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

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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

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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

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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

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

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© 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

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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.

What Happened to Straight Commission Reps? — Part One

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The manufacturer who called me was sincerely puzzled. “I am trying to hire reps and all of them are asking for Life of Part/Life of Program (LOP/LOP) or shared market development fees.*”

  1. “What happened to just paying the rep based on each month’s commissionable shipments?”
  2. “If I gave a rep LOP/LOP and then replaced him or her with a new rep, then the new rep would end up handling price negotiations on repeat orders that are commissionable to the old rep. Why would the new rep try to maximize the selling price if commission goes to the old rep?”
  3. “And if the new rep handles negotiations on repeat orders that are commissionable to the old rep, what incentive does the new rep have to work to keep the reorder from going offshore?”

To answer the first question, let’s say you are a casting manufacturer who wants to target Ford Motor Company.

Before any commissionable parts orders ship, your rep must:

  • Introduce your company to Ford.
  • Get your company through Ford qualifications.
  • Wait for a new program to come up (say a new rear-view mirror design).
  • Get your part on the print.
  • Wait for tooling to be produced.
  • Wait for prototypes to reviewed, perhaps adjusted, and resubmitted for approval.
  • Wait for the program to be released.

Without LOP/LOP and/or shared market development fees the rep risks working 3-5 years for free and then being terminated after the first production order ships.

And making the rep’s situation even worse, for every project he or she works on that becomes an order, the rep also probably worked on 5-10 similar opportunities that did not become orders for reasons that were completely outside the rep’s control.

That’s why manufacturers who want their reps to hunt for elephants put LOP/LOP and/or shared market development fees in their contracts.

For the answers to the manufacturer’s last two questions, watch for next month’s “MANA Minute.”


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

The Secret to Success With Reps: It’s Not Business, It’s Personal

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For years after I started my manufacturers’ representative company, I had what I thought was my own closely‑guarded secret. Sometimes I would spend as much as 20 percent of my time on a line that was only 10 percent of my representative company’s income. And sometimes I would spend just five percent of my time on a line that was 10 percent of my company’s income.

Turns out that I had only rediscovered a fact well-known to reps but little-known to manufacturers. The amount of commission a manufacturer pays a representative is only one of the factors representatives use to … Read the rest

Hands Across the Water

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If manufacturers’ representative associations like MANA are a good idea, why aren’t there organizations similar to MANA across the globe?

Actually, there are.

2018 IUCAB meeting in Chicago

Left to right: Charles Cohon, CEO and president, MANA; Ralf D. Scholz, Germany, vice president; John Beaver, chairperson, MANA; Olivier Mazoyer, France, president; Christian Rebernig, Austria, secretary general; Enric Enrech, Spain, vice president; Axel Sturmberger, Austria, vice president; Jordi Marti, Spain; Ole Kristian Bull, Norway, vice president;
David Johnson, United Kingdom, vice president.

Associations like MANA support manufacturers’ representatives in Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Republic of the Congo, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and United Kingdom. Although, outside North America, what we call manufacturers’ representatives are referred to as “commercial agents.”

These 18 country associations and MANA work together to advance the utilization of manufacturers’ representatives through membership in the Internationally United Commercial Agents and Brokers (IUCAB). Recently IUCAB’s Executive Committee met in Chicago to share best practices and plan future activities to support manufacturers’ representatives.

One of those best practices came to MANA in 2013 from Austria’s commercial agents association, Bundesgremium der Handelsagenten. MANA adapted the Austrians’ “explainer video,” describing sales force outsourcing, to English and it has since been viewed over 15,000 times on YouTube.

Understanding Reps video

MANA’s version of the Bundesgremium der Handelsagenten video has been viewed more than 15,000 times.

MANA’s IUCAB membership also gets MANA representative members more visibility with European manufacturers looking for North American sales forces. IUCAB’s commercialagents-northamerica.com advertising and rep search platform is available exclusively to MANA representative members seeking European principals. (Click here for details.)

MANA leaves no stone unturned as we search for the best international resources to serve our members. We would welcome your help finding more and better benefits to include with your MANA membership. Please share your ideas with MANA today!

Succession Planning and Valuing/Buying/Selling/Merging Representative Firms

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In this article we look at succession planning strategies to consider, pitfalls to avoid, and real-world examples of manufacturers’ representative firms that have successfully transitioned to new ownership.

But first, a disclaimer. I am not a lawyer. I am not an accountant. This article will share with you some strategies to discuss with your lawyer and accountant, but this is not legal or accounting advice and it is not intended to replace the advice of the legal or accounting professionals who will be crucial to the success of your succession plan.

And we can’t start until we discuss the elephant … Read the rest

Why Don’t Business Schools Teach Students About Reps?

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Getting information about manufacturers’ representatives taught in business schools has been a long-term MANA priority. And we’ve been successful in earning opportunities to do presentations about manufacturers’ representatives at Harvard Business School, Columbia Business School, University of Arizona, The College of New Jersey, University of Cincinnati, and Kent State, for example.

But presentations reach only students who attend. To reach students year after year, MANA content needs to be part of a school’s curriculum instead of just being part of a MANA presentation.

Now for the first time MANA content is part of a University curriculum as part of MKTG4471 — International Marketing at Thompson Rivers University Open Learning, Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada.


Thank you to the Manufacturers’ Agents National Association (MANA) for granting us permission to use your video Understanding Manufacturers’ Reps. Full credit according to standard academic practice will be given to the work.

Thompson Rivers University (www.tru.ca) is a publicly funded, not-for-profit institution in British Columbia, Canada. The Open Learning Division develops distance education curriculum using a combination of material developed in-house, adopted textbooks and third-party copyright owned works. We rely heavily on materials produced by organizations, such as yours, that are willing to share their knowledge and expertise.

This video was found on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=Apng2eKmZtY. Our Subject Material Expert (SME) was pleased to be able to use the video in our in-house developed online course MKTG4471 — International Marketing. Understanding Manufacturers’ Reps is a valuable addition to the course material.

Patricia Stachiw
Intellectual Property Officer
Thompson Rivers University Open Learning


Developing content that speaks to business school students is an investment in the future of our industry. We look forward to reporting future successes engaging with business schools and working to increase the visibility of outsourcing field sales with college students who are the business leaders of tomorrow.

Line Card Profitability Analysis Workbook

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Manufacturers’ representative firms have a lot in common with Olympic rowers. Just to qualify to compete we have to be fast, agile and impressive performers.

