Landmines in the Rep’s Path

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Avoid planting and setting off landmines in the manufacturer-rep relationship.

The opportunities to plant landmines in your agency’s path are many and occur every day.

Trying to list many of these landmines results in a clear picture of how many there are and how many can really damage your business. Being aware of these landmines makes everyone in the rep firm a better rep and better partner for the principals you represent.

Communication Gaps

No regular program of communication to keep principals up to date and looking forward.

“We never hear from those guys in Ohio. Their business is not … Read the rest

Turning an Operational Negative Into a Backselling Positive

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Stuff happens! There is no avoiding occasional negatives for your rep firm.

One of the most troubling negatives is losing a good person for any reason. It is critical that rep firm management recognize that communication with manufacturers about personnel changes is absolutely critical and urgent.

Your manufacturers (I like to call them principals) have every right to know everything about your team — their sales force — as soon as something develops.

A Great Letter

I recently received this letter from a rep client:

“I regretfully announce that Charlie Smith [fictional name] will be leaving The Smith Group this Read the rest

Creating a Planning Team Pays!

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Everyone acknowledges that independent rep firms need to plan their business.

But very few get a real plan done and put in action.

The answer to “Why don’t reps plan their business?” is very simple — the “I’m too busy” syndrome dominates rep thinking. “What do you want me to do, plan or sell?” dominates the mentality of even the most successful rep firms. How can a rep firm build planning into their business? The “work on” not “work in” your business standard has to rise to the surface.

All Hands Meeting

A good starting place is to gather everyone … Read the rest

Monthly Management Makes Money!

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A month can be long or short. In the rep business a month should be the key measuring point for running the business.

Most of us have heard the expression, “work on your business — not in it!” Unfortunately, most reps are so far in the business that they are like frogs in a pot of boiling water, just swimming so hard to stay alive that they never think about the vital few things that make them successful.

The Vital Few

What are the “vital few” for a rep firm?

1. Time to think — as mentioned above, reps are … Read the rest

Reps Are Manufacturers’ Eyes and Ears

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Does your rep firm deliver?

The rep firm is an “outsourced salesforce.” Of course, delivering sales and earning commissions are basic. But what else is important to the manufacturers that are represented by a rep firm?

In my mind, this presupposes that the people running the rep firm have a broad vision of their responsibilities, their value-added services, and products they “sell” to the manufacturer.

The rep is in the field at least four days a week. Reps see customers and communicate with customers constantly. The rep firm provides one or more “branch offices” for the manufacturer. This constant communication … Read the rest

Check the Boxes!

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Things everyone who sells for a rep agency should do. A check list for every rep firm owner/manager.

Selling as an independent representative salesperson for a manufacturers’ representative agency is not an easy job. Success demands great organizational skills and discipline.

Here is a review of essential elements: See how many boxes you can check if you are a territory salesperson. If you are the boss, how many boxes are the members of your team checking off?

1. Line Card Review — Territory Results Analysis

In your line card, how many of the lines do you actually sell productively?

Which … Read the rest

Your Line Card — A Major Selling Tool

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Manufacturers please pay attention. It may not seem important to you, but it is.

Why is your rep’s line card important to you? Later we’ll discuss why it is so important to the rep firm and the rep firm’s customers.

For a manufacturer, the line card that a rep firm presents to all of its publics is of vital importance. These are the publics:

  • You, the principals that they represent.
  • Their customers and buyers who purchase either directly or through distribution.
  • Their employees.

We will review all three.

First of all, the line card is a clear, concise overview of … Read the rest

How to Make a “Newbie” into a Pro Some Tricks of the Trade

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Newbie, newb, noob, nub or n00b is a slang term for a novice or newcomer, or somebody inexperienced in a profession or activity. Depending upon the context and spelling variant used, the term can have derogatory connotations — but is also often used for descriptive purposes only, without any value judgment.

With a little help from Google we have a starting point.

New people joining a rep firm are generally totally lost. If your firm doesn’t have a solid, highly structured game plan for a new person coming in to either the sales or customer service areas they will surely … Read the rest

Kick It Up!

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What to do? This is being written in the middle of the COVID‑19 shutdown. Business is practically zero. Commissions will dry up very soon, and when they will start being paid again is very questionable.

Some of the most well-financed manufacturers will pay on time. But, what is your team going to do to make commissionable sales quickly when you can get out in the market, again?

Manage the Details

The winners are the people who manage the details.

The big question is whether the independent reps are willing and able to attack their market.

How Do You “Attack”?

The … Read the rest

How to Get Bigger by Being Smart

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Agency size matters — there are ways to position your rep firm to look and feel bigger and more powerful.

In a previous article we discussed the larger, more powerful rep firms — “power reps” — what they have and what they do.

Now, let’s talk about your average size — the five salespeople, two inside support personnel firm. You don’t need to do everything a power rep firm does to compete for the good lines. Many manufacturers who are looking for a new rep in your territory do not have the powerful marketing and sales management systems of the … Read the rest

Power Reps — What? Who? How?

