Moving the Needle on Shared Market Development Fees

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Last week a MANA rep member thanked me for MANA’s work to champion Shared Market Development Fees (SMDF). In recent years, said the rep, manufacturers have become more and more receptive to SMDF, which he credited to MANA’s efforts to familiarize manufacturers with SMDF.

SMDF are monthly payments a manufacturer pays to a rep when the manufacturer needs that rep to pioneer a territory without existing sales. Because it can take a year for the first commissionable sales to close where that manufacturer’s product is unknown, the manufacturer pays part of the rep’s costs for pioneering activities.

MANA began championing SMDF because manufacturers with no market presence often ask reps to introduce unknown brands into their territories without compensation because: “You’re in there anyway, just add us to your sales call.”

“No,” MANA explained to manufacturers. “Customers give reps limited time during a sales call. So they lose income if they take time from a principal that generates commission income to talk about a principal that doesn’t.”

Later, we discovered that SMDF might benefit manufacturers even more than reps.

Why? Because professional reps with full line cards were always out of reach to manufacturers with lines that required pioneering. But SMDF can make reps who would never before have considered pioneering a line accessible to manufacturers who want the best reps to launch their brands.

Win-win for reps and manufacturers. That is what MANA is all about.

What else has MANA learned about SMDF? Written SMDF agreements are crucial so each party knows the other’s expectations, for example:

How many sales calls on the manufacturer’s behalf does the principal expect?

Does the manufacturer expect a monthly report on the rep’s activities? How detailed and how formal does that report need to be? Would phone calls and texts suffice?

MANA is proud to have moved the needle on SMDF. Want to share your SMDF experiences or suggest how MANA can move that needle further? Reach out to me at ccohon@manaonline.org.

We Knew It Couldn’t Be Done

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Until We Had to Do It

Experts tell us that after 18 months of quarantines and pandemic, “The New Normal” is coming.

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Part of that “new normal” will be that things we “knew” could not be done, pre-pandemic, actually could be done. Quarantines and a pandemic have forced us to accept that some of the things we thought we couldn’t do were really just things we didn’t choose to do.

Let’s consider the example of a prospective customer inviting a rep to visit and present one of their principal’s products, pre-pandemic. What would have happened if the rep had suggested a Zoom video chat instead of a personal visit?

The prospect would have been highly insulted. “What, so I am not important enough to visit?”

The rep probably would have lost that opportunity right away. And if the prospect complained to the rep’s principal, the line could even have been in jeopardy.

Pre-pandemic, we knew that presentations had to be done in-person. That was that way we always had done it, so that was the way it had to be done.

We knew that presentations had to be done in person until we couldn’t have face-to-face meetings anymore, and then reps found creative, non-contact ways to take care of customers and principals.

Another example of the things we thought we couldn’t do that were really just things we didn’t choose to do was many employers’ mandates that employees “had” to work from employers’ physical offices. “You need to be here for meetings. If you worked from home, I couldn’t keep an eye on you. We need the staff together to build camaraderie.”

Until the day that those employers announced, “Everybody grab your laptops, go home, and figure out how to make this work.” Home offices not only worked, they often actually improved productivity.

As the “new normal” approaches, one of our lessons learned from the past 18 months is to look hard at things that we “know” can’t be done, and remember how many other things looked like they couldn’t be done right up until we did them.

Why Didn’t I Call You Back?

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“I get plenty of voicemails, and I actually return lots of those calls,” explained the anonymous executive. “When I don’t return a call, it’s often for reasons like these:

  • “You called four times without leaving a message. Each time you called, you disrupted the call I was on as my phone prompted me to choose between your call and my current call. To keep you from disrupting more calls, I blocked your number.
  • “I called back, but you screen your calls, so you didn’t answer. Your next message to me was, ‘Sorry, I didn’t recognize your number, so I didn’t answer.’ You only get to waste my time once. Number blocked.
  • “I called back and left a voicemail. Your return voicemail to me starts, ‘I see you called, but I didn’t listen to your message.’ You called me, but you are too busy to listen to my voicemail? Number blocked.
  • “I called back. Your voicemail answers robotically, “You have reached 312-555-1212. Leave a message.” If I don’t hear your name, maybe I misdialed. Suddenly it became just too much work to return this stranger’s call. Never mind.
  • “You called me from 312-555-1212, but your voicemail asks me to call you back at 708-555-7834. Call me from the number you want me to call back, and I can return your call with one tap. I was already on the fence about returning your call, and you made me write down your number. Never mind.
  • “The voicemail you left for me is a mumbled name and a phone number spoken too quickly for me to write down. I don’t have time to listen to a message over and over to capture the digits.
  • “The number you asked me to call is answered by a call screening app. I am supposed to wait while Nomorobo decides whether or not to put my call through? Never mind.