But when it comes to line card profitability analysis, some of us forget what Olympic rowers know: To be winners, you have to take the boat out of the water regularly to clean and wax the bottom. And before the rowers get back in the boat, make sure that all of them really still belong on the team.

Instead of doing regular maintenance, we just row harder. Instead of replacing weak line card performers, we … Read the rest

And Now for Something Completely Different

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This article is about succession planning. But it’s not the kind of succession planning you’ve ever seen discussed in Agency Sales magazine.

Let me explain. MANA gives lots of attention to succession planning that helps representative firm owners thinking about retirement to sell their firms and transition to new owners.

That’s the kind of succession planning that is done when a relationship is ending.

But there is another kind of succession planning that is done before a relationship even starts. And it is that beginning-of-the-relationship succession planning that I discuss in this article.

This beginning-of-the-relationship succession planning happens before a representative firm and a new principal launch a new relationship. That’s when the representative firm has to think not only about launching this relationship, but also about what will happen in the distant future when this new relationship eventually ends.

Succession planning, in this case, is this representative’s plan to protect his or her rights when there is a succession of this principal to a new path to market.

This aspect of succession planning asks the “what if” questions now about what that separation in the far future will look like if the principal switches to a successor: another representative firm, a direct salesperson, or even “we don’t need a salesperson, we can handle this from headquarters.” Those “what if” questions include:

  • What if the representative is tremendously successful and commission payments spike beyond anything the principal expected to pay?
  • What if the sales manager who gave me verbal promises not written into the agreement moves on to a new company?
  • What if a venture capital firm buys the principal to quickly flip it?
  • What if principal sells off all its assets, leaving only an empty shell with no resources to honor its commission obligations?

A representative-savvy attorney can craft agreement language that answers these “what if” questions so that years or decades later when the relationship eventually ends the representative and principal already know what that separation will look like.

The representative firm’s only chance to shape what that far-away separation will look like is usually before the agreement is signed. And when it comes to most of the signed agreements representatives have shared with me, that would be something completely different.

The Little White Lie

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“I am not taking on any new lines.”

Manufacturers sometimes tell me that’s what they hear when they call prospective representatives.

“Why do they even have a profile in MANA’s RepFinder database if they aren’t taking on any new lines?” ask those manufacturers.

When I get that call, asking the manufacturer some strategic questions usually reveals the truth.

  • Does your line have existing business that will be turned over to the representative, or is your line a pioneering line?
  • If it is a pioneering line, did you offer to share the costs of launching your product with some sort of shared market development fee?
  • If you have existing business, will that be turned over to the representative, or will you only pay commission on new customers?
  • Does your representative agreement allow you to terminate all commission payments on 30 days’ notice, or does it include a post-termination commission and/or life-of-part/life of program clause to let the representative recoup the start-up expenses that came from launching your product?
  • Have you worked with representatives before, or will this be the first time?

Honest answers to those questions often lead the manufacturer to an unflattering truth: “The representative hasn’t really decided not to take on any new lines. He or she just decided my offer was not appealing and said what was necessary to end the call quickly.”

There is no such thing as a representative who is not taking on any new lines:

  • If a manufacturer needs a representative to take over a $10,000,000 territory and receive 10 percent commission on all existing business calls, what is the representative’s likely response?
  • If a manufacturer needs a representative to take over a pioneering territory and bear all the expense of launching the product calls, what is the representative’s likely response?

For manufacturers who fall between those extremes, the difference between getting a “yes” or a “no” from a representative is usually whether or not the representative feels the manufacturer is looking for a mutually-profitable long‑term partnership.

To succeed recruiting representatives, craft an attractive package that emphasizes the opportunity to build that mutually-profitable long-term partnership. And then you won’t hear any more little white lies.

The Blank Check* — Part II

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© Scott Maxwell | stock.adobe.com

Part one of “The Blank Check” appeared in our last issue. Just to recap:

The early morning caller was a manufacturers’ representative. He sounded panicky, and I quickly discovered that his panic was justified.

“About 15 years ago I signed a rep agreement with 30-day cancellation terms. And for 15 years I kept growing that principal’s sales, and never gave it another thought.

“Yesterday I found out that I’d been terminated and that all the commissions I would have received for customers I’d closed over the past 15 years will end in 30 days. This is my #1 line and it’s 50 percent of my income. What can I do?”

In our last issue we discussed a manufacturers’ representative’s options for that principal. We also promised to suggest ways to try to negotiate extended post-termination commission into contracts that have already been signed but have not yet been terminated.

Is that really possible?

Yes, there are occasionally brief windows of opportunity when you can get improved terms written into existing representative agreements. But they generally occur only after a manufacturer has given you other bad news, and that window may be open only for a few days.

What kind of bad news? Most often it’s a phone call or e-mail that does not announce a termination, but does cut the manufacturers’ representative’s income. For example, it could be a commission percentage reduction, a reduction in the manufacturers’ representative’s assigned territory, or taking one or more of the manufacturers’ representative’s accounts as house accounts. (In every instance where manufacturers’ representatives have reported these situations to me, by the way, the manufacturer was not a MANA member!)

If an attorney’s review of your agreement doesn’t reveal any ways to get that unwelcome change reversed, don’t give up. Instead, negotiate for something else to make up for what you’ve lost.

  • Commission rate reduced? Negotiate for extended post-termination commissions, life-of-part/life-of-program commissions, additional sales territory, or to convert a current house account into a commissionable account.
  • Lost part of your territory? Negotiate for extended post-termination commissions, life-of-part/life-of-program commissions, or to convert a current house account into a commissionable account.
  • One of your accounts is now a house account? Negotiate for extended post-termination commissions, life-of-part/life-of-program commissions, or additional sales territory.

Remember, if you have to give something, try to get something. A manufacturer who originally hired you for your negotiating skills shouldn’t expect anything less!


* Your legal recourse for a signed blank check may be better than your recourse for a badly written contract. This column is not legal advice; for definitive information, consult your attorney.

The Blank Check* — Part I

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The call came in early in the morning, long before normal business hours, but I picked up anyway. The caller sounded panicky, and I quickly discovered that his panic was justified.

“About 15 years ago I signed a blank check. No date. No ‘Pay to the Order of.’ No amount. Just my signature. I gave it to someone I’d just recently met, but he seemed so trustworthy. And for 15 years I kept making deposits into that account and never gave it another thought.