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If you associate with power reps, you’ll have marketing and sales power in your territories.

Regardless of industry, all territories have several rep organizations that stand out above the rest. If you are a manufacturer does your line merit the attention of a major rep organization? If not, why not?

What does it cost your manufacturing company to manage your sales program? If you have rep firms that are totally professional with advanced systems and procedures your cost per territory or per substantial customer is less.

How to Beat the Typical Manufacturer Mind-Set, If You Are a Rep

What is … Read the rest

“Loose Lips Sink Ships” Has Never Been Truer

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In the not too distant past, at a trade event I overheard two reps talking about another rep who had made some serious errors and behaved very badly. Until that performance they had great respect for the rep’s ability as a salesperson. As a matter of fact, one of the guys commented that he had thought about approaching the rep in question to work for his agency.

Now, no way!

This article is much less about a lost opportunity for an attractive, smart, in some ways, young person in the rep business than it is about what leaders in the … Read the rest

A Key Man Walks Out….

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Keeping a key person is not always possible.

Joe, the best salesperson and a vital part of the rep agency suddenly decided he did not want to be there anymore.

Seriously, this guy was making big dollars and doing very well. The owner of the agency had even given him a 10 percent share of the business and promised more to come. What more could the guy want?

This situation is not farfetched. It doesn’t happen every day, but it happens often enough for owners of agencies to be concerned. What can a smart, loyal, very involved rep agency owner … Read the rest

Considering the Challenges of Managing a Rep Firm

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“Do you have the courage to run your business?”

Being the owner or leader means something special, but you have to recognize it.

Managing a Rep Business Is Different

Running an independent manufacturers’ rep business is a bit different than other businesses. Managing a team of rep salespeople is definitely like herding cats. Having a really productive team that is consistently able to exceed the expectations of your manufacturers doesn’t mean that you can ignore your management responsibilities.

When business is at its best is the time when you — the leader — have to exert yourself to build the … Read the rest

Sales Reps + Sales Manager Teamwork Approach

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Getting the sales manager to be a proactive part of the salesperson’s program pays big dividends.

Do you have a sales manager? If you don’t, should you have one?

My answer is a resounding “Yes!” Even if you are a small rep firm, you need someone to act as the leader of the sales force and supervisor of the salespeople. How can you expect salespeople to manage their business if they are not managed by the company they work for?

The most important part of a salesperson’s work is not making calls. It is planning their activity for their 10-20 … Read the rest

Sell the System

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Tell your customers and your principals how your business works.

The rep business is very different from other service businesses. Yes, reps are looking for orders. Yes, reps call on different types of customers. Yes, reps are in the middle between the customer and the manufacturer.

The problem is that there is very little information disseminated to the public or in business schools about reps. Somehow reps seem to slip through the cracks. They are lumped in with “salespeople.”

Also, the selling “process” is neither widely understood nor appreciated.

Multiple-Line Selling

The idea of multiple lines being “represented” by one … Read the rest

Manufacturers — a Little Knowledge Goes a Long Way!

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What you don’t know can hurt you. This is especially true when it comes to selling through independent manufacturers’ representatives.

Pro-Active Involvement

Building personal relationships with the reps is much more valuable than you might think. It is obvious that it is good to be friendly and to get along with your reps, but there is much more to a personal relationship with a rep. In some cases it is the owner of the rep firm; in others it is the field salespeople. Or it might be the inside coordinators and customer service people, or even the bookkeeper.

The more … Read the rest

Who Is the Sales Manager in the Manufacturers’ Representative Agency?

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What does the sales manager do to build the business?

It used to be easy. Two guys went into the rep business. They got a few lines. They divided up the territory and perhaps split up the customers based on any number of things — previous experience each partner had with the account, specialized product knowledge, or something like friendship with an insider.

Now things have changed. The rep firm has 5-10 outside salespeople and 3-5 inside sales coordinators. Success is good. Commission income is approaching $2 million. But, no one is really running the business.

Both partners used to … Read the rest

Sellers Sell!

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Years ago working with a chain of retail stores, I interviewed the salespeople. After a lot of talk with a lot of people I found out that they really hated to close a sale because the work they had to do after making the sale was so time‑consuming and difficult.

Why? One of the owners was very obsessive about details. He had provided a job description and list of tasks to the salespeople that meant that every sale was followed by hours of paperwork and follow-up.

The result was that salespeople who were not compensated based on their actual sales … Read the rest

What Is a Rep Salesperson?

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How do you create Self-Managed Sales Professionals?

I have worked with rep firms for many years. Recently, it has become very apparent that one of the biggest problems the rep managers have is getting real productivity from the rep salespeople. This article and future articles will address this situation and make suggestions for improving individual rep firm results.

Selling for an independent rep firm is different than other sales jobs. Measuring a salesperson working for a rep firm is done by a different standard — commission income generated by the salesperson. That is the only measure that counts.