“If I didn’t return your call,” concludes the executive, “now you know why.”

Flextime

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You have heard it from MANA, from manufacturers, and from reps. In the new normal, manufacturers that sell through reps have significant advantages over manufacturers with a captive sales force:

  • In uncertain times, customers don’t take risks with untested vendors. They turn to trusted, proven resources for the products they need to keep their companies running. And, more likely than not, those trusted resources are manufacturers’ reps who may have a decade or two of history with their customers.
  • When customers’ buyers and engineers abruptly had to pull up stakes and work from home, regular communication channels often were disrupted. Only trusted, proven resources like manufacturers’ reps were entrusted with customers’ personal cellphone numbers and permitted to text as needed to keep customers up-to-date with information about mission-critical products they need to keep their companies running.
  • Face-to-face video chat appointments are granted only to those same trusted, proven resources. A stranger’s request has a slim-to-none chance of getting a video chat appointment. So if your product needs face-to-face demonstrations, but you don’t have trusted, proven rep resources as your salesforce, you are out of luck.

But there is another aspect of the new customers-working-from-home normal that has not gotten much attention. It’s flextime.

Let me explain.

Customers who work from home have discovered that their jobs are to get their work done. But not necessarily between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

What does having customers working unconventional times of day mean to reps? I rarely see a rep who doesn’t check emails outside conventional office hours. Reps are there when customers working flexible hours need answers. When there is an emergency, customers know that reps reply faster than manufacturers, who will likely respond during the next business day.

Reps, go ahead and strut your customer-first attitude. It’s flextime.

Property of NASA

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“What is the difference between dealing with a rep and dealing with the factory?” Let me tell you my story.

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When I was a rep I sold industrial timers to a car wash manufacturer.

The customer called to report a defective timer. I secured a Return Material Authorization, and the customer sent the timer back for evaluation.

The timer factory reported that the timer worked perfectly, so they shipped it back to the customer. The customer called me again, reporting a different timer was defective. But when it went back to the factory, it tested out fine.

After a few more times, the timer manufacturer wanted to start charging the customer for testing and return freight. The customer was angry that so many timers were defective. Resolving the problem fell on my shoulders.

Eventually, I tracked down the person who was reporting that the timers were defective. I asked him how he determined that our timers were defective.

“We know that they are defective because our car wash stopped working.” A car wash has hundreds of electrical connections and dozens of parts that could fail. But the customer insisted that whenever the car wash failed it was our timer’s fault.

My principal and my customer had both drawn lines in the sand. Neither would budge. My dad came up with the solution. “Let’s build them a timer tester.”

It was that simple. And because the tester had lights that reminded Dad of 1960s NASA mission control, he labeled the timer “Property of NASA.”

Problem solved. Each time a timer was suspect, the customer tested it. We never had another failure.

Reps are creative problem solvers. That was my story. To share your story, email me at ccohon@manaonline.org.

Always Take the Mint

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Thirty years ago, a colleague from my rep days shared some valuable advice she got from her mother. “Always take the mint.”

“When somebody offers you a mint, maybe they are just offering to share. Or maybe you have bad breath. You will never know which. So always take the mint.”

That’s great advice. And it applies to more than just breath mints.

Let me share an example. Sometimes manufacturers call to tell me that reps won’t take their line. “Reps don’t understand the great opportunity they are turning down,” or “I emailed hundreds of reps with no takers, they are missing out on making lots of money.”

I always offer to help. “Let’s look at the offer you’re making to reps and see if we can figure out why.”

Most manufacturers are happy to get fresh eyes on their offering, and we find a way to help make their recruiting more effective.

But occasionally there is a manufacturer who won’t take the mint.

