.

Why Would Nicole Work Hard to Keep This Project From Going Offshore?

Once Acme starts sourcing its projects offshore, Nicole will face offshore competition on every future project she quotes to Acme. Nicole will do everything she can to avoid having Acme starting to source its projects offshore.

Bottom line, most manufacturers would love to be facing a situation where they had so much business that managing quotes for reorders became a major undertaking. After all, you had to get the orders in the first place for reorders to be an issue. And getting orders is exactly what reps do best.

* The manufacturer’s comments have been edited for clarity and brevity.