“Yesterday I found out that the check I signed 15 years ago was presented to my bank and the account has been cleared out. What can I do?”

OK, that is not exactly what the caller said. But it was close. Here is what the caller actually had to say.

“About 15 years ago I signed a rep agreement with 30-day cancelation terms. No extended post-termination commission. No ‘life-of-part, life-of-program’ clause. I’d only recently met the sales manager, but he seemed so trustworthy. And for 15 years I kept growing that principal’s sales, and never gave it another thought.

“Yesterday I found out that I’d been terminated and that all the commissions I would have received for customers I’d closed over the past 15 years will end in 30 days. This is my number one line and it’s 50 percent of my income. What can I do?”

For this contract and this principal, the only thing you can do is have a rep-savvy attorney read that contract line by line and review the laws of your state and the laws of the places where the principal does business to be sure you know this principal’s obligations to you.

For future contracts with new principals, learn from this experience and negotiate extended post-termination commission and/or “life-of-part, life-of-program” clauses before you sign any new agreements.

For other principals already on your line card, review your contracts to see how many other 30-day “blank check” agreements you’ve signed and watch for opportunities to get those agreements amended to improve your post-termination commission payments.

Pause.

At the end of the last paragraph you probably shook your head in disbelief. “Really? You expect my current principals to renegotiate my post-termination commissions?”

Not often, but occasionally there will be times when asking to add extended post-termination commissions to an existing contract can be put back on the table. Which is the topic for “The Blank Check Part Two” on this page in the next issue of Agency Sales.


* Your legal recourse for a signed blank check may be better than your recourse for a badly written contract. This column is not legal advice; for definitive information, consult your attorney.

Join MANA in Austin, Texas, February 25-27!

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Austin, Texas

© f11photo | stock.adobe.com

Face-to-face.

Good for selling? Yes!

Good for manufacturers’ representative education? Also, yes!

We’ve all heard that the Internet would end face-to-face selling. Yes, it’s changed face-to-face selling, but the overall outlook for manufacturers’ representatives remains strong.

We’ve also heard that the Internet would end face-to-face manufacturers’ representative education. And for a while, face-to-face manufacturers’ representative educational programs did suffer a slump.

But high-quality, face-to-face education is making a comeback, and MANA has joined with the Electronics Representative Association (ERA, www.era.org) to give you an unparalleled opportunity to participate in manufacturers’ representative education on February 25-27, 2018 in Austin, Texas.

ERA conference “Tools of Our TradeThe educational session at ERA’s 49th Management and Marketing Conference promises to bring you the kind of company-changing ideas that make the difference between being an average rep firm and a world-class rep firm. And by special arrangement, 25 attendee slots at ERA’s conference have been reserved for MANA members.

The theme of this year’s ERA conference is “Tools of Our Trade — Constructing a Successful Future.” Says ERA Conference Committee Chair Rick LaPiana, the conference focuses on “Tools to help you, your team and your company be more productive and increase your importance to your business partners while sharing your success with them.” Monday morning will include a breakout session with MANA’s CEO.

To view complete details and register for the conference, visit www.era.org and click on the “ERA Conference” button.

The 25 MANA-member attendee slots and rooms at the conference hotel will go quickly, so please visit the ERA website and register soon. Looking forward to seeing you there!

Tried to register too late and all 25 slots were gone?

E-mail Susan Strouse sstrouse@manaonline.org and ask to be put on the waiting list for cancellations, added slots, and alternate programming.

A Cornucopia of Reps

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A cornucopia, often referred to as a “horn of plenty,” is one of the most popular decorations at Thanksgiving. It’s a symbol of abundance, often depicted as overflowing with produce, flowers and nuts.

But sometimes abundance comes with its own set of issues. And it’s the issues raised by abundance and the ways that MANA representative members can capitalize on those issues that are the topics of this Thanksgiving-month article.

MANA manufacturer members report that some searches in MANA’s RepFinder database result in a manageable list of five, 10 or 15 agencies.

But some searches return much bigger lists. A lot bigger: sometimes 50 or even 75 candidates.

Abundance is usually a good thing. But when it comes to a cornucopia of candidates to represent a line, manufacturers have to find ways to trim a list of 50 to eight or 10.

How does a MANA manufacturer member capitalize on this information? By learning how manufacturers trim their lists and positioning themselves to get onto the short list.

This is how manufacturers tell MANA they get to a short list of candidates:

  • Download the list of reps into Excel and sort by website. Firms without websites are cut from the list without ever even knowing they might have been in contention.
  • Eliminate reps with an “I’ll rep anything” line card, cutting reps whose lines card don’t demonstrate concentration on a particular market or product category. Representatives with lines that include castings, stampings, molded parts, scented candles, and garden tools don’t make the short list.
  • Reps whose e-mail addresses don’t match their websites may not make the long list. If a rep’s website is www.repcompany.com but his or her e-mail address is
  • @aol.com, it may be enough to keep that representative off the short list.
  • A MANA member profile that claims a representative firm with one or two employees covers 12, 20, or even all 50 states suggests lack of focus, and can eliminate that firm from consideration.
  • A MANA member profile that claims 20, 30, or even all MANA product categories are sold by one firm also suggests a lack of focus and disqualifies that representative with some manufacturers.
  • And a sloppy MANA member profile also can keep a representative firm off the short list. Capitalization and grammar errors may be held against a representative whose profile says “abc rep company sells machine parts to avionocs customers our phone number is 3125551212.”

The first step to getting on manufacturers’ short list of candidates is knowledge of how manufacturers create short lists. And the final, more important step, is acting on that knowledge.

“The Stars We Are Given.”

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© Noel Powell | stock.adobe.com

“The Stars We Are Given.
The Constellations We Make.”

— Rebecca Solnit

(And why this is important to you and your rep business or rep relationships.)

There really aren’t any constellations.

But, when you view the night sky from a particular hemisphere on earth, facing a specific direction, then unique stars are visible. And a creative stargazer spending enough time staring at the heavens from that particular vantage point will start to see patterns and ways to connect the dots.

The patterns form based not so much on the positions of the stars as on the patterns familiar to that viewer.

So, from ancient stargazers, we have been handed down constellations based on images familiar to ancient stargazers: a scorpion, an eagle, a ram, or a charioteer.

It’s just human nature to take those points of light in the sky and see patterns.

We still do it today, but instead of mentally organizing points of light in the sky to fit our preconceived patterns, we mentally organize data points to fit our preconceived notions.