“I’ve worked in companies with reps for 20 years. I already know everything there is to know about working with reps.” They didn’t call for advice, they just called to complain.

Did they waste my time? At first, I thought so. But then I realized they had taught me an important lesson.

When someone offers me advice, I always let them make their case.

  • Sometimes the advice will be brilliant. So, I win.
  • Sometimes the advice will be “not brilliant,” but it triggers an idea that I otherwise would not have had. So, I win.
  • Sometimes the advice will be the exact opposite of brilliant. But it reminds me of what to avoid. So, I win.

Turns out my colleague’s mother was even wiser than I realized at the time.

“Always take the mint.”

Boxers Call It “Leaning Into the Punch”

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You see a punch coming. No time to block it. No time to move out of the way. Now what?

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Lean into the punch. You still get punched, but that punch has not had time to reach the speed and power it would have reached an instant later.

That’s a valuable life lesson, even when no real punches are involved. The more quickly I can respond to a problem, the less time it has to grow. Step into problems before they grow out of control.

True confession: A recent situation tested my commitment to step into problems before they grow. Let me share what I learned.

An email from a member of MANA’s staff had alerted me that a new MANA member was not happy. He had experienced a technical issue while doing a rep search in MANA’s RepFinder® database. The email suggested that he was very unhappy.

When I find out a member is unhappy, I drop what I’m doing and make the call, and that’s what I did. But it was late on a Friday afternoon and he was not available. I have to confess that when he wasn’t available I was relieved, because I was expecting a difficult conversation.

I didn’t want him to think that I hadn’t responded, so I left a voicemail promising to call him Monday morning. Knowing that I had to speak to a very unhappy member first thing Monday morning hung over my head all weekend.

On Monday morning, I wavered. Was the call I tried to make Friday enough of a gesture? Or did I really need to make the call?

I made the call and I’m glad I did. He was very cordial and had two very constructive suggestions that will make the RepFinder® a better tool.

The lesson I learned: Don’t waver. I was glad I stepped into the problem, and when you step into your next problem you will be too.

Reinventing Rep Search

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MANA’s online RepFinder® and RepFinder® smartphone app are already the best rep search tools in the world. So, what’s next? We reinvent ourselves. Better smartphone app. Better rep profiles.

RepFinder® 2.0 Smartphone App

Version 2.0 launches now in the Apple App Store and Google Play and gives manufacturers even more sophisticated search tools than version 1.0 launched early this year.

RepFinder® “My Rep Profile Score”

“My Rep Profile Score” is …

“My Rep Profile Score” is …

Manufacturers use MANA’s RepFinder® to find world-class reps. But sometimes world-class reps don’t have world-class MANA-member profiles.

Why wouldn’t a world-class rep have a world-class member profile? Because they forgot to include important details, or were not careful about choosing territories or product categories.

For example:

  • They forgot to include their website address.
  • They claimed to cover so many territories for their number of salespeople that their territory coverage seems sparse.
  • They claimed so many product categories that they seem to lack focus.
  • Their profile has not been checked or updated for a long time.

Manufacturers tell us that:

  • They want to see reps’ websites listed.
  • They prefer reps with enough staff to cover each territory thoroughly.
  • They prefer reps that focus on a particular market.
  • They expect the information in reps’ profiles to be up-to-date.

To help world-class reps ensure that their member profiles present them as world-class sales forces, MANA has launched the “My Rep Profile Score” system to let reps know if their profiles don’t present them as world-class sales forces.

“My Rep Profile Score” is a private tool to let you be sure your profile is world-class. You are the only one who can see your company’s “My Rep Profile Score.” However, even though manufacturers cannot see reps’ “My MANA Rep Profile Score,” when they download a list of reps that list is sorted in “My MANA Rep Profile Score” order.

To see your “My Rep Profile Score,” watch your email or visit your company’s member profile on www.MANAonline.org.

Please call us with any questions — we are here to help!

The Sales Force — Working With Reps

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This is the final 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.

Several years had passed since Troothe hired William Carl’s company as its first rep. The changes Troothe had made in its operation seemed gradual as they occurred, but, in retrospect, looked more dramatic.

Troothe employees who had been its direct sales force had made a transition from having day-to-day direct account responsibility to being regional managers charged with supporting and providing oversight for … Read the rest

How Much Do I Owe You?

