Continue to Explore

by Stephen Fowler, President, PERCS

A recent film, Arrival, presented a tale of potential catastrophe from disruptive change requiring massive adaptation. Aliens have suddenly arrived on earth, their presence mysterious: potentially benign but possibly threatening.

Confronted with a new normal, we had to find the right people with the proper abilities to adapt. The aliens offered us a “gift,” but we had to translate their reality to ours. We argued among ourselves whether that the gift was a tool or a weapon.

Ultimately, in the movie, we learn the gift was a tool, and that tool was the alien language and alien sense of time. The caution here is to identify these tools or weapons well before they’re needed. Virtually all tools can be weaponized, recasting our weapons as tools is more problematic. Adaptation is a constant process, with a goal in mind.

All agent models, whether single rep with a single principal with a single customer or those much more complex are confronted each day with changes, both small and massive, potentially harmful or helpful. This article is a gift to ourselves in our tools: “reps need to adapt to change in the tools they use in the way they operate to be successful.”

Following the adage, start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.

Scan available resources online, via Google or other search engines.

Personally engage at your library or at local colleges or at your nearby chambers of commerce (at the municipal, county or even state levels).

Find the basics; the essential business management tools should include the systems, applications, controls, calculating solutions, methodologies, etc. used by organizations to be able to cope with changing markets, ensure a competitive position in them and improve business performance. These are the tools used for controlling and improving business processes. The goal? How I can make my business grow.

Use all the MANA resources available to its members. And if for whatever reason you’re not a member, join!

The Wisdom Council is a special tool. Members of the Wisdom Council are an elite group of 14 representatives and six manufacturers who have agreed to volunteer to share their experience and knowledge with MANA members who would benefit from their counsel. The Wisdom Council now has been expanded to include working representatives and manufacturers who are still active in their businesses and who also have agreed to share their knowledge with fellow MANA members.

A prime focus should be the “Steps to Rep Professionalism” program.

Experience tells us the professionalism level differs significantly among manufacturers’ agents. At one end of the spectrum, you find highly professional manufacturers’ representative businesses, and it goes down from there. We also know that the professionalism level does not correlate with agency size. Some one-person rep businesses operate at a highly professional level and some multi-person reps operate at a much lower level.

Put yourself in your principal’s shoes — think through problems or issues from their vantage points. Use MANA’s “Steps to Becoming a Quality Principal” program. They want to create relationships with the most professional manufacturers’ agents willing to work with them. The more professional the manufacturers’ agent, the more they sell.

Tools available in the member area of the MANA website:

Professional Development Resources

  • 12 Steps to Rep Professionalism.
  • 9 Steps to Becoming a Quality Principal.
  • 5 Types of Professional Development Resources.

Legal and Consulting

  • Contract Guidelines.
  • MANA list of rep-savvy attorneys (includes free annual half-hour attorney consultation).


  • Agency Sales online edition (computer, ipad, iphone, android).
  • iToolbox monthly e-Newsletter.
  • Line Card Profitability Analysis Workbook.
  • Free business telephone consultation with MANA staff.

Using the above tools you will be better prepared to both exploit and expand upon the challenges and changes you face every business day.

Stephen Fowler is president of Process Equipment Resources & Consulting Services, Inc. (PERCS), located in Bridgewater, New Jersey. PERCS provides sales, engineering and business consulting services to equipment manufacturers, rep agencies and their direct customers. Before PERCS, Fowler was an executive at a major process equipment manufacturer, and then owned a four state, multi-product rotating equipment agency in the Northeast. Fowler has actively participated in MANA chapters, the Chemical Engineers Sales Association (CESEA), and technical groups such as AICHE (chemical), ISPE (bio and pharmaceutical), and WEFTEC (water and wastewater), representing all phases of the process industry.