Getting More of the Rep’s Time

By Greg Bruno, President, Midlantic Enterprises, Inc.

Every principal that works with representatives will say that they want more time from their representatives. But very few seem to make a consistent effort to win the hearts and minds of their representatives and fewer actually achieve this goal. There is one word that if used regularly will likely get a representative’s time and energy: that is “goodwill.”

In my experience, goodwill is the single most important thing a principal can offer in an effort to secure more of their reps’ time. Here are a few ideas that might make the difference and enable a principal to create and maintain goodwill.

Relationships based on honesty, fair play and integrity motivate representatives in the exact same way as warmth and light motivates a fly. The attitude of any principal’s leadership filters down throughout their organization to all of their employees so a positive nurturing attitude towards their representatives from the management of a principal will help an agent feel like part of a team and affect his or her decision as to where best to spend their time. If managers and/or customer service staff at a principal’s home office treat their representatives like bill collectors, then the representative will likely look elsewhere for their daily bread.

Good, steady communication between the parties also helps create goodwill as does regular training and support. If training requires a representative to travel to a distant city, then consider reimbursing travel expenses as well as lodging. This is something rarely provided today, yet it was the norm in years past. At the very least, lodging should be provided but today airfare would set a principal apart.

Budgeting for marketing in an effort to create leads is helpful for mutual success. Many principals expect their representatives to do all of the marketing and to develop, print and distribute any literature all in an effort to find new leads and opportunities. All representatives sell, some but not all will provide marketing services. Providing timely leads and well-designed literature for distribution will most certainly build goodwill.

A well written and fair contract goes a long way. A contract offered by a principal that includes fair and equitable provisions is highly prized. Contracts with provisions for longer periods of notice ahead of actual termination, additional days being added at each anniversary and post termination revenue are all very valuable to a representative. If a principal wants more time then they may want to consider a contract from the representative’s point of view.

A principal should consider the representative a part of their team and treat the reps accordingly. One would think that this is obvious, but actions sometimes speak differently. How many principals have customer databases that are visible to the rep? Of those, how many allow the rep access to make simple changes within those databases? I’m amazed how many principals allow direct salespeople unfettered access to their information but a representative is not given the same access. I wonder why we are so non-trustworthy?

A principal’s internal system could easily and quickly inhibit a rep’s willingness to spend more time on a specific line. For instance, if competitors’ quotes consistently arrive in advance of yours then a rep may work elsewhere. So, fast quote turnarounds are essential. But there’s more involving quotes….Minimize no quotes and provide competitive (not necessarily the lowest) pricing to pave the way for the rep to remain welcome at a prospect’s place of business. It’s easy to understand that the more a rep books with a line, the more willing he or she will be to spend their time on the specific line.

On time commission payments and commissions paid on shipment will get a salesperson’s attention. Can you remember the day when commissions were paid on shipment? Today, not many commissions are paid on shipment. In fact, the vast majority of principals expect their reps to wait an additional month after they’ve received invoice payment. There are also many principals who pay the given month’s commission on the very last day of the month and/or slowly move their payments out into the next month. They’ve essentially made the rep an unwilling banker by providing short-term, zero-interest financing. Sounds silly doesn’t it, to hold back payments but continue to expect honest hard-hitting sales coverage?

And finally, be generous. Pay for lunch when traveling into a territory with a representative.

Greg Bruno is the founder and president of Midlantic Enterprises, Inc., a multi-person sales agency selling custom and standard engineered components to OEMs and large industrial companies in the NY to DC corridor. Midlantic Enterprises began its 33rd year this past August. Bruno has been a rep for 38 years and is active with the NJ/NY chapter of MANA, participated in the development of the current MANA Agency-Principal Contract and has served on the MANA Board of Directors of MANA.