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It might be the nicest compliment MANA has ever received. And it came to me in the form of a question.

A rep called me to discuss a thorny issue he was having. It was a challenging problem, so we brainstormed potential strategies and solutions for about a half an hour.

By the end of that call we identified a pretty good strategy for the rep to use.

And that’s when the rep asked me the question that was a compliment I never expected.

“Charley, I have had consultation sessions like this with you and also with Jerry Leth in the past, but MANA has never sent me a bill. How much do I owe you?

The question caught me by surprise. Such a nice compliment! It took me a moment to reply.

“Business telephone consultations are a benefit included with your MANA membership,” I explained. “Jerry and I get calls from MANA members facing thorny problems every week. And because Jerry and I have fielded so many of these calls over the years, we’ve both already seen a lot of the problems that give MANA members heartburn.

“As a matter of fact, the problems and solutions that have come out of the consultations we’ve done over the years have given us perspectives and solutions we can bring to bear on problems we hear from reps calling us today.

“Jerry and I can’t give legal advice, but MANA membership does include a legal telephone consultation benefit, where the 23 attorney members of MANA will give MANA members a half-hour complimentary consultation before the clock starts running.

“So the answer to your question is, Jerry and I will always be happy to help you, and there is never a fee when you give us a call. Just keep renewing your MANA membership, and we’ll be here when you need us.”

The Sales Force — Working With Reps

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This is the 26th 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 see your point,” Jim replied. “Two national trade shows probably would bring in a total of 250 sales leads, which typically translates to 25 quote requests. Based on our current hit rate, that would be five new customers. So to be equal in value to two national trade shows, the rep would have to bring in 25 viable quote requests and close … Read the rest

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

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Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go, there will be trouble.
And if I stay it will be double.
So come on and let me know.

The Clash, 1982

Rep members have been calling recently to talk about how to adapt to the challenges of running a small business in a COVID‑19 environment. Many of those calls have ended up as discussions about “Should I stay or should I go?”

The “Should I Stay” group has been saying: “My commissions are down and I need to find a way to replace the income I’ve lost. How can I find a rep firm for a merger or acquisition to make up for that lost income?”

The “Should I Go” group has been saying: “I’ve been thinking about retirement for a long time anyway. How can I find a buyer for my rep firm?”

Whether you are in one of these groups or are just thinking about testing the waters, MANA has the resources you’ll need to make your decision strategically.

  1. MANA’s “Steps to Rep Professionalism” program in the member area of www.MANAonline.org has 14 carefully chosen articles, reports, and audio/video succession planning resources, including our centerpiece: Valuation and Sale of a Manufacturers’ Representative Business Special Report.
  2. MANA’s Business Counseling lets MANA members contact us to get objective third-party ideas on how to succeed with succession planning.
  3. MANA’s Attorney Access membership benefit gets you an annual free half-hour consultation with an experienced, rep-savvy attorney.
  4. MANA can help you locate MANA rep members that have been in business long enough that the founder might be open to a conversation about an acquisition or merger.
  5. MANA’s online “Agencies for Sale” ads are free to MANA rep members through June 30, 2021. If you have any questions reach out to Susan Strouse by email at sstrouse@manaonline.org.

Should I stay or should I go? Reach out to MANA, we’re here to help you figure it out!

The Sales Force — Working With Reps

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This is the 25th 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.

William continued to explain the manufacturer’s costs, “Now, variable overhead, material cost and outside processing all are attributable to the new business. In-house sales costs and general and administrative costs are just like the fixed overhead: they are sunk costs that were already committed whether or not this new job was written, so I am going to strike through those dollar amounts as … Read the rest

The Toughest Question All Month

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“I feel like I’m facing a lot of competition from other manufacturers when I try to get the attention of really high-quality reps,” said the manufacturer on the phone. Then he asked a question that sounded like it should have been easy for me to answer.

“Are there more reps looking for manufacturers or more manufacturers looking for reps?”

I started to answer. Then I stopped. I asked if we could talk about his other questions first and circle back to that one. As I answered his other questions, I put my finger on why this question was so challenging.

Every day I talk to manufacturers who are struggling to recruit high-quality reps. Every day I talk to reps struggling to sign high-quality manufacturers. Every manufacturer says there is a shortage of high-quality reps. Every rep says there is a shortage of high-quality manufacturers.