How is this important to your rep business or rep relationships?

Our rep and manufacturer members are awash in data points. Value of products sold, amount of commission paid, percentage of sales leads closed, and orders shipped on time, among many others.

And when it comes to reps and manufacturers, that sea of data points is just waiting for each party to interpret them according to their own preconceived notions.

Viewing the same data points, one sees a great sales year, but another sees great growth for only a single customer. One sees commissions paid to a rep firm exceeding the manufacturers’ CEO’s income, the other sees that firm’s commission spread among 10 of the rep firm’s salespeople.

Once those dots are connected and those business-results constellations are formed, there is little hope of changing anyone’s perceptions. After all, the lines were imaginary in the first place. How can you change imaginary lines in someone’s head?

But you can change their preconceived notions before they form the lines.

Have a conversation about the importance of gross sales vs. the number of new customers brought on board. Let the manufacturer know that the money he or she invests with your rep firm goes to support the efforts of 10 salespeople instead of going into your own pocket.

Then when the data points arrive, the information you’ve supplied will be the framework in which those data points are stored. So, when the time comes, the lines your partners use to connect those dots will be seen as a value instead of a cost.

It’s up to you to give your partners context before they interpret your mutual data points. With context, you can prepare them to connect the dots of your data points into a charioteer instead of a scorpion.

Not Because You Meet the Same People on the Way Down

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© Ron Dale | stock.adobe.com

© Ron Dale | stock.adobe.com

Be nice to people you meet on the way up.

No. Not because you meet the same people on the way down.

Be nice to the people you meet on the way up because they are on their way up too!

It’s your opportunity to invest like a venture capitalist, except you are investing in your career instead of your stock portfolio.

Let me explain.

A venture capitalist invests in early-stage ventures with lots of upside potential. Many of these ventures fail. Some break even. And a very small percentage are so wildly successful that they make venture capitalists rich, even after they’ve paid off all their bad bets.

For example, in 2004 venture capitalist Peter Thiel invested $500,000 in Facebook in exchange for 10.2 percent of Facebook’s stock. Thiel cashed out his stock in 2012 for $1 billion. Regardless of how Thiel’s other 2004 investments turned out, that was a pretty good year for Thiel. (Today Facebook is valued at $350 billion dollars.)

Your opportunity to invest in your career like a venture capitalist is to invest your time with people who have lots of upside potential instead of investing your money in early stage ventures with lots of upside potential.

Who are these people with upside potential? Colleagues in your own firm who might need a mentor, perhaps a more experienced executive mentoring a Millennial. A promising manufacturer who has no existing business but who offers independent manufacturers’ representatives a contract that includes shared market development fees and/or “life-of-part, life-of-program” commissions. A startup rep who has the promise to do great things representing your manufacturing company.

Venture capitalists expect that some of the ventures in which they invest will fail. And you should expect that some of the people you mentor, some of the prospective clients you help, and some of the manufacturers of new products will never turn a profit for you.

But if you make a few Thiel-like choices, the big winners will more than cover your losses.

And, perhaps more important, it’s a powerful way to insulate your career and your firm from the commoditization of Internet selling.

Websites may be able to compete with you on price and delivery, but the one area where websites can’t compete with you is in the long relationships you have with important decision-makers — relationships based on the time you gave those decision-makers before they were important, and the trust you built when they were just promising beginners starting on their way up.

If you’d like to know important people who will take your calls and buy your products 10 years from now, invest some time with promising early-stage executives today. One of them could be your Facebook!

Six Manufacturers’ Secret Weapon

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Working Together So Everybody Wins

This is a true story.

Six non-competing manufacturers now have an informal alliance to share the cost and benefits of expensive resources that would be too costly for them to deploy on their own. Listing their products illustrates how these companies’ product lines fit the same market but don’t overlap, making it practical for each company to comfortably share resources with companies that are not its competitors.

  • CNC Machining
  • Electroplating
  • Metal Fabrication
  • Rapid Prototyping
  • Stamping
  • Swiss Precision Turning

Because they are not competitors, their informal alliance lets them share sales leads, best practices, and even their sales force. So, when the electroplater gets a sales lead, the electroplater’s offering is presented to the prospect first, but then the stamper gets a crack at the same customer, as do all the other manufacturers. And had the stamper had gotten the lead first, the electroplater and all the other manufacturers would get a crack at the same customer.

And when one creates a best practice in, say, vendor managed inventory or bin stocking, each of the others will hear about it and have the chance to create similar programs.

How is such an informal alliance created and maintained?

These six manufacturers, and others, share the same outsourced sales force company, or manufacturers’ representative, to manage their sales in a particular territory.

The representative is a territory clearing house for all leads received by any manufacturer on the representatives’ line card. When any manufacturer on the representative’s line card has a sales lead in that territory, that manufacturer’s product is presented to the prospect first, but the representative eventually exposes all the complementary non-competing products on that representative’s line card to that prospect, so eventually every manufacturer gets the benefit of all the leads that representative receives.

As manufacturers on the representative’s line card develop best practices, the representative is the conduit through which each non-competing manufacturer often learns about those best practices. If there is a new development in project tracking or lead management, each of the complementary, non-competing manufacturers will likely first hear about it from a representative. Some manufacturers even take that a step further and tap their best and brightest representatives to serve on their Representative Council and serve as the manufacturers’ informal executive peer review board.

This is why manufacturers’ representatives are not just a manufacturer’s stepping stone on the way to being able to afford a direct sales force. Representatives can also be the means to informally collaborate with manufacturers of complementary non-competing products, making representatives a “secret weapon” manufacturers can deploy to outperform competitors who go to market with captive sales forces.

SIGnificant

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Many representatives report that a common quality of their favorite principals is that they “Let me figure out the best way to do my job and let my results speak for themselves.”

So when MANA VP and General Manager Jerry Leth came to me a little over two years ago with the idea that MANA should facilitate the formation of Special Interest Groups (SIGs), I took a cue from our representative members’ favorite principals and asked Jerry to spearhead the program, manage it as he saw fit, and keep me updated on his progress.

