What Do Reps Want?

Continuing our series on closing the gap between independent sales reps and their principals I thought the next step would be to talk about what reps are looking for in an ideal rep-principal partnership.

As I talk to reps, and yes I talk to a lot of them, one of the issues they always have is that they tend to be treated as outsiders by the companies they represent. Once they bring in the accounts and the company’s team takes over they seem to be forgotten. Over the course of time, as the relationship between the inside sales team and the customer matures the sales rep is often forgotten, to the point where sooner or later we will hear statements about the reps that go something like this:

“Why does the rep have to be in the loop, we’re taking care of that customer and have for years now?”

“I don’t understand why we are paying that rep anything at all, after all we are taking care of the customer.”

And of course the ever popular. “What has the rep done for me lately?

When I hear these comments I always go back to my old standby answer:

“Before you signed the rep you did not have that customer. The rep brought you the customer. She did the hard part. Without that rep you would not have that customer at all.”

I choose this example to point out one of the most relevant and prevalent problems that reps have with their principals. In the words of a great old philosopher the reps just, “Don’t get no respect.”

Now for the sake of moving this fragile rep-principal partnership, I’ll list some of the other issues that reps have with their principals. After all you have to list the problems and the challenges before you can start to fix them.  Relax Mr. Principal, you’ll get your turn in next week’s column.

Here from the rep’s point of view, are what reps would like to see in a good and productive rep-principal partnership:

  1. Appreciation and respect. As indicated above, reps are just not respected by their principals. The relationship is looked at in a “what did you do for me lately way.” Rather than an appreciative respect for what the rep does for her principals.
  2. To be considered a true partner. Someone who is kept in the communications loop. Someone who gets treated as part of the team. More often than not the rep is barely remembered when it comes to the seller-customer relationship. 
  3. The rep needs to get paid. The rep already is waiting way too long to see any commission money, this business of paying the rep when you get paid is a very lousy deal for the rep. What if you told your laminate supplier that he would get paid when you get paid? Or any one of your direct employees? How do you think that would work? And how do you feel when a big important customer of yours lets you know that they have new payment terms and they are going to be paying you in 120 days after receipt of the invoice? Well just remember that your rep is only going to get paid thirty, or sixty or maybe 90 days after that. You might be gnashing your teeth and saying that you cannot be expected to be your customer’s bank, that it’s just not fair. But wait a minute, how fair is it for the rep to be made to wait even longer than that. Is that fair? I think this is the biggest issue that we have to work out. The time it takes from the rep to develop a lead, get you qualified, win a quote, book the order, build the product, ship the product, and wait for payment from the customer to you Mr. Principal. The time it takes for you to pay the rep is just too damn long. Period! 
  4. Then there is the very popular success penalty; the punishment for the rep being too successful. I have heard too many stories of a rep doing a terrific job for years, courting a customer, a big one, a whale. And he finally lands it and it is a multi-year multi-million dollar contract. The award of his life, the award of your company’s life and then an accountant comes into the bosses’ office to let them know how much the rep is going to make. And that same accountant convinces the boss to go back and renegotiate that rep’s contract because it’s not right that the rep will make that much money. Oh and here’s the best part: If she doesn’t agree with you, then you fire her and tell her to sue you if she doesn’t like it.

The road to rep-principal hell is paved with stories like this, and I have heard them all. Okay Principals next week it’ll be your turn. Turnabout is fair play. It’s only common sense.