So You’re Thinking of Becoming an Agent! (Part 1)

by Bert Holtje

A Sales Agent Walks a Tightrope

As an agent you will be a person in the middle. You have two people to keep satisfied; your principal and your customer. And since you are running your own business, you have to keep yourself satisfied. This isn’t all that easy a job. You will quickly discover that no two of your principals and your customers are going to be alike. They are all different. They all have different attitudes, needs and wants. Some principals, for example, are quite satisfied when you call them only with big news. Others will want to know a lot more about what you are doing for them. You will have to learn to understand each principal’s needs and to satisfy them, or be able to explain why you can’t.

Each customer is going to be very different, too. Some will want you to hold their hand more often than others. Some will haggle more than others about such things as price, specs and delivery. And some are quite content to set up basic ground rules early in the agent-customer relationship and be quite content when they are observed.

An agent who started his agency many years ago told us “When I started my agency, I had some fixed ideas that came about mainly from working with a big company. The unwritten rule at this company was that because we were so successful, any customers or prospects who might upset the routine — unless big orders were involved — were to be avoided. In other words, our approach to customer service was quite negative. Sadly, a lot of this rubbed off on me, and for the first couple of years my own business suffered for it. You have to remember that your job as an agent is to do the right thing for your customer and for your principal. And this isn’t always an easy thing to do. It takes more than a little diplomacy, especially when there are some serious differences of opinion.”

It’s interesting to note that most agents who build their agencies into multiperson operations feel that when they have people on board, they choose to devote much of their time to working directly with principals, delegating a good part of the customer relations side of the business to others. That the division of labor looms large at this level is understandable. But, the lesson to be learned is that no matter what stage your agency is in the growth cycle, you must be able to juggle the needs of both very carefully.

Next month, read about the financial know-how needed to run a successful agency.