1-2-3 Plan for Making Your Business Work


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

Work On the Business — Not In the Business


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

So You Are Going to Use Reps? Now What?


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

Company Sales Meeting: Great Opportunities but — Preparation and Control Are Key


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.

Food Counts

Our armies travel on their stomachs. The quality of the lunch and break service … Read the rest

Sitting at Your Principal’s Planning Table


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

Evaluating Principals for Fun and Profit!


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

Focus, Focus, Focus


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:

  • Line card.
Read the rest

How Good Are Your Salespeople? Really?


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

Line Card Review and Revamp Can Mean Huge Growth


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

Facing Salesperson Retirements


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

20 Point Profile Review Improves Agency Performance


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

Manufacturer Questionnaire: Reps, Do You Have the Guts?


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:

  1. Does the questionnaire cover the topic sufficiently? Completely? If not, what would you add?
  2. 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

Constant Evaluation Key to Success


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

Principal Relations a Constant Challenge


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:

  1. Selling accomplishments.
  2. Selling plans.
  3. Selling programs.
  4. Selling training.
  5. Selling meetings.
  6. Selling customer development.
  7. Selling your use of manufacturer resources.
  8. Selling your outreach tools and programs.
  9. Selling your working relationships with manufacturer personnel.
  10. Selling your backselling.

Elaborating on each … Read the rest

Backselling Pays Off — Big Time!


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

Recruiting Reps? Good Luck….


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.

Detailed Preparation

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

New Sales Manager —
Now What?


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

“We Don’t Need Reps Anymore! Two Guys in Chicago Can Handle the Business”


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

Do You Get an “A” for Representing Your Firm?


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.

  1. Profile* presentation.
  2. Branch office services.
  3. Personnel training.
  4. Planning and coordination with principals.
  5. Revenue development and market growth.

* Your profile is a measure of your level … Read the rest

Field Visit — Landmine or Opportunity?


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?
Regional 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.

Advance Notice

If your systems are good, you have an ongoing relationship … Read the rest

A Snapshot of the Rep Business


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.

Dear Charlie,

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

Where Do the Commissions Go?


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

Share of Mind — Share of Time


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

That Middle Position… When in Doubt Blame the Rep!


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

Rep Paranoia


“We’re not paranoid — We just know they’re out to get us!”

That line always gets a laugh, but unfortunately it is all too true.

The expression, “When in doubt, blame the reps!” is just as true.

How many very successful reps wake up every morning with a nervous burning in the stomach and shaky outlook? An educated guess says well over 50 percent. One rep friend says my number is way low; he says 99 percent. You tell me.

One highly experienced rep said he once woke up at 3 a.m. and started to call his salespeople when he … Read the rest

Selected Backselling Opportunities and Good Planning Pay


There is a Tide in the Affairs of Independent Manufacturers’ Reps that Leads to Fortune

Each year every rep firm is presented with numerous backselling opportunities which, if carefully planned and executed can help the firm position itself with its key principals.

The goal of all backselling is to keep principals happy and keep them paying. Nothing is more important to a rep firm than happy principals. Smart reps acknowledge that principals are more important than customers. The principals are really customers.

Here are key opportunities for successful backselling. How does your firm do on a 1-10 scale with 10=perfect … Read the rest

Sales Meetings: The Ultimate Rep Management Tool For Smart Manufacturers


Does your company hold an annual sales meeting with your reps? If so, the meeting should be the focal point of your sales and marketing planning for the year. If you don’t hold a meeting at least every other year, you are missing a huge opportunity to improve your sales results.

The sales meeting provides a broad-based opportunity for a principal to exert influence over the rep team in a number of major areas.

First, the sales meeting is an opportunity to create esprit between the manufacturer’s team and the reps. Creating a bond based on knowing each other is … Read the rest

Are Your Business Systems a Marketable Asset?


The way you run your business can make a big difference in how you are seen by principals, customers and prospective principals.

Managing your agency can be a powerful tool for differentiating your rep firm from others. The following elements can provide unique and powerful items to differentiate your firm from competing rep firms.

  1. Field sales management 
  2. Call tracking 
  3. Lead handling 
  4. Customer tracking
  5. Product management and promotion
  6. Customer communication

Field Sales Management

How do you manage your sales force? Even if you are a small firm with only three to four salespeople, you need to demonstrate a management system to … Read the rest

Clean Up Your Line Card


Get your act together now before it’s too late.
Your principals are looking.

Your line card reflects your total business strategy. The lines you represent are your company. You are your lines and your lines are you. So what does your line card say? Every rep group is revealed by its line card — even rep firms that don’t publish a line card.

I have had very strong debates with several rep agency owners who did not want to publish a line card. Several were concerned with what their principals would think when they saw all of the lines gathered … Read the rest

Visibility Means Opportunity


When your rep firm is visible, good things happen

What are the “magic words” in the rep business? Magic happens when a sales manager asks a good customer, “Who are the good reps who call on you?” These magic words should result in your firm being named, but how often are you short listed? If your name is not on the tip of your customer’s tongues, you are doing something wrong.

The most important thing you can be doing constantly for your firm is making sure that you get a smell of every opportunity of any size in your territory. … Read the rest