by Danny Collis, President, Collis Group, Inc.
I have been to so many manufacturer training sessions that the phrase, “Thank you for coming, we understand that time is your most precious asset” is ingrained in me.
I can’t disagree with that statement; however, I believe principals and their reps can use this as an excuse as to why not to get together for anything.
As an independent manufacturers’ rep, I always have an appetite to train further and to become the best possible rep when it comes to product knowledge and business acumen. I expect and appreciate training from my principals, but I also love to pay it forward to my customers.
As I see it, here is the problem today: The race to the bottom has created many industries that just sell the cheapest product/service possible. Often the quality of the product is secondary to the cost. This creates a commodity market. Trying to get a customer in for learning or training or a lunch-and-learn today is harder and harder than ever before because “people time is so valuable.” This is creating less time to learn and absorb features and benefits that can set you apart from your competition. I recall asking a distributor who had three different competitors’ products all sitting beside each other what the difference was between the products. His solution was to look at the price tag! I challenged him and said, “That’s it? Price is your only difference?” I told him he was in big trouble.
As reps we need to distinguish ourselves in the same manner. Factories are offering less training, and the fact is we need more. We need to be stronger on product knowledge especially when we are competing against the Internet because heaven knows the Internet is always right!
I believe our factories think we are too busy for more training. We are busy, but we should never be too busy to accept and embrace product training. Reps should hunger for it and the factories should be the ones feeding it to us. I don’t care what anyone says, there is always something new or some new angle to bring to our customer base.
The truth is training costs money, but it is money that you are investing back into the company. Stop considering time and money, and get it done.
I represent one company that runs a “school” six times annually with up to 50 reps and distributors at each session. The manufacturer pays for everything including 50 percent for the flights of any customers we bring. We find this to be such a valuable tool that our company commits to the other 50 percent of the flights to make sure we get customers and ourselves to it. I consider this to be one of our biggest marketing initiatives, but the payback has been overwhelming.
Being a rep means being a leader, and I feel we should be the ones driving this bus or at least providing input for our manufacturers. I am sure I will get 10 different opinions on that, but the future is changing and we are being challenged to even exist in our industry.
The more we learn and train, the better it is for our factories, our distributors, and our end-users, who are extremely smart and well-prepared today on all products.
We need that leg up. We need the factories to keep investing in their future.
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.