Rethinking Our Approach To Rep Firms

When are PCB shops going to get it?

I send a lot of my time helping board shops with their rep issues. I spend a lot of time trying to convince these shops that they are going to have to change the way they handle their rep relationships and start treating them as partners rather than second hand citizens if they want this whole thing to work.

I am constantly amazed when the board fabricators I talk to tell me without batting an eye that they have the “best shop in the industry; that they have the best service in the industry and reps should be beating a path to their door for the ‘privilege’ of selling for them.”

I really get a kick out of the shop owners who tell me that “they are no worse than anyone else” and “that any rep should be delighted to sell for them.”

And then they go on to tell me that the reps they have not are all a bunch of “lazy bums” and if I could only find them the “right” reps to sell their terrific products everything would be okay.

When I ask them if they have a marketing plan or are doing any advertising? All I get is a loud snort and an impatient, “who needs that stuff? We don’t need any of that we just need the right reps.”

When I ask them if they have a program for managing the reps; pointing out that one of my partners offers a very successfully proven plan that will guarantee that their rep program will succeed they scoff and say, “we talk to our reps all the time and don’t need any of that.”

When I ask them if they are willing to give reps house accounts they refuse even before the words have time to pass my lips. “No way will we ever do that, they have to earn their accounts, they have to bring in new business and not even go near our current accounts.”

When I point out that it is better to serve an account locally than from three thousand miles away so they should give the reps these accounts, I still can’t budge them.

When I ask them if they would be willing to pay a small retainer or even a draw to get the reps started since it is a very expensive and long process to find new accounts, get the surveyed and qualified and get that first order and then wait another 60 days to get paid, they just about come through the phone roaring, “No way will we ever do that! We did that once and the reps screwed us!”

And here is the clincher…when I tell them I might have a pretty good rep in an area let’s say New England that I might be able to introduce to them if they want, they tell me, “Well we can’t really put in a rep in that territory because we already have a rep there but he isn’t doing anything for us right now.”

And when I ask why he isn’t doing anything and why don’t they try talking to him to get him going again, they tell me and get this, listen to this one; “well, we owe him a bunch of money and have not been able to pay it for a six months…. but he should still be trying to sell for us right?”

Okay, if you are a board shop owner and any of this scenarios sound familiar to you then good! Maybe you’ll get it one of these days. So I am going to make it easy and plain to understand:

If you see yourself in any of the above examples you need to know that reps are tired of working with your company and companies like yours.

They are sick and tired of being screwed by you. Your product is not always great and frankly neither is your service. It is not a great privilege to sell your products. And as the market gets tougher and tougher it is that much more difficult to represent you and near impossible to make any real money representing you.

Besides all of these pitfalls of representing a board shop there is always this other dilemma, the danger of being too successful and bringing in so much business that when your accounting department sees how much you owe them and are going to owe them when the next orders come in you think nothing of terminating them. Never mind the fact that reps are always at the bottom of the stack of things you have to pay and if you go out of business they are always at the top of the list of creditors who will never get paid!

Now do you get it! Those of you who continue to disrespect your reps and not want cooperate with them are not going to be able to sign them for much longer so you are going to have to find another way to sell your products.

For those of you who are willing to enter the 21st century of rep/principal relationship listen up”

You are going to have to treat your reps with the trust and courtesy that a true partner deserves. You are going to make sure that the relationship will be win/win and yes you are going to have to pay the piper and pay retainers or at least give them some accounts if you want to have them work for you.

That’s all there is to it…it’s not that hard. Its only common sense.

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