How to Successfully Sell Through Independent Reps

by Tommy Garnett, CPMR, CSP, Garnett Component Sales, Inc.

Selling through independent manufacturers’ representatives can be a very rewarding business partnership if a few key areas are taken into consideration.

The first step is for the manufacturer to understand the rep-principal model. MANA can serve as a great resource for those manufacturers who have never gone to market using reps. Insight into a rep’s role of selling in a defined geographical region, handling synergistic but non-competing lines and adding value through applications engineering assistance are just a few areas of responsibility in which MANA can serve to educate.

Next, it is important to find the right partner. MANA has bult a very user-friendly tool for all members to access called RepFinder®. The app can be easily downloaded from the Apple Store or Google depending on your preference. Once downloaded, information such as industries served, location, number of reps, and many other search criteria can be filtered and exported. It is then up to the manufacturer to reach out either by text, email or phone and begin their screening process.

Once the correct rep partner has been identified, it is critical to draft a fair and well-balanced written agreement. This will serve as the foundation of the relationship and define expectations affording both parties a clear, well-defined path forward. An agreement that is well thought out and mutually agreed upon will prove to be a “win-win” for both the agency and the manufacturer alike.

When the contract has been signed, it’s time to start conducting business. Communication is the key to success. This can come in many different forms, from detailed written reporting to the principal or conference calls; the frequency to be mutually agreed upon. Regardless of the form, the key is to maintain an open line of communication between rep and principal. The manufacturer must understand what the rep is seeing and hearing in the territory and the rep must be a good communicator in sharing this feedback to the factory.

Often when manufacturers have a large rep network, rep councils can be formed. This is where a principal might bring in rep agencies’ owners from various regions. The group meets at the plant quarterly to discuss strategic initiatives, best practices, industry trends, and many other higher-level topics. The concept is for the rep owners to in turn bring back lessons learned to their specific agencies and share this valuable insight. Collaboration is the key, in addition to working together with a principal-focused mentality.

Territory action plans as well as field visits into the territories by the manufacturer are essential. The manufacturer must take a vested interest into the territory and be willing to spend time working to develop key accounts with their representatives. Typically, these can be achieved on a quarterly basis, but on occasion if a specific customer is being targeted, it might require additional visits. Remember, the manufacturer is the expert in his or her field and each opportunity to work side by side with representatives is an opportunity to educate the rep and build the relationship.

If a manufacturer chooses to host regional or national sales meetings, it is important for these to be well thought out and impactful. This opportunity to bring all their reps together at the plant can serve as a springboard for product training, corporate initiatives and direction, as well as reps learning from fellow reps.

Last, if a manufacturer has a region or territory that is not occupied by a representative and perhaps even a region in which they have never had a market presence, then consider developing missionary territories. The manufacturer can work with a representative to derive a shared market development fee. This allows the manufacturer to begin the process of penetrating a previously untapped region and growing market share.

These are just a few ideas on how to successfully sell through independent manufacturers’ representatives. I hope it helps both the rep and the manufacturer to grow together. If done correctly, it is a rewarding and mutually beneficial approach to selling into markets. Happy selling!

Tommy Garnett, CPMR, CSP, is president/CEO of Garnett Component Sales, Inc. GCS, headquartered in Wake Forest, NC, serves the OEM community by providing engineered mechanical component solutions. Garnett is a 27-year veteran of the manufacturers’ representative business and small business owner.