Then the answer to his question came to me.

“You asked if there are more reps looking for manufacturers or more manufacturers looking for reps.

“I think the answer is: Yes.

“Let me explain.

“There are always lots of manufacturers eager to recruit high-quality reps. There are always lots of reps eager to represent high-quality manufacturers.  So, the answer to this question depends on your perspective.

“As a manufacturer trying to sign a really great rep, it will feel like you have to compete with lots of other manufacturers to get that rep’s attention. Just like reps who are trying to sign a really great manufacturer will feel they have to compete with lots of reps to get that manufacturer’s attention.

“Bottom line, really great reps and really great manufacturers always have lots of potential partners clamoring for their attention.”

Whether you are a manufacturer or a rep, for the best advice on how to make your company attractive to top-tier partners, turn to MANA for help.

The Sales Force — Working With Reps

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This is the 24th 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 didn’t see a ‘Life of Part/Life of Program’ clause in the agreement, and I’d like to see it added,” William replied.

“What is that?” Jim asked. He felt the discussion between William and Joe was not going well, and he was hoping to interject himself as a mediator.

“Most reps and manufacturers refer to it as a LOP/LOP clause,” said William, “and … Read the rest

Closing Deals Based on Handshakes in a COVID‑19 World

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My jaw dropped when a rep told me he was still closing deals based on handshakes and face-to-face meetings during quarantine and social distancing. Then he explained, and I could not have agreed with him more.

“Am I respecting my state’s mandatory quarantine and social distancing rules? Definitely! Am I closing deals based on handshakes and face-to-face meetings? Also, definitely! And it has nothing to do with wearing masks or gloves.

“Let me explain.

“Right now, customers are dealing with FUD. Fear, uncertainty and doubt. When they’re dealing with FUD, and when their companies are on the line if vendors let them down, are they going to roll the dice on a new vendor? Of course not! They are going to turn to trusted resources. Resources like me.

“That’s what I mean when I say I’m still closing deals based on handshakes and face-to-face meetings. Not recent handshakes and face-to-face meetings, of course. I’m closing deals based on my two decades worth of handshakes and face-to-face meetings with my customers in my territory.

“Those decades of handshakes and face-to-face meetings mean that when customers urgently need a resource who intimately understands their needs and also can be trusted implicitly, they know that they can turn to me.

“Are there factory-direct salespeople who can match my two decades of service to my customers in my territory? Not many, if there are any at all.

“And what happens if there is a situation that cannot be addressed without a face-to-face meeting? Safely socially distanced, but face-to-face. My customers know that many factory-direct salespeople are based at their company’s headquarters and fly out to see customers as needed.

“Those factory-direct salespeople are not going to want to get on a plane. And my customers are not going to be enthusiastic about a face-to-face meeting with someone who has just gotten off a plane.”

Bottom line, with FUD all around us, there has never been a better time for manufacturers to go to market through manufacturers’ reps.

The Sales Force — Working With Reps

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This is the 23rd 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.

The agreement excluded Troothe’s two big accounts. Jim was uneasy about sending it to William, but Joe Troothe had been specific that he didn’t want to give up any existing accounts to the new rep.

William asked about the totals in the territory, and Jim said, “It’s $250,000, but once you exclude the two house accounts, it’s more like $50,000.” Jim had shared … Read the rest

Searching for Reps

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Ten years ago, before Charley Cohon became MANA’s CEO, he wrote this article suggesting that manufacturers could use data mining to find reps.

When this article was first published, routine data mining was mostly a tool for big businesses. Now that data mining is common in medium and small businesses, this article may resonate more with manufacturers now than it did in 2010, so we are reprinting it in this issue of Agency Sales magazine.

Special thanks to Michael Roemen, sales channel manager for MANA‑member 9Wood, an architectural product manufacturer in Springfield, Oregon, whose recent MANAcast interview reminded us of Read the rest

Well, It Beats the Alternative

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First let me tell you my favorite story about a manufacturer working with reps. I heard it from a sales executive who came across his company’s owner joyously signing rep commission checks.

“Wow, that’s a big one,” he heard the owner say, grinning ear to ear as he signed. “Another biggie,” said the owner, signing enthusiastically.

