Get the Most Out of Your Reps

It’s no secret that the independent representative/principal relationship is one of the rockiest in the manufacturing world. Here’s a typical example of how it can go wrong:

The dance between reps and principals usually starts this way: a company decides it needs more sales and wants to leverage its sales budget, so it recruits a network of reps. Often, the reps sign on and are then forgotten. After all, management expects that if they are any good, the orders will start rolling in.

Soon the quotes do start coming, but chances are they are a poor fit for the manufacturer. So management assumes these particular reps are no good. Even worse, after more sales mishaps, management concludes that the rep route just doesn’t work after all.

Before coming to this conclusion, however, the principal needs to make sure they have done the following:

  • Fully explained the company’s story and products to the reps,

  • Stayed in touch with reps after the initial courtship and signing,

  • Visited reps in their territory,

  • Invited reps to visit the company,

  • Provided new reps with the basic tools they need to do their job – paperwork, copies of quotes, orders and invoices, etc.,

  • Told their in-house sales team about the new independent reps.

How to Find Great Reps

Now let’s talk about how to find the best reps for your company. It’s imperative you choose the right territory. In what geographic region do you want your business to grow? Why? How will this new territory help you meet your goals?

Next, use your industry’s trade association network, or a trained professional to interview reps in that region.

Finally, develop a profile of your ideal rep firm:

  • Has expertise in your industry,

  • A track record of success,

  • An ongoing relationship with target accounts,

  • A solid work ethic,

  • The right number of employees,

  • Time to dedicate to your company, and

  • Great references.

Require that the reps you interview meet or beat these criteria. Don’t

forget that the reps must commit a great deal of time and money to sell your products(s). It will be months before they see a penny of income. This means you must sell a good rep on your company if you want his firm to sign up.

How to be a Great Principal

On the other hand, what should reps look for in a principal? They will expect your company to have:

  • An excellent reputation,

  • Solid finances,

  • A clear operating strategy and marketing plan, and

  • Great technical capabilities.

Present an outline of all this information in a plan to your prospective reps during the interview process. Once you have chosen the reps you wish to sign up, don’t just offer them a boilerplate contract. Write a long-term contract that’s fair to your reps, one that compensates them for getting exactly the type of business you desire.

If you want to gain more military business, offer an additional financial incentive for military business. If you want to gain new customers, offer your reps a bonus for signing new customers. Follow up by paying your reps like clockwork.

In short, take care of your reps, and your reps will take care of you and your business.

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