And progress is just what Jerry has achieved, with five robust Special Interest Groups in regular contact on topics that serve a particular subset of MANA members:

  • The Professional Development Council (PDC) focuses on professional development resources for our representative members, enhancing our current offering and giving guidance on the resources needed to complete MANA’s wealth of knowledge. Most recently the group helped draft an Agency Sales magazine article on what to do when principals ask for lengthy reports for their online CRMs.
  • The Manufacturers Educational Development Council (MEDC) mirrors the PDC, but from the manufacturers’ perspective. In addition to helping recast MANA’s Nine Steps to Being a Quality Principal Program, the MEDC also had helped guide the Agency Sales article on principal’s online CRMs.
  • The OEM Aerospace Special Interest Group (OASIG) shares knowledge and experiences of the group in dealing with the unique issues of the aerospace industry, such as its procurement practices and extensive industry/supplier consolidation.
  • The International Special Interest Group (ISIG) gives MANA members who sell into international markets or represent international principals the opportunity to discuss topics like the challenges of vetting international principals or being vetted by them, the added risk of having to collect commissions across international boundaries, and how to best communicate with companies where employees with English fluency are more the exception than the rule.
  • The Young Professionals Organization (YPO) is a forum where younger, millennial manufacturers’ representatives can share solutions and best practices to deal with the unique issues they face.

Although each of these SIGs addresses concerns of a very different group of MANA members, they do all have one thing in common. They exist because a talented and dedicated guy took ownership of the SIG program and ran with it. And because the CEO, like some of our representative members’ favorite principals, had the good sense to “let him figure out the best way to do his job and let his results speak for themselves.”

Special thanks to Jerry for launching and managing this very successful program. If you have a suggestion for a SIG that would add value to MANA members, you can reach Jerry at jleth@manaonline.org or (949) 600-6465.

Thank You Cincinnati!

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One of my first trips to speak to manufacturers’ representatives after becoming MANA’s CEO in 2011 was to speak to the Manufacturers’ Agents of Cincinnati (MAC). It’s been a regular stop for me ever since, and it was a thrill on my most recent visit to find 35 manufacturers’ agents and manufacturers registered to take part in a “PowerPoint-Free Zone.”

Manufacturers’ Agents of Cincinnati (MAC)

The “PowerPoint-Free Zone” at the Manufacturers’ Agents of Cincinnati (MAC) meeting.

The “PowerPoint-Free Zone” has become one of MANA’s most popular presentation formats, and its heritage goes back to my first MAC visit six years ago. It was common practice then, and remains common practice today, to pick a topic, prepare a slide deck, launch a speech, and hope that the audience that had arrived to receive it was the right audience for the message you had prepared.

It’s the public speaking equivalent of broadcasting: Crafting a message for the audience you hope to attract, and trusting the pull of that message to attract that target audience at the time and place it will be delivered.

Over the years, two things became apparent.

1. PowerPoint overload at work left audiences with little tolerance for PowerPoint outside of work.

2. Q&A after the PowerPoint was often much more dynamic and powerful than the presentation that preceded it.

With this in mind, MANA’s “PowerPoint-Free Zone” was born.

Instead of MANA picking a topic and hoping it would resonate with the audience, we launch each “PowerPoint-Free Zone” presentation with 15 minutes on a topic chosen to elicit questions and vigorous discussion, and then open the floor for Q&A.

photo of Tom Hayward

Special thanks to MANA Past Chairperson Tom Hayward for his regular outreach to get me onto MAC’s speaker agenda once again.

The audience decides what they want to discuss, and we discuss it. Vigorously. Productively. No holds barred.

Instead of broadcasting, it’s narrowcasting. Instead of our chosen topics, it’s the audience’s chosen topics. And some of the best insights are shared not by the presenter, but by members of the audience.

It’s not unlike the advice we get from sales trainers, applied to audiences instead of prospective customers. Instead of telling prospective customers everything you know, according to most sales trainers, find out what they are interested in, listen more than you talk, and help them find useful solutions. Sage advice for salespeople and MANA presenters!

Making the Short List

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Getting “found” by manufacturers who need representation. It’s one of the benefits of membership that MANA representative members mention most.

But getting from being found to earning an interview takes time and savvy. So how do you make it from the manufacturer’s long “these firms might be possibilities” list to the short “we need to interview these firms” list?

When a manufacturer searches MANA’s RepFinder database, he or she might find five potential representative firms — or 100. When the list is long, how do manufacturers decide who makes it from the long list to the short list?

Some manufacturers have shared ways they narrow down their long list. If you could put those manufacturers in a conference room, the discussion might sound like this:

“It’s interesting,” noted Sam. “Usually I have no problem finding enough reps in the RepFinder, but sometimes I find too many. When I start with a really long list, I have some rules of thumb I use to shorten the list.

“The first thing I do,” Sam continued, “is look at their websites and see if their other lines are complementary to our product. Reps that don’t have a website are the first ones I cut from my list.”

“My rules of thumb include how they use e-mail addresses,” said Cindy. “Now, remember that when I hire a representative, I am usually placing several million dollars with that firm,” she added, “so I feel I have the right to be extra picky.

“One of my pet peeves is representatives whose MANA profile doesn’t have an actual person’s e-mail address. They just have sales@repcompany.com or info@
repcompany.com. When I send an e-mail, I want to know who I’m sending it to, so firms with generic addresses get the boot.

“And the same goes for firms that won’t invest $40 per year to have an e-mail address that matches their web domain,” Cindy continued. “They may be hanging onto their AOL account or Gmail account for a variety of good reasons, but if they don’t have an e-mail address like fsmith@repcompany.com, to me that’s a red flag.”

“Interesting that you mentioned red flags,” added Jim. “When I see a rep profile where the entire profile is in lower case, or has spelling errors, or lists their phone as 3125551212 instead of (312) 555-1212, that firm doesn’t make it to the short list.”

Are these rules arbitrary? Are they unfair? Perhaps. But since the cost to make these fixes ranges from free to $40, why not update your MANA member profile today to help your representative firm make it from the long list to the short list?

Welcome to the Rock!

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A manufacturers’ representative walked into the gift shop of the former United States Penitentiary at Alcatraz. Among the various souvenirs offered for sale, he came across a copy of the Institution Rules & Regulations issued to each new inmate, written by Warden Paul J. Madigan.

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Leafing through the facsimile of the original 19-page mimeographed pamphlet, he paused to read Rule Five, titled “Privileges,” which states: “You are entitled to food, clothing, shelter, and medical attention. Anything else that you get is a privilege. You earn your privileges by conducting yourself properly.”

“Sweet deal,” he murmured quietly to himself, softly enough so the other tourists couldn’t hear him speak. “In manufacturers’ representative agreements you aren’t entitled to anything, and you have to earn everything.”