If salespeople … Read the rest

There Is Only One Thing Your Principals Care About — Sales!

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Getting sales means managing the sales force, period.

I recently visited with a rep friend and client who was complaining that his four-person sales force had not delivered significant sales and commission increases for several years.

As we discussed the individual salespeople, there were certainly issues with each of them. But, it also became increasingly clear that my friend, the owner of this supposedly successful independent rep firm, was not functioning in a pro-active manner as sales manager.

There was a glaring weakness in the way he approached his salespeople. Yes, he called them occasionally. He also demanded sales … Read the rest

Selling the Sellers

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How do you get salespeople to accept technology to help them be reps, not employees?

Who sells for the agency? What do they see as their role? How productive are they? Do they provide value? How do you measure “value”?

As rep agencies grow, the primary need they have is salespeople. The more lines, the more big lines, the more big customers, the greater the need for qualified salespeople.

What qualifies a person to be a salesperson for a rep agency? Sales experience, and product and industry knowledge are certainly high on the list.

Someone who has sold the lines … Read the rest

Looking for Reps?

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Do It in All the Right Places in the Right Ways

Hiring reps should be easy. You have a good line. You are willing to pay decent commissions. You already have several excellent rep firms selling well for your line. You should be pretty well assured of success.

But, there can be problems. Two or three of the best rep firms in the territory are already selling your competitor’s lines. In the open territory you do not have much existing business. The open territory does not have as many good prospective customers as other areas of the country. The potential, … Read the rest

Backselling — What Does It Take to Work?

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What is the pay-off? What should it cost?

Sorting Out the Lines

Before you start to think about backselling it is vital that you look over your commission performance by line. Who matters? Five percent is a good cut-off line. If a line doesn’t produce five percent of your income, it does not merit serious attention; unless you expect it to grow to five percent within 12-24 months.

This sounds arbitrary and it is! Too many reps spend too much time messing around with minor lines that can’t be important in 100 years. These lines should be resigned and off … Read the rest

The Company Sales Meeting: Creating a Focal Point

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Professional meetings build wins!

Sitting through and participating in a rep firm’s first annual sales meeting yielded many conclusions that can be very helpful to all agencies and their principals.

At the top level the value of the sales meeting cannot be overstated. The meeting forces the rep firm to look at what is going on and what is really important to communicate to all members of the sales team.

Professional Meetings Set Records

From the principal’s point of view when their reps are getting together to review the past year and plan the next, the principal is a prime … Read the rest

Sales Force Management

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Do you have systems that force results? What should manufacturers be looking for?

Everyone in the rep business will agree that sales are the first responsibility of a rep organization; but, how many rep firms have a productive, professional system for assuring sales growth and development?

There is no question commission checks are the best evidence of selling, but there needs to be a lot more involved for an agency to survive and prosper.

If you are a “single shingle” one-man or woman rep firm none of this really matters. You have to “manage” yourself, period.

But, if you have … Read the rest

They (Good Principals) Are Looking

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Are you ready to compete for the line?

In one of Charley Cohon’s most recent “Three‑Minute Business School for Representatives and Manufacturers,” he tells a story about a sales manager looking to set up a national rep network.

It is a good story with several good examples of “things to do,” but several other points need to be made.

A thoroughly professional rep firm needs to look at the market situation through very disciplined glasses. In order to be ready, remember: When preparation meets opportunity — the definition of luck! A rep firm in today’s marketplace has to have a … Read the rest

How to Make the Agency’s Annual Sales Meeting a Major Business Development Tool

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The annual sales meeting will drive success.

Does your agency have an annual sales meeting? If you don’t should you?

My answer is an emphatic “YES!”

The meeting held late in the year or in very early January offers an agency many opportunities to plan, organize, and campaign for support for the following year.

It is the agency’s obligation, in my opinion, to put on a once-a-year meeting that sets up all of the employees of the agency and many of the principals for the New Year.

There are many elements that have to be addressed as a part of … Read the rest

Controlling the Prima-Donna Salesperson

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Rep firms exist for one reason — sales! Selling is the first, second and third activity of a manufacturers’ rep organization. But, too little time is devoted to the sales process, management of the sales force, and directing overall sales performance.

Numbers Matter, but….

We know that the top salespeople in any sales organization are revered and in some cases, “worshiped.” But, the top performers can provide challenges for management. For example, Mr. or Ms. Number One might have some bad habits — like not getting expense reports in on time. But, the bookkeeper is afraid to challenge Number One … Read the rest

Focus on the Principal….

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The principal’s foundation for rep success is reverse backselling. There are questions that manufacturers should be asking and questions that reps should be suggesting their manufacturers ask themselves.

Remember your independent reps work for you. They make a lot of money. So why should you be worrying about them and their feelings about your company?

Why should you care about the rep’s thoughts and feelings about your personnel? After all you are “the boss” and they’d better do a good job or they are gone — with 30-days’ notice.

That is often the attitude of a manufacturer about their reps. … Read the rest