The Rep/Principal Relationship Part 3: What Do Principals Want?

If you have been following this column for the past few weeks, you know that we have been talking about the relationship or lack thereof between independent sales reps and their principals. Since I started this series I have received a number of comments from readers enforcing the points I’ve been making. Some of them from reps themselves who have found themselves facing these same situations, challenges, and issues that I have been describing in these columns. 

At the same time I have heard from some of the principals. Most of them politely remind me that although what I have been saying in the defense of the reps has been true, that there is another side to this story, to this relationship.

And I have assured them all along that they would get their day in court. I told them  that I knew they were right and there have been many instances of reps not treating their principals well. 

So today we are going to highlight the principal’s point of view; we are going to point out and list what the companies want out of relationships with their reps.

One of the things that many principals I heard from reminded me was that they do want a partnership with their reps. They told me that the best thing in the world would be to have a great relationship with their reps. One of them who was a little cantankerous said, “I would be happy to treat my reps with respect, if they would act respectfully.” Ouch! Remember he said that, I didn’t.

So here are the four most important things that principals want from their reps:

  1. That the rep invests the time to fully understand the products they are actually selling and then invest some time finding a way to see those products to the right companies. What often happens is that the rep, especially when they are starting out with a company, waste a lot of time bringing in quotes for the wrong products. Many times they are sending in quotes for the sake of sending quotes rather than taking the time to make sure they are quotes from the right customers who need the right technology PCBs. 
  2. That the rep does some prospecting and lead generation. Principals are tired of reps who claim to be relationship managers rather than hunters looking for new prospects. The principals have entire teams of people they pay to manage and grow their customer relationships. They need reps who are willing to go out and get new customers. After all, the position is called “sales rep” as in doing “sales” and sales means going out and finding the right target companies and doing the hard work needed to turn those target companies into customers. This is what principals want from their reps. Heck in many cases the principals will pay for marketing, they will even pay for lead generation programs, as long as when the leads are turned over to the reps they follow up and work on converting the leads.
  3. The principals want reps who run their own firms in a professional and business-like manner. This means reps who actually do the right things to make sure that their business is successful. This means that the rep does some marketing, maybe even some advertising, or at the very least some inexpensive social media marketing including Linkedin and Google and newsletters and the such. This also means that the rep does not shy away from territory plans or account plans or forecasts. As a consultant who works with both principals and reps setting up annual meetings and sales plans for the present and the future, I just don’t get it when reps claim that they not only don’t do account plans and forecasts, but they don’t even believe in them! Really? This makes me question their professionalism. I have to ask how they can run their own company if they have no idea who their customers are or how much business they can expect from those customers in the coming year. To run any business successfully you have to know how much business you plan to bring in and then how you plan to bring it in.
  4. And finally it gets down to attitude. This is a tough one because I know personally that the reps, at least many of them, have been kicked around for years and I sympathize with them. I know it has been tough. But a rep has to have a winning attitude to thrive. No one wants to work with a person who is wary or paranoid or suspicious or defensive. So many of the principals I surveyed talked about reps who were always giving them excuses for why something couldn’t be done. Why they couldn’t call on a customer, why they couldn’t win that order or why they could not get out there and sell. Nobody wants to hear that, and no one wants to work with someone who acts that way. 

Okay enough. In the past three weeks we have covered all of the ins and outs of the rep-principal relationship and next week we will reach the end of this series and we will talk about what we believe will be the answers to creating the ideal win/win rep/principal partnership. I bet you can’t wait. It’s only common sense.