That manufacturers’ representative summed up the reason that MANA members are really the entrepreneurs’ entrepreneurs. Because this is the group that heard the offer, “Who only wants to eat what they kill themselves?” and swiftly, confidently replied: “Sign me up for that deal! I will do better looking after myself than I would ever do working for somebody else and expecting them to look after me!”

Which is why it is such an honor and a pleasure to be CEO of an association built around that special breed of entrepreneurs and the companies that use those entrepreneurs who take their products to market.

There is one more reason that it’s such a privilege to be the CEO of MANA. It’s because our industry is so welcoming to industrious individuals who are determined to build a business but have little more than just their own individual drive, ambition and perseverance to make it happen.

Unlike other more capital-intensive businesses, a successful manufacturers’ representative firm can be built with just a strong work ethic, a serviceable car, a cell phone, a laptop, business cards, and just enough savings to squeak by and pay expenses during the first year while the new firm builds its book of business.

The best predictor of which firms will succeed is how hard the founder works and how lucky the founder is. And the harder the founder works, the luckier the founder seems to be!

What a pleasure it is to be surrounded by entrepreneurs who at some point in their lives just said, “I can do this.” And then they did.

It’s rarely easy, but it’s almost always rewarding. Because when it comes to manufacturers’ representatives (with apologies to Dr. Robert H. Schuller for paraphrasing the title of his book): Tough times never last, but tough manufacturers’ representative firms do.

Race to Quality

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Thank you Chicago!

A record 43 paid attendees turned out for my 2017 manufacturers’ representative business forecast at a joint MANA/ERA breakfast meeting, about double the average turnout.

MANA CEO Charles Cohon’s Chicago forecast for the representative business in 2017

An overflow crowd sent restaurant staff scrambling for extra chairs at MANA CEO Charles Cohon’s Chicago forecast for the representative business in 2017.

My forecast: 2017 will be a great year for manufacturers’ representatives. And it will also be a terrible year.

Let me explain.

As CEO of MANA I get a lot of calls from reps and from manufacturers who sell through manufacturers’ representatives. And the single most consistent message I get for 2017 is that when it comes to selling through manufacturers’ representatives, more and more manufacturers have begun to participate in a Race to Quality.

What do I mean by a Race to Quality?

Back in the day, often all you had to do to keep a line was to keep sales up and “don’t do anything wrong.”

Today many manufacturers are starting to set the bar higher. “Not doing anything wrong” is not going to be good enough to keep their lines, they say. Instead, they are looking for manufacturers’ representatives who routinely ask themselves, “What more can I do for my principals?”

For representative firms that constantly enhance and expand their services, this Race to Quality will make 2017 a very good year. They will be hotly pursued by excellent principals who have decided to recruit “Best of Class” representative firms in every territory of their rep network.

For representative firms where managers work only in their business but not on their business, 2017 will be a bad year. The Race to Quality will cost them lines as principals impatient with the status quo recruit replacements for representative firms that have a “this is how we’ve always done it” attitude.

Or, to borrow a metaphor from Wayne Gretzky, 2017 will not be a great year for representative firms who skate to the puck, but it will be a terrific year for reps who can figure out how to skate to where the puck is going to be.

Editor’s Note: If you missed Charley’s presentation you can listen to it as a podcast — your March iToolbox newsletter will include the link.

Blast From the Past

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70_anniversary_logoIn this issue, we continue our celebration of MANA’s 70th anniversary year with another “Blast From the Past” from MANA’s early years.

From the first issue of The Agent and Representative magazine in July 1949 (which eventually became Agency Sales magazine) we share the story of Bill Herendon.

It’s a story that could just as easily have been written last month as 68 years ago, except that now many manufacturers have joined MANA, have stronger relationships with their representatives, and would not be so easily misled by the ploy that ended Herendon’s relationship with his principal.

And now, read the article from the very first magazine ever published by MANA.


The Story of BILL HERENDON
By Paul Edouard

(Reprinted from July 1949 The AGENT and Representative magazine)

EDITOR’S NOTE: The author was a young 3-minute speaker in World War II, and is now a 3-minute business-story writer, each story with a moral. Names and places mentioned are fictional, and any similarity to persons living or dead is purely accidental.

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© lukeruk, © VITAMIN | stock.adobe.com

His name was Herendon — Bill Herendon. If you’ll look in the phone book, you’ll not likely find a Herendon there, although there probably is a Bill Herendon in every large city in the United States. Only, in the phone books, they go by their right names.

Sitting next to me there in the grill, I could see that Bill was a square-shouldered, square-jawed individual, with plenty of turkey-foot lines fanning back from a pair of friendly, if now sad, blue eyes. I signaled the waiter, this time including Bill. Over his objections, I asked his profession.

Bill was a manufacturers’ agent, or had been for many years. As a hobby, he learned to fly, and in good weather covered his territory that way. When he washed out “Jenny” in an Arizona flash storm, he joined the Air Reserve for “free time” to hold his license. Then, one day — BANG! — and he was in the Navy.

That little tour of duty is another story — and I’ll bet interesting! I’m hoping Bill will tell me something about it some time.

VE and VJ days arriving, Bill finally came back home; hung out the old shingle again. But it was a bit tough. He had had to release the old accounts, of course, and getting them back was something else again — what with liquidation and retirement, war conversion to unsuited items, and just plain scarcity of raw and finished materials.

But by playing hop-scotch, so to speak, Bill kept going for a year; and then, as goods started rolling along, began rebuilding his business and his accounts in dead earnest.

“Worked mighty hard,” he told me, over his old-fashioned, “building up strong jobber connections for two Eastern lines. Sometimes, to get a jobber I wanted the factory to have,” he said, “I went pretty far in giving exclusives.”

Oh yes, Bill knew all about “eggs all in one basket,” but trusted, and took the chance. Didn’t even have formal contracts with his two principals. “Never had a written contract in my life,” he said. “No one ever mistrusted Bill Herendon.”

At the end of the second year, Bill was going great guns, back in the old stride — new office, smart secretary, salesmen in training — doing a bang-up job for all concerned.

“Then, one day,” and he looked at me with bewilderment still in his eyes, “things began to happen to me.”

At the new municipal airport, the manager of Bill’s biggest and best account weighed in his bags for the East. “Yes, on time,” said the attendant, and passed him through.

In a matter of hours the DC-6 set him down in the northern end of the Buckeye State. The next morning he was at the desk of the president of one of Ohio’s up and coming manufacturing concerns.

