Why PCB Shops Can’t Get Good Reps

dan-6For the past couple of years now I’ve noticed that it is much more difficult to get independent sales reps interested in selling for board shops. One of my offerings, one that is becoming my least favorite by the way, is trying to find reps for shops. My fee for this is getting higher every year because this task is getting more and more challenging.

Just a few years ago I could put together an entire national sales force of independent reps for a client in six to eight months, now I’m lucky to find two reps in that amount of time. Just a few weeks ago I sent out an offering to over three hundred reps for one of my clients and I did not get a single response, nary a won and this was for a great board shop.

One of my friends, who is a national sales manager for one of the country’s leading PCB companies was so discouraged after trying to find and work with the few reps that he did manage to sign that he told me after he had parted ways with the latest disappointing rep, “The next time I sign a rep will be one who has been calling me for three months begging to represent my company.”

I once worked with a company that wanted reps so badly they made them an offer they couldn’t refuse; ten percent commissions paid upon making the sale if you can imagine…they had no takers.

So obviously I have been spending a lot of time thinking about this and I have pretty much come to the conclusion that maybe the rep/ PCB shop relationship is a thing of the past. Surely there are some exceptions, I personally know of some, but for the most part I’ll stick to this statement; and here are a few reasons why I think this is true. Here are some reasons why reps hate board shops:

  1. Board shops have a history of treating their reps very poorly. They often treat them as a necessary evil, like they are greedy middle men rather than independent sales professionals.
  2. They don’t often perform well in terms of Quality and Delivery causing their reps to spend more time apologizing rather than selling.
  3. They don’t pay their reps, for some reason a rep’s commissions are not treated as seriously as any other payable the shop has. This fact is so true that those shops who do have a successful relationship with their reps do so because they pay on time all the time. Some of them even pay early to guarantee loyalty which of course they get.
  4. They don’t communicate well with their reps; sometimes from the very beginning when they cannot even define to their reps what type of business they want and then are furious when the reps brings them opportunities they can’t build.
  5. They don’t communicate well at all. Reps are out there selling all day and they depend on their principals to keep them abreast of any information about their mutual customers. If the customer places an order the rep should be told about it. How many times have you heard, “well if he really knew what was going on he would know that the customer placed the order” Nope, not true. The rep probably knows about when the customer is going to place the order but not exactly when it is placed, so stop snickering about that.
  6. They don’t communicate well: In order to do his job right a rep needs the right documentation. She needs: copies of the quotes when they go out, copies of the P.O.’s when they are placed, regular status reports and then the invoice when the board is shipped. They especially need to know when a board is going to be late, or if it has a Quality problem.
  7. They don’t communicate well: Your rep need to be kept in the loop at all times. She needs to be part on contract negotiations during annual buys. He needs to be a part of the meetings when there are issues and problems. A good rep, one who is a true partner can be a critical asset during these times.
  8. In times of trouble the rep is the first to go. He will be told that the shop can no longer afford to pay his commissions and be profitable.
  9. The rep is the last person to get credit when credit is due. This usually happens when he brings in a very big account that continues to grow year after year to the point that after a few years much of the daily issues are being handled by inside people who start resenting the rep, saying things like, “why are we paying him? We’re doing all the work?” Always remember this. You did not have that account before you hired that reps, she came in and won that account. You would not have the account without the rep. Is that clear? Why is that so hard to understand?

And finally the last but certainly the most important reason that reps hate board shops is… the board shops screw them when they get too successful! I have heard this story over and over again. The rep finds a huge account and great opportunity for both him and the principal. It is worth millions of dollars to the principal and hundreds of thousands of dollars to the rep. This is going to be a big win for all. And then the rep gets canned, right out of the blue because the company just cannot justify paying him or anyone that amount of money. “Why it makes no sense,” the company president says, “You could make more than I make for crying out loud!” And so the rep is out. All his hopes and dreams are shattered. Oh he can sue them of course, but we all know that this is a long drawn out not to mention expensive process and a gamble, one he can ill afford to take. So he walks away. He gets nothing but a bad taste in his mouth for board shops. And the company well the lets the dust settle and then goes out to find a good rep, all the while complaining that it’s almost impossible to find one.

Look it’s very simple, treat your reps like partners, communicate with them, and yes pay them and you will have a great relationship. But treat them the way you have been treating them and you will get what you’ve always got which I would have to say is what you deserve. It’s only common sense.

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