That sales executive paused at the door of the owner’s office, somewhat puzzled, and posed a question. “I have never seen anyone so happy to sign checks. Why are you so happy about spending your money?”

“Simple,” the owner explained. “These are rep commission checks. Every time I send a rep a dollar, it means I got to keep nine dollars. So, as far as I am concerned, these checks can never be big enough.”

Why Do I Love This Story?

I love repeating a story about a manufacturer who “gets it.” Yes, of course this manufacturer is a MANA member. And while I can’t promise that every MANA manufacturer member gets it, I can promise that manufacturers who “get it” are much more likely to join MANA than manufacturers who don’t.

It celebrates big commission checks. The bigger the better. In a world where reps privately share fears that selling too much may get them fired for earning too large a commission check, it’s great to be able to tell a story where large commission checks are celebrated.

It reminds us that a rep’s commission check is really a rep’s monthly performance review. And that the commission earned by high-performing reps should solidify that rep’s status with the manufacturer rather than being a trigger to review a rep who is “earning too much.”

My Second Favorite Story

It came from a rep responding to a manufacturer’s complaint that the rep’s commission checks were getting too large. That rep’s reply? “Well, don’t you feel like it beats the alternative? My well-earned commission checks could be for selling huge amounts of your competitor’s products instead of for selling huge amounts of yours.”

The Sales Force — Working With Reps

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This is the 22st 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.

“There’s just one more point from the MANA specimen budget I’d like to cover,” said William. “It has to do with calculating this typical rep’s average cost per sales call.”

William turned the typical budget report to its second page to reveal a statistical table. “Each of the four salespeople for this typical rep,” William continued, “makes 14 sales calls per week, 50 … Read the rest

Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.

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A rep recently posed a couple of interesting questions.
When will this be over?
When can I go back to business as usual?

When he posed those questions, all of us at MANA were scrambling to gather information for MANA members about the short-term government initiatives designed to keep small businesses afloat and to put together MANAcasts, webinars and emails with the information our members needed to learn how to use those programs.

Now that we’ve given our members the information they needed quickly; I’ve had time to reflect a little bit on that rep’s questions about the long-term.

Improvise Adapt Overcome graphicWe find ourselves facing an abrupt, unforeseeable, life-changing event. None of us have any experience working in this kind of environment. So, if MANA and MANA members have a rallying cry for 2020, it is “Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.” *

One of the most compelling arguments for selling through manufacturers’ reps has always been the in-person contact we have with local customers. Now that in-person contacts have been suspended or dramatically curtailed, what do we do? Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.

The real argument for selling through manufacturers’ reps really isn’t in-person contact. It’s the fact that manufacturers’ reps, who have proven their value to local customers over years or decades, are customers’ trusted resources. And those reps will continue to be their customers’ trusted resources whether in-person contact is suspended or not.

While in-person visits are suspended, our customers’ needs for commercial support, technical assistance and coaching has not been suspended. Improvise. Adapt. Overcome. Zoom meetings and other electronic communication get the job done until in-person visits can resume.

So, let’s go back to that rep’s questions. When will this be over? Maybe six months. Maybe 12 months. But it will be over someday.

When can I go back to business as usual? Never. Because your business and your world will never be the same after you: Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.


* Clint Eastwood as Marine Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Highway, Heartbreak Ridge.

The Sales Force — Working With Reps

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This is the 21st 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.

The first agency Jim visited upon his arrival in the territory was a partnership of two men. Their company had a reputation for achieving solid sales growth, but Jim immediately noticed that their office was quite disorganized. Sales leads and trade publications were stacked all over the conference table, and the two had to push them to one side to make room for … Read the rest

Ask Them!

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I’d like to share two quick stories about our experience asking MANA members what they want.

The first story comes from MANA’s Board of Directors’ preparation for its Strategic Planning session.

MANA has many member benefits. The Board knew it couldn’t build a roadmap for MANA’s future until they knew which of those benefits were most highly valued by our members.

So we asked them.

We discovered MANA members’ number one priority was for MANA to provide the world’s most robust and powerful rep search tools. So the Board’s number one priority became the new RepFinder® smartphone app.