“Glad to meet the manager of one of our best jobbing accounts,” smiled the president. “How’s Bill Herendon? ”

“Herendon? … Oh, all right, I guess … last time I saw him,” parried the jobber.

“Last time you saw him? … I don’t understand,” said the president.

“Well, frankly, that’s why I’m here,” answered the jobber, as though it hurt him to say it more than it was going to hurt Bill. “It just doesn’t seem fair that we invest the money — you and I — promote and sell the goods, and Herendon pirates a nice fat commission out of your hard-earned profits — and mine!”

There ensued a half hour of spirited conversation, the president trying to build Bill up and the jobber slowly tearing him down.

“Anyway,” said the president, rising, “there’s nothing I can do about it. We have a contract with Herendon, and we live up to our contracts.”

The phone rang. “Yes, Miss Jones, I’m taking that plane. Wire Boston. And, Miss Jones, send in my sales manager, please.”

The president offered apologies, introduced his new sales manager, and was gone.

With a clear field, the jobber started working on the new sales manager — but systematically! By the second day, it was established beyond doubt that there was no contract in existence with Bill Herendon. Merely a brief exchange of letters, mentioning the commission rate orally agreed upon for business in the new territory, obtained by Bill and approved by the company. Nothing more binding; nothing legal at all.

All the jobber wanted was an “advertising allowance,” less than Herendon’s commission. “And that advertising, placed by us right at the spot, will be worth far more than anything Herendon could possibly do, even if he worked conscientiously at his job, which he certainly isn’t,” concluded the jobber’s manager.

The new sales manager was impressed — impressed with the possibilities in the suggestion, and with his own newly acquired authority. After all, hadn’t the president said he was to be the undisputed boss of sales? Why have to compete with Herendon?

So, the deal was concluded, the jobber leaving a big, fat order for goods hard to get anywhere, at any price; and, satisfied, flew back from whence he came.

In Boston, the president wasn’t feeling so well; decided to run on up to Maine for a much needed rest; wired his sales manager, “Place you in complete charge. Will be away at least a month.”

That did it!

One by one the sales manager took over Bill’s jobbers, flying them in to Cleveland and passing out the advertising allowances. “For the present, just say nothing to Herendon. You understand? That’s all I ask,” cautioned the sales manager. “In due course, I’ll be out to see you, and we’ll play some more golf, and have fun!”

Each jobber inwardly smiled over the cash gain through the old advertising dodge, secretly felt sorry for good old Bill — but then … well, that was Bill’s problem.

It was two months before Bill actually learned the truth of the matter, and even then he wouldn’t believe it. He had known that business was off a bit, but still not that badly off.

The look in the eyes of his friendliest jobbers, those who really did appreciate a job well done by a factory representative — whether on salary or commission — made Bill call Cleveland the moment he could get back to his office.

“Then I consulted a lawyer,” Bill told me, sadly.

“What, no contract, Mr. Herendon? … I’m afraid you haven’t a leg to stand on,” said the attorney, with complete finality.

And that about sums up the story of Bill Herendon, at least for the present. The pins had really been knocked out from under him. The war had made him a bit reckless perhaps, measured by commercial standards. The unquestioned loyalty of his flying pals was a thing taken for granted. This peace-time stuff he couldn’t quite bring himself to understand again.

“Why should anyone want to do a thing like that to me?” Bill asked.

“What are you doing now. Bill?” I ventured, as Bill signaled the waiter.

“Well, not much of anything,” he replied. “I go to the hospital once a week; nerves they say, but I’m getting better.” Without Bill noticing, I picked up the tab … and said good night. At the desk, the club’s cashier told me that Bill came there about once a week. Seemed lonely, and melancholy.

Thoughtfully, I said, “Too bad,” and slowly went my way.

MORAL (by John Dryden): “Bold knaves thrive, without one grain of sense; but good men starve for want of impudence.”

70th MANAversary

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The year was 1947. Harry S. Truman was president, the World Series was televised for the first time (the New York Yankees beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in seven games), Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier, and on October 17, 1947, the Manufacturers’ Agents National Association joined the community of not-for-profit trade associations.

Fast forward to July 1949, and MANA members discovered the first, 24-page issue of The Agent and Representative magazine (eventually renamed Agency Sales) in their mailboxes.

Digging through the first few issues of The Agent and Representative reveals how much MANA has changed, and also how much it has remained the same.

In those first few issues we find sentences like: “I know it’s customary for men who call themselves and believe themselves to be ‘practical men’ to pooh-pooh anything savoring of academic classification in salesmanship.” No thought of women as salespeople or as customers in those earliest editions. But in today’s MANA, woman-owned firms are common and the first woman to join MANA’s Board of Directors does so in May 2017.

Another glaring change since 1949 is that, although manufacturers were invited to advertise in our magazine, the articles in that 1949 issue focus solely on the needs of manufacturers’ representatives. Today Agency Sales strives to be relevant to both manufacturers and manufacturers’ representatives and includes articles for both audiences. And, also for the first time, a manufacturer will join MANA’s Board of Directors in May 2017.

Those are things that have changed, and changed for the better. Yet, some articles from those early issues could be reprinted today and most readers would have no hint that they were written in 1949. In the very first issue of The Agent and Representative is the story of Bill Herendon, a manufacturers’ representative whose customers pressured his principals to fire Bill and cut the price by the amount of Bill’s commissions. And how Bill, lacking a written agreement, had no recourse when the principal’s new sales manager agreed to that customer’s request.

As part of our 70th MANAversary celebration, each Agency Sales magazine from this issue through October will include a “blast from the past” from those early issues. In this issue, we share the first full page of “Agents and Representatives Wanted” advertising published in The Agent and Representative magazine, from the September 1949 issue. Next month, we’ll reprint the story of Bill Herendon.

Click on image to see full size

Click on image to see full size version.

On a personal note, it is humbling to read these early issues and realize the legacy with which MANA’s current staff and Board of Directors has been entrusted. It falls upon us not only to maintain and grow the services we provide to our members, but also to ensure that some future MANA CEO can write a similar editorial for MANA’s 100th anniversary, musing on how hard it must have been for manufacturers’ representatives in 2017 to get through traffic and make sales calls without flying cars.

Yes, There Will Always Be Reps

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Yes, the Internet has changed the role of manufacturers’ representatives. We no longer deliver boxes of catalogs into the hands of customers eagerly awaiting printed notification of our newest products, or communicate by postal letter or fax.

