One of the most important aspects of my business is helping companies with their relationships with their reps. Certainly it’s no secret that the rep/principal relationship is one of the most challenging that industry faces. This relationship is particularly challenging in the PC board industry with its’ tremendous ups and downs and its’ consistent struggles with the importance of sales and marketing.
In most instances the scenario goes something like this:
A company decides they need more sales, they want to leverage their sales budget, so they go out and try to sign a network of reps (that in itself is not that easy but that’s for another day, another column).
They sign the reps (note that they should go visit the reps in the near future, or have the reps visit them. A good rep would insist on doing this).
Then forget about them, expecting that if they are really good then they can expect orders to come rolling in at any time.
Soon they start receiving quotes, but chances are it is for all the wrong stuff. If they are a high tech military fabricator, all they see are requirements for double sided boards, and if they are a flex company, they are only receiving quotes for rigid boards. Soon they realize that this is not going to work and that they reps they hired are no good! Worse yet, after a series of these failed efforts they come to the conclusion that the “rep thing” just doesn’t work.
Here is what went wrong:
- The principal has not relayed to the rep what business they are in, and what their niche is. Chances are they don’t know themselves.
- They have not communicated with their reps after the initial courtship and signing. They have not gone out to the territory to visit the reps. They have not insisted that the reps visit their facility.
- Sometimes they have not even communicated to their own team that they have signed new reps.
- They have not given the reps the right tools (paperwork, copies of quotes, orders and invoices) to do their job
- In short, they have invested little or no time in managing the reps.
There is a very old adage that is as true today as it was fifty years ago. You will get out of your reps what you put into them. Follow that rule and everything will fall into place.
Now let’s get right to work and talk about how to find the best reps for your company.
Finding and signing new reps:
Choose key territories . Make sure you know which territories are best suited for new reps. Frankly I prefer account by account, they can have a territory, but they have to “register” the accounts they want and promise to call on.
Once the reps are signed, you need to:
- Educate them
- Develop territory plans with them
- Develop follow up plans with them.
Now you have to make sure you develop a great partnership with your reps which means that your responsibilities as a good partner is to do the following:
- Minimize house accounts
- Have clearly defined responsibilities and territories
- Pay on time. THIS IS CRITICAL
- Provide the right paperwork
- Provide technical support
- Have a solid existing customer base
- Be financially strong
- Be fair
- Have a solid and well-defined niche
- Have a good strategy
- Have a good marketing plan
- Provide lead generation
- Have strong inside sales
- Have excellent performance
- Have a great product
And the most important thing you have to do is treat your reps with respect. Treat them as a partner, treat them the way you would want to be treated.
Here are some key elements to a principal/rep partnership that will guarantee success both short and more importantly long term
- Communicate your strategy to the reps including very specific guidelines as to the type of customers and business we are going after.
- Be as aggressive as we possibly can when it comes to attracting, winning and keeping new accounts. Especially at the beginning of the relationship when your support of the rep is particularly crucial.
- Generate leads for them to follow up. Have a great lead generation program.
- Create a new account incentive clause that will be added to their contracts. This should be focused on encouraging the rep to find the right accounts as quickly as possible. Think about this: How much would you pay for a new account?
- Institute monthly rep team telephone meetings to make sure that the lines of communications are kept open.
- Institute regular one on one meetings with the reps so together you can talk about their progress and together find ways to succeed.
- Set up a plan for regular customer visits with the reps in their territories.
- Make the reps so much of the team that you can count on them to help you find other reps in territories that are not covered. If you have the right rep you can even offer her the opportunity to add territories on her own as long as she finds the right reps to join her firm
And finally, treat your reps as part of the sales team. Make them accountable. Together develop goals and forecasts and then stick to these throughout the year. My pet peeve, my number one pet peeve is salespeople without goals and forecast. Really? How can you go in any direction if you don’t know what your final destination is? Instead set realistic goals with your reps. A month by month account by account forecast each year; a goal for the number of new accounts the rep will bring in, and how much time the rep will dedicate to your account. In the end it all gets down to communications and mutual understanding. And if you have that you will have a great and successful principal/rep partnership. It’s only common sense.