The second story comes from MANA’s experience after launching the RepFinder® app. We needed to know how we could continue to improve the rep search process the app offers to manufacturers.

So we asked them.

Kent Gladish

Kent Gladish (left) with TMA members participating in MANA’s focus group.


In this case, we wanted face-to-face live feedback from manufacturers as they used the app to conduct rep searches, so we needed to assemble a focus group.

I turned to a longtime friend of MANA, Kent Gladish of the Schaumburg, Illinois-based Technology and Manufacturing Association (TMA) for help. I asked if he might be able to get five or 10 TMA manufacturer members to sit down with us, use the app, and give us their feedback.

Kent graciously put out the word, but instead of five or 10 volunteers, we got 38! Their insightful feedback will help MANA to continue to improve and enhance the world’s most robust rep search tool — crucial feedback that we only received because we asked for it.

Do you want to outpace your competitors? Ask your customers what they want! You will get the information you need and will earn your customers’ loyalty and respect.

Ask them!

During This COVID-19 Crisis, Thank Goodness We Have a Rep Sales Force

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© Wild Orchid | stock.adobe.com

Charlie Ingram, executive vice president and chief marketing officer, Eriez Manufacturing, just shared with me his insights about how having a rep sales force is helping his company get through the COVID‑19 crisis.

Here’s what he had to say:

  • “Effective immediately, our home office employees have travel restrictions, so we can’t get our product and market sales managers into the field. Thank goodness we have a rep sales force to take care of our customers while our sales managers are grounded.”
  • “Customers are restricting sales visits, and at best those customers will be distracted. And while they’re distracted those customers will instinctively reach out to trusted resources with whom they have strong relationships. Those trusted sales resources are our manufacturers’ reps.”
  • “Even though visits to customers’ plants and offices are restricted, our reps will be in contact with customers by Skype, phone, email and texts. Nobody has enough regional managers to handle that volume of communication unless they have reps in the point position.”
  • “Because our reps represent multiple complementary non-competing lines they know what other manufacturers in our industry are doing and can consult with us on how the best practices from their other principals can be adopted by our company. We are in uncharted waters, and the things we are learning through our reps is invaluable.”
  • “And thank goodness for our rep council. At our request, each rep council member reached out to a group of our reps to gather real-time data about how customers are reacting, how customer needs are changing, and the trends developing throughout North America. We knew more and knew it faster than anyone fielding a direct sales force could have accomplished.”

Most of us knew all the arguments why reps are the most effective way to take products to market in normal circumstances. Now we know why reps are the best resource for manufacturers to have at their disposal during a crisis.

The Sales Force — Working With Reps

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This is the 19th 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.

“Fred, I have to admit there are some attractive features you may be able to offer your employees that we can’t at the factory. Anything else before you let me buy you some lunch?”

“Just one thing,” said Fred, who had warmed to the topic of promoting the rep system. He pulled out a legal pad and made a quick sketch.

image of sketch

“I think … Read the rest

Offer Subject to Change on 30 Days’ Notice

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image of donuts

© VectorLM | stock.adobe.com

My local donut shop once offered a “Buy 11 donuts, get the 12th donut free” punch card. “Terms subject to change on 30 days’ notice.”

A new owner terminated the punch card program. I had nine punches, but it was not a big deal. After all, it was only a donut.

The first Internet Service Provider (ISP) I ever used offered one year of service at a very reasonable price.

Three months into the contract I received notice that my monthly rate was doubling. I wrote to the company’s president: “I still have nine months to run on my one-year contract, so this letter was sent to me in error.”

More than two decades later I am still mad about his reply: “I sold my company and the new owners have new rates. As you can see your contract is subject to change on 30 days’ notice.”

Replacing my ISP was such a huge hassle that I ended up eating the difference. This was a bigger deal than just a donut, so I started paying more attention to “subject to change on 30 days’ notice.”

Most reps I know have a horror story about a big order and a “subject to change on 30 days’ notice” rep agreement. They had signed a contract with a manufacturer whose character was beyond reproach, but later faced a new owner eager to find a way to avoid paying commission on a very large order.

That’s why many reps now only accept agreements with extended post-termination commission or Life of Part/Life of Program (LOP/LOP) language. After investing years of work to earn a big order, “subject to change on 30 days’ notice” rep agreements are too big a risk.

