by Danny Collis, President, Collis Group, Inc.
I was personally brought into my first rep council in 2001. I was shocked and honored that they asked me (first Canadian rep) to be associated with this long-standing tradition at this company.
I had never been on a council or really ever represented a product line that was involved in this type of practice. What was a rep council and what does it mean that I am the first Canadian to be on it?
I quickly researched rep councils to prepare myself as to what they are and how they work. Fellow colleagues told me not to make it a gripe session or make it personal and also not to go with an agenda to beat up the factory.
This was fascinating to me and also intimidating at the same time. They want this rookie who just started this brave new world for them (in Canada) to let them know the rights and wrongs of my territory, a territory that was uncharted. As intimidating as it was sitting with reps from all over North America, I did have ideas, but I am glad I chose to listen first. What I realized really quickly is this rep council was similar in some ways to a board of directors. A good board of directors has many different opinions in a common goal to make that entity stronger. In this particular situation I ended up having my own separate side meeting, as Canada was different. Also, I have to tell you this factory implemented in the first year everything that I thought was important.
This leads to the communication aspect of rep councils. A good and working rep council requires strong individuals with good leadership qualities. The factory needs to be represented wherever they are — North/South and East/West and yes, Canada, or any other country that they work with because in every region/territory/country we all have different pain points that we can use some sound advice on. A solid leader from each region needs to be able to poll all information out of his or her region. A well-executed letter from the factory as to the importance of this rep council position should be sent to each principal to make sure their participation is necessary for the productivity of this council. Their participation should include issues, concerns or their general thoughts on how the factory can make their life easier and vice versa — it is not to tell the factory they are a bunch of idiots! This does happen, and it is not necessary.
Participating up front should not be optional. Each firm has got to have some pain points somewhere. No factory is perfect, but the good ones take all of the information gained from their rep councils and implement solid practices moving forward.
When all the intel is gathered, there is usually a well-planned agenda to make all voices heard.
One of the key things coming out of rep council meetings is the follow-up! I have seen so many councils that prepare up-front and have a great agenda but never let anyone know afterwards what was accomplished and what was not.
Rep councils also accomplish spending quality time with their key reps, which is a great business partnership booster for both parties.
If you don’t have a rep council you should be pushing your factory for it. Reps and factories are never perfect, but working out issues face to face with some solid information from your peers would go a long way. This world is hectic day to day, and perhaps that is the main excuse why fewer rep councils happen. Not sure.
I know the ones that have rep councils bond with their reps, and in turn we learn why the factories do certain things.
Work together, work as a group and have these great meetings, but also ensure that there is follow-up on things that benefit both rep and manufacturer.
Danny Collis is president of Collis Group, Inc., a manufacturers’ rep group in the Province of Ontario, Canada. Collis Group represents the food service equipment industry. They work closely with consultants, end users and distributors in the selection of equipment used in kitchens all around the world. Collis is past president of MAFSI (Manufactures Agents for the Food Service Industry) and currently sits as a board member of MANA. For information on the Collis Group visit www.collisgroupinc.com.