By Tom Hayward, CPMR, United Sales Associates
Sometimes change is naturally accepted and sometimes not. If change happens to us, typically we get to work right away as we must adapt and survive. For manufacturers’ representatives, if we lose an employee, we get to work right away on finding a new one. Same as if we lose a line. However, we act much slower, even procrastinating, when we must cause change. When facing the termination of an employee, or resigning a line, this takes a lot of thought and anxiety — and oftentimes change gets moved to the back-burner. Why is this? One big reason might be that we might not be confident if change is really needed, nor are we confident that the change will create the desired outcome. Overcoming these fears allows us to take steps to successfully implement change. So it makes sense then that when we have confidence that change will create a positive outcome, we would more quickly proceed?
As this pertains to manufacturers’ representatives and our agencies, the change process can be a challenge. We can easily allow ourselves to be consumed by our day-to-day activity. Additionally, most of us do not have a management team to “think tank” our way through change. Moreover, this is not a natural part of our makeup as most of us either avoided management positions, or left management positions, because we are more hands-on types.
In order to progress, we need a process that allows us to invite and implement change. There is a wealth of assistance around each of us that is more than willing to share insight — customers, employees, principals, and neighbors. Most could even be considered stakeholders in our change process. In order to gain insight that might lead to change, we need to first create an environment for open communication, then we need to ask the right questions to the right people.
It is likely that you have heard that if you want feedback just ask your principal “is there anything I can do to be a better rep?” Depending on the day, you might regret asking the question. However, if you are more strategic and focused, and set the stage properly, there might be an exchange that would be very valuable. For example, ask your principals, “Other than sales/revenue/profitability, what are your biggest territory challenges/concerns for 2016”? Imagine if most of them are saying, “We need better customer response time out of you.” At that point you would find it much easier to consider adding an inside support person (or any other solution that might help). Their collective input helps you itemize, and prioritize, changes within your agency that would be of immediate benefit. As a result, change becomes easy to implement. Also ask your key customers the same question. Their answers will certainly make it easy to change how you itemize and prioritize how you approach and work with them.
If we can get the focus off of sales for a moment, we can get the necessary input that will help us make change in our company and ourselves — and then we can get back to selling.
Tom Hayward is with United Sales Associates (Cincinnati, Ohio), a 15-person agency covering eight states and focused on the marketing and training of personal protective safety equipment and related products. Hayward has been with United Sales since 1989, and became a CPMR in 1997. USA has been a proud MANA member since the agency was founded in 1982.