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
You don’t have enough to worry about!
You are having lunch with Joe, your top salesperson. You have just completed a year — his 20th with the company — during which he made a ton of money. His gross compensation was well over $400,000.
He definitely earned every penny. He is handling the firm’s largest account, by far. He has built the account so that they are buying six of your best lines. Joe is a very solid salesperson and citizen. He is not a prima donna although at times he definitely trades on his great success.
Over lunch Joe … Read the rest
The Dr. Revenue “Profile Review” is based on specific criteria for excellence in rep profiles. The accompanying checklist can be used to judge and improve your agency profile.
Score yourself and then plan improvements.
1=weak, 2=fair, 3=good, 4=better, 5=best
Hundreds of profiles have been evaluated using this system — you’ll find it helps.
Every element of the profile review is important. The presentation that your firm makes is critical to your current and future success.
When you begin the review process, think about how you use a catalog or brochure from one of your manufacturers. The rep firm profile should … Read the rest
The concept is to create a dialog between manufacturers and their independent manufacturers’ representatives regarding agency performance and manufacturers’ expectations.
Before you start ask yourself:
- Does the questionnaire cover the topic sufficiently? Completely? If not, what would you add?
- Are you prepared to take immediate action to change, correct, modify your business to be in line with what your key principals expect?
It is also important to focus strictly on principals that are significant contributors to your commission income. What the sales manager of a line that gives you less than five percent of your commission income thinks is a … Read the rest
Stop-Look-Listen — The Guts of the Rep Business
After 40 years of working with independent manufacturers’ representatives it is clear that they are not successful just because they are good salespeople. As a matter of fact, sales success can be an impediment to success as an agency owner.
That sounds contrarian. Agents are salespeople, therefore a firm needs to be owned and run by a great salesperson.
No! Many times really great salespeople fail at owning and running an agency.
Sometimes being successful when your firm is small is not an assurance of success as you get larger.
The bottom … Read the rest
Keeping your rep firm in the winners’ circle requires effort every day.
In our discussion of backselling we recognized the need to plan, organize and implement a comprehensive program.
When we look deeper into this subject, we find that there are very specific activities that are key parts to executing a successful backselling program.
Here is a list of 10 key activities:
- Selling accomplishments.
- Selling plans.
- Selling programs.
- Selling training.
- Selling meetings.
- Selling customer development.
- Selling your use of manufacturer resources.
- Selling your outreach tools and programs.
- Selling your working relationships with manufacturer personnel.
- Selling your backselling.
Elaborating on each … Read the rest
It’s more important now than ever before for independent sales representatives to consciously plan their relationships with principals.
- Why do some representatives seem to thrive and others just muddle along?
- Why are some the first choice for lines that constantly are changing representatives?
- Why do major principals want to involve some agents in their business?
- Why do major principals choose one agency to work with when they are not working with independent representatives in general?
Backselling is the answer to all of these questions. Representatives who are consciously backselling are seeing major benefits.
In a recent situation a major producer … Read the rest
This article may seem to be focused on manufacturers, but read on reps.
I’m writing while engaged in a rep-recruiting project for a mid-sized manufacturer. The product, industry, and location are irrelevant. What I have encountered is significant.
The manufacturer has been willing to spend the time and money to organize this search very completely. We recognized that there have to be many positive factors to gain interest. Our products can’t be number 1-2-3 commission payers, but we do pay about 50 percent more than the average line on the rep’s line card. Therefore, commissions from this line … Read the rest
When a principal changes its regional sales manager or general sales manager it can spell trouble for the independent rep firm. What can you do to accomplish these changes in a non‑threatening manner?
One major caveat — I don’t believe the title “regional sales manager” is an appropriate title for people the manufacturers send out to work with a rep sales force. If a rep firm needs a factory sales manager to be supervising them, something is wrong. The rep firm is the branch office of the factory. The rep firm should be supplying its own management of its sales … Read the rest
This is a direct quote from a rep I visited with recently. He told me that two of his lines had said just about the same thing. One company had been acquired by a European company and the other by an Asian multi-billion dollar diversified manufacturer. How and why do manufacturers make statements like this? Are they just misinformed? Or, is there something the rep business is missing?
The bottom line is that these manufacturers and, unfortunately, many others do not have a clear picture of the value of rep services they receive for their commission dollars.
Why is it … Read the rest
You earn a good amount of money representing manufacturers. You think you do a pretty good job at your job. But, how do you do at marketing and selling your own firm?
What goes into rep firm marketing and sales planning? The following article presents several key elements of rep firm marketing and selling. At the end you will have an opportunity to grade your firm’s performance in these critical areas of your business.
- Profile* presentation.
- Branch office services.
- Personnel training.
- Planning and coordination with principals.
- Revenue development and market growth.
* Your profile is a measure of your level … Read the rest
The principal is coming!
The principal is coming!
What does this mean to your agency? There is a lot involved in a “Field Visit” from a principal.
Who is coming?
Is it the sales manager?
VP of sales? President?
It really doesn’t matter who the visitor is. What matters is your procedures and process for handling a visit from a principal.
Why is this so important?
The most important reason is that getting a principal on your turf is a huge opportunity to impress or disappoint.
If your systems are good, you have an ongoing relationship … Read the rest
I work with many reps helping them grow their businesses. Recently I received the following copy of a letter from a rep principal/owner to one of his salespeople. Please read carefully. The names have been disguised to protect the guilty.
I would like to recap our phone conversation from Friday. As I discussed with you, there are some principals who have expressed concerns with your performance in the territory you cover for our rep firm.
Line 1: Pete was extremely upset by the lack of progress that you made this year with Jones Supply. As he pointed out … Read the rest
This article is based on a presentation by John Haskell at the MAFSI Business Development Conference earlier this year.
The Manufacturers Agents Association for the Food Service Industry (MAFSI), provided proprietary data and a unique platform of reps and principals to discuss how the rep business really works.
Proprietary Data — But Universal Application
Clearly the specific data presented here only applies to foodservice reps, but the message contained here is universally applicable to all reps. The bottom line is that the rep business is a relatively small business with limited profit potential. Repping is a good way to make … Read the rest
How reps must direct the manufacturers’ thinking by selling the multiple-line selling system.
How many times have you had a sales manager, regional manager or even vice president say “We want a greater share of your time!” That statement is usually followed by comments about the number of lines you have and how their line deserves more time.
Responding with a purpose
What should you say? What do you think the managers you deal with know about multiple-line selling? How often do you remind your principals of the benefits of multiple-line selling? Do you really understand this powerful tool yourself?… Read the rest
We aren’t paranoid, we just know they are out to get us.
While out on the road with a very good rep who is building a new business, a great example jumped up and hit us in the face. During the day an irate distributor customer contacted the salesman. He was furious because of the way the rep had handled a problem with one of the distributor’s customers.
According to the distributor, the salesman had committed an unforgivable sin by sending the distributor’s customer to a competing wholesale source to meet an urgent need.
What happened? The end-user customer had … Read the rest