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Which has led some pundits to predict that Internet selling will eventually replace manufacturers’ representatives completely.

I’ve always known that those pundits were wrong, but I’ve struggled to articulate exactly why they are wrong — until now, thanks to a brief description of human psychology that I share below.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you’ve said.

No sustainable advantage in “what you’ve said” for manufacturers’ representatives over Internet selling. We’ve all met with customers and carefully described the features and limitations of our products and secured a sale — and then gotten the call after the sale complaining about the absence of a feature we never offered or the existence of a limitation that we carefully described before the purchase. Whether it is something we said, or something presented on a web page, customers forget or misremember what’s been said or posted on a web page.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you’ve said.
People will forget what you did.

Again, no sustainable advantage in “what you did” for manufacturers’ representatives over Internet selling. The memory of our in-person product demonstrations often will fade before the customer makes a buying decision, just as the memory of an online video demonstrating the product also soon fades.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you’ve said.
People will forget what you did.
But people will never forget how you made them feel.
— Maya Angelou

That is why there will always be manufacturers’ representatives. Because human beings don’t remember what you said, or what you did, but they do remember how you made them feel. A website can reproduce everything that a manufacturers’ representative could say during a sales call. And a website can offer a credible reproduction of the product demonstration a manufacturers’ representative did during a sales call.

But a website can only be a feeble imitation of person-to-person engagement when it comes to how the customer feels about a purchase. All of us have to purchase things that call for special expertise; things that we would be anxious about buying if we did not have an expert at our side. Or purchases where knowing that our business is highly valued reassures us that we will get special attention when we need it.

Manufacturers’ representatives’ roles may change, but they will always be a crucial part of commerce — because customers make buying decisions based on how they feel, and the most powerful way to impact how people feel is face-to-face.

9-1-1 Emergency

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It was April 11, 2016. Something very, very bad was about to happen to manufacturers’ agents who sell to the State of California.

New legislation that would in many cases classify manufacturers’ agents as lobbyists was about to become law. California forbids lobbyists from receiving contingent compensation (such as sales commission). Once classified as lobbyists, manufacturers’ agents would be prohibited from receiving sales commission on sales to the State of California.

And the bill conveniently excluded direct sales forces from these restrictions.

The state’s procurement department knew this was a terrible idea. But where could they turn to quickly rally opposition?

They turned to the rep association that spans across all industries and markets: MANA.

In just days MANA researched the bill, interviewed California lobbyists, hired a lobbyist, and joined forces with California’s Department of Finance and Fair Political Practices Commission, which also opposed this bill.

MANA authored a formal letter of opposition, and invited MANA California members and all other rep associations to weigh in with their own letters.

Despite our best efforts, on May 3, 2016 California’s Assembly and Senate passed the bill unanimously.

Our only hope: a veto from California Governor Edmund G. Brown.

On May 3, 2016 MANA submitted a new formal letter of opposition to the Governor, and followed up with a legislative fact sheet. And again we invited MANA California members and all other rep associations to write letters of opposition.

On May 13, Governor Brown vetoed this bill, and as of this writing the California legislature has not chosen to override his veto. Just 32 days after MANA was first notified of this anti-rep legislation, the Governor was putting his signature on its veto.

Sometimes prospective MANA members ask me about the benefits of MANA membership. We usually talk about matchmaking between reps and principals, Agency Sales magazine, MANA’s educational materials, and our specimen representative agreement.

But after this experience, I will have to add one more benefit of membership. Without your support, MANA would not exist. And without MANA, when some terribly misguided anti-rep law is being considered in your state’s legislature, who would you call for help?

In some respects, MANA is like 9-1-1. You may go a long time without calling 9‑1‑1, but part of its value is the peace of mind you get from knowing you are just one phone call away for emergency services that will arrive with red lights flashing and sirens blaring.

Because of your support, we’re here when you need us. Rep emergency? Call MANA!


governors-seal

May 13, 2016

To the Members of the California State Assembly:

I am returning Assembly Bill 1200 without my signature.

This bill would revise the definition of “lobbyist” in the Political Reform Act of 1974 to include specified conduct by third-party consultants who work to influence governmental procurement.

Given that the laws regulating state procurement are voluminous and already contain ample opportunity for public scrutiny, I don’t believe this bill is necessary.

Sincerely,

Signature

Edmund G. Brown Jr.

MANA Featured in Billboard Magazine

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Yes, you can find MANA’s announcement of its new president on page 105 of Billboard magazine. In all fairness, we should note that you should not search for this article in the current issue of Billboard. You’ll need to search Billboard’s back issues for the June 19, 1948 issue, when that magazine was still The Billboard. (To view that entire The Billboard article online, use the search term: “Richard A. Wilcox” MANA.)

As printed in "The Billboard" magazine, June 19, 1948.

As printed in The Billboard magazine, June 19, 1948.

Why the sudden interest in MANA’s ancient history? Because MANA’s 70th anniversary is coming up in October 2017. And while I’ve spent my first five years as MANA’s CEO looking diligently and aggressively toward MANA’s future, our upcoming 70th anniversary has reminded me to spend a little time looking at our past.

A search of our archives has revealed the first issue of The Agent and Representative magazine, dated July 1949, so this June 1948 Billboard article is the earliest reference to MANA we’ve found in print so far. If you have something older in your files, we hope you’ll share it.

We will continue to include more and more nuggets from MANA’s past as our October 2017 anniversary approaches, but for now I’d like to close this MANA editorial with an excerpt from MANA’s very first editorial, penned for that July 1949 issue by MANA’s then Executive Secretary P. Edwin Thomas.

P. Edwin Thomas

P. Edwin Thomas

New Times, New Tasks

Rightly or wrongly, the post-war American interest is tightly linked to the welfare of half the whole world; although, even if we wished, we are not rich enough to endow the world, or powerful enough to rule it. Instead, being what we are, we can only strive to create, and work to produce, the conditions that make for freedom and peace among nations, being careful to keep ourselves solvent in the gigantic process.

But this condition, this American world interest, demands a new look at the needs of the domestic welfare of our own people, in pure terms of dollars and cents alone. For, somehow, the cost of all items, the cost of everything we need and use, must be lowered to a point within the means of each and every one of us — the means remaining after all the multifarous and multitudinous tax burdens have been borne.

Among these are the lowering of selling costs, and that is where agents and representatives come in.