And a six-figure or seven-figure commission is not just a donut.

The Sales Force — Working With Reps

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This is the 18th 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.

Fred Richardson owned the rep company where George worked, and his call to Jim was prompt. Jim had asked Fred to drop by Jim’s office to discuss the rep system, but Fred had another suggestion.

“If you want to learn about reps,” Fred said, “I’d suggest that you come visit our office. After all,” Fred joked, “when Jane Goodall wanted to study chimpanzees, … Read the rest

A Whole Wide World of Reps

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“Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.” — Arthur C. Clarke

Two possibilities exist: The concept of sales force outsourcing is so powerful that it would naturally develop on its own outside North America, or it would not. It’s very comforting to know that sales force outsourcing is such a powerful concept that reps can be found in Europe, North America, and South America. (Apologies to Arthur C. Clarke.)

How powerful? The international association that counts reps worldwide reports that the 42,000 reps in North America are part of a worldwide ecosystem of 537,000 reps.

Engaging in a worldwide ecosystem is very important to MANA members.

  • MANA representative members need to be visible to international principals seeking North American representation.
  • MANA manufacturer members need resources to find representation in Europe and South America, and learn the local practices of reps in those countries.

MANA’s participation in the Internationally United Commercial Agents and Brokers (IUCAB) gives MANA access to just the kind of exposure and information MANA members need to flourish internationally. (Outside of North America, what we call manufacturers’ reps are referred to as commercial agents.)

What is IUCAB? Many other countries have their own rep associations just like MANA. IUCAB is where those country rep associations meet to share best practices and solve common problems.

As a member of IUCAB’s Executive Committee MANA plays a critical role in the IUCAB. I recently met in Hungary with other Executive Committee members (pictured above) from the rep associations of Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, and the United Kingdom to work on strategies to promote reps internationally.

Through IUCAB, MANA engages with 18 other countries’ rep associations in Europe, North and South America, and insures our place at the table in the international community of reps.

photo of the IUCAB Executive Committee

IUCAB Executive Committee members (left to right): Christian Rebernig, Austria; David Johnson, United Kingdom; Axel Sturmberger; Austria; Charles Cohon, North America; Ralf D. Scholz, Germany; Olivier Mazoyer, France; Marco Righetti, Italy; and Ole Kristian Bull, Norway. Not pictured: Enric Enrech, Spain.

The Sales Force — Working With Reps

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This is the 17th 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.

“As long as you brought up finances,” said Ruth, “let’s discuss that for a minute. Jim, getting the feedback you want probably is going to have some sort of cost associated with it. You’ve been talking about some sort of a commission-based system that doesn’t involve the current sales force, which means you will end up paying some percentage of sales to somebody. … Read the rest

01010010 01100101 01110000

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This is how a computer stores the word “rep.” Binary language. Nothing but ones and zeros. To human eyes, incomprehensible.

image of binary code

© Anterovium | stock.adobe.com

Something else about ones and zeros has been almost equally incomprehensible. Can reps earn commissions selling ones and zeros?

Let me explain.

Yesterday I had a conversation with a manufacturer of communication software used in manufacturing plants so employees on the plant floor can communicate more effectively.

The software manufacturer wants to sell his software using manufacturers’ reps. After all, he reasoned, reps who are calling on specifying influences for other equipment on the plant floor would be a natural to sell his software. Except….

Except that most reps I speak with are used to selling a physical product. The product ships from their principal to a customer, the customer receives an invoice, and the rep gets paid a percentage of the invoiced price.

But selling software is different. When a rep selling manufacturing software makes a sale, ones and zeros pass from the software company to the customer. No physical products move. If the software is sold as a subscription, there may not even be an invoice. Let me give you an example.

A rep convinces a customer to equip 100 manufacturing employees with productivity software. The customer pays $20 per employee per month, $2,000 total a month, and the rep gets paid commission each month the customer continues to use the software.

If the rep has negotiated a good contract, the rep will continue to be paid sales commission for as long as the customer uses the software. It’s the ones and zeros equivalent of a life-of-part/life-of-program agreement for physical products.

It’s the first month of a new decade. Has the time come for reps to embrace selling intangible products, or does the rep business model require physical products? Please write to me with your comments; my email is ccohon@manaonline.org.