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
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
“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
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
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.
The idea of multiple lines being “represented” by one … Read the rest
What you don’t know can hurt you. This is especially true when it comes to selling through independent manufacturers’ representatives.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Nothing is more important than managing your sales team. The headline says it all — you are in the sales business. That means that you are responsible for managing all aspects of the sales process.
Do you have a sales manager? How many salespeople do you have? What is the quality of your individual salespeople’s results? What do your principals think of your salespeople?
These questions along with many others are key to success in the independent rep business.
Your Salespeople — Your Principals
There is nothing more important than what your principals think of your salespeople. This is an … Read the rest
Special Note: The ideas which follow are the ultimate prescription for “working on” your business rather than “working in” your business. Please take note and use these ideas when you need them most — when everything falls apart.
A rep called me last week. He has an outstanding agency with very large commission income. All of a sudden his revenue is down 33 percent.
What are they doing wrong? Nothing! That is a situation that seems unfair, but fair is not the name of the game in the rep business. They are off because of a number of specifics that … Read the rest
The “I’m too busy” excuse can sink your independent manufacturers’ representative business. The problem is an epidemic. Reps never seem to have time to work on their businesses. There is always something in the way. If it’s not a principal visit, it is a trade show, or manufacturer training program.
Agents need to figure out a way to focus their attention on their own business. Here is a simple solution — three things to think about that you have to do if you want to be successful as you move forward.
Line Card Analysis — Commission Income Review
Your business … Read the rest
We have said it many times, but every experience with successful independent manufacturers’ representatives causes a repeat — you have to work on the business!
Getting outside the everyday “stuff” is absolutely critical. Knowing that you are going to have 5-10 hours a month to work on the business is vital. Being sure that those hours are made priceless is key. Nothing else about your life can interfere with your time to think!
Thinking about key elements of your business is the best possible way to keep the business on track and your mind centered on staying successful.
What to … Read the rest
Regardless of industry, the majority of companies who are not currently using manufacturers’ representatives to sell their products do not know where to start. It is very easy to say, “Let’s go the rep route,” but then what do you do to find and begin working with reps?
Finding Reps for Your Company
Finding the reps is a big challenge in most industries because although many independent manufacturers’ representatives may be listed in the MANA database, who are the best for you? This is a highly personal discussion.
Positioning Your Line Within the Rep Firm’s Lines
How does your line … Read the rest
After attending one independent sales agency’s annual “all hands” sales meeting and talking to several other reps about their plans for company sales meetings there are a few thoughts that emerge front and center.
Where Makes a Big Difference
The nature of the facility and the quality of service provided by the place that is playing host to your meeting makes a huge difference. I have attended more sales meetings than I would like to count. The difference facilities and services make is huge.
Our armies travel on their stomachs. The quality of the lunch and break service … Read the rest
How do you “earn” a spot with your principals?
In the old days, the good old days, independent manufacturers’ representatives were “part of the family.” Today many of the people agents work with are new to their positions with the manufacturers or very inexperienced working with outsourced salespeople. Attitudes have changed. Agents are often looked at as “vendors” in a “supply chain.” There is very little appreciation for the things they do and the way they work for and with the principal.
What Is Wrong With This Picture?
Nothing has changed in the nature of the independent agent’s role. It … Read the rest
Principals are the most important asset an independent manufacturers’ representative firm has.
As a result, it is absolutely essential that the agency analyze and evaluate the list of principals regularly. The agency is putting all of its resources into building business for and with the principals, so it’s critical to know what the value is of each principal relationship.
Everything Is Based on Profitable Commissions
No matter how you feel about a principal, no matter what each principal is paying you, the bottom line is that you, the independent agent need to know whether each principal who represents 3-5 percent … Read the rest
Running an independent manufacturers’ representative business is a day-by-day, minute‑by‑minute business. That intensity means that agency leadership is constantly in the business. When can a rep owner/manager find the time to work on the business?
In my experience working with agencies in many different industries the only way for leadership to plan and re-plan the business is to find a time to focus on the business.
How can you find time to step outside the business and think? Here is a suggestion — make a list.
To succeed in the agency business you need to work on your:
The major product that independent sales representatives sell is selling. Remember agents are professional salespeople. They spend 100 percent of their time and effort selling products manufactured by their principals.
The question about the quality of selling by the agency’s salespeople is very relevant. How good is the product that they sell?
There is little question that most of the more senior people in agencies are good — if not great — salespeople. People who have lived by their selling wits for 20-30 years selling in whatever industry the agency is in are generally pretty good salespeople.
Could they be … Read the rest
Whom do you represent? Why? How do the lines fit together into an explainable portfolio of lines?
The explanation of your portfolio is a major issue for you to consider with your sales team. Do the lines you represent make sense as a multiple-line package of products that your customers understand and appreciate?
This question is key to your firm’s ability to leverage the package of lines you have been able to acquire for sale in your territory. It does not make sense to represent lines that do not benefit from being a synergistic part of your package.
Your customers … Read the rest