Simply put, getting reps to sell printed circuit boards is getting harder all the time. Too many have been burned, the competition is too stiff, performance is not up to par, blah, blah, blah, a million reasons why not to sell boards. Don’t get me wrong there some happy reps out there. But, interestingly enough the ones who are happy with their principals have been with them a long time and are still susceptible to changes “beyond their control”. In other words, if a rep is happy with his or her principal things could change, and for the worse. The company could be acquired, resulting in a change in sales force philosophy; or they could be making a lot of money which makes them susceptible when a new controller shows up looking to make her mark by pointing out all the money, she can save the company by going direct with some of their large accounts. Or, worst of all through no fault of the rep the company could make a series of bad management moves that drive it to bankruptcy, and then going out of business leaving the rep in the heartbreak hotel when it comes to thousands if not hundreds of thousands of unpaid commissions. Remember, that rep has absolutely no security when it comes to unpaid debt. They are in very previous place in the eyes of the court.
Then there are always the owners, many of whom have a natural predilection when it comes to hating reps. At no other time is the term “what have you done for me today?’ used more often than when an owner of a PCB shop is talking to a rep. Especially, when he is in the process of writing another large commission check for work, he considers was done years ago!
So, where does that put those of us who are in the business of finding reps for PCB shops? And frankly that end of the business is pretty good. We get two or three calls a week. Most of them go something like this, “I have reps all over the country and none of them are any good. I want to replace them with new ones who will actually do something.” Or like this. “my reps used to be good but now they just sit back and rest of their laurels, collecting commission checks for accounts they brought in years ago.” Or, “My reps never bring me anything I can do. They don’t seem to have any idea when our capabilities are.”
Here is my point, being a rep for a PCB shop is a precarious, nay, a dangerous assignment. One that comes with little or no respect or regard. Although, as I said already, there are some great rep/principal partnerships, but they are rare.
So rare, that is time we rethink the rep/principal partnership to make it more of an equal win/win partnership for both parties. “How do we do this?” I hear you asking, well, here are some ideas that I have seen work in the past.
- Treat one another as true partners. Bring the sales rep into your company. Share information with her and treat her an equal, and yes, of course with respect. And for the rep, develop a good understanding of what the company does best. Act as their advocate, as well as the customer advocate. Don’t just be a complainer, be a solutions provider. Help the company better service the customers. But, understand the company’s challenges and most of all be on the company’s side at all times.
- Be intentional about the relationship. Both parties need to be all in, all the time. A weak commitment on either side of the relationship will mean a weak relationship.
- Communicate, communicate, and communicate some more. Most relationships break down when people don’t speak honestly with one another, especially when something is going wrong. Be open, and honest, with each other. Especially in the hard times.
- Develop a mutual territory plan together. Working as a team, develop the strategic and tactical plan, for the territory. Focus on key current customers as well as target customers and together develop a step-by-step plan that you are both committed to follow. This is honestly the most powerful thing you can do together.
Now for each of you one thing you should not do:
First, the principal: Never forget that the rep is the one who brought you that huge account in the first place. Even three years later, when it seems that the account is running on automatic pilot, remember who brought you that account.
Now, for the rep: Don’t get involved with the running of the business. You have to trust your principal and believe that he knows what he is doing. “helpful suggestions” like putting more boards on a panel will lower the price, or drill higher stacks to save time, are not only not helpful they can build hostility as well. Don’t do it.
Of course, there are many more things you should be doing to create a great working partnership with one another, but the best advice is the simplest. Treat one another as you want to be treated. It’s only common sense