Manufacturer: “What Am I Doing Wrong?”

by Charles Cohon, President and CEO, MANA

“I need to sell more aluminum die castings,” said the manufacturer. “So I downloaded a list of reps who sell die castings and started making phone calls.”

“Most of them said, ‘I already represent a die casting company, so I can’t represent you,’” he continued. “What am I doing wrong?”

It’s a common question, so I was ready with an answer.

“Reps very rarely represent two competing manufacturers of the same product,” I explained. “Your list probably includes some reps who only have copper and brass die castings and can represent your aluminum die castings, but it is also is going to include many reps who can’t sign up with you.”

“What you need to do is download a list of reps who sell complementary, non-competing products.”

“What do you mean by complementary, non-competing products?” asked the manufacturer.

“It’s probably easiest if I give you an example,” I continued. “Let’s say you’re a manufacturer of nails. So, you search for reps who sell nails.

“They won’t all have conflicts. If you make roofing nails and a rep on your list only sells finishing nails, it won’t be a conflict, but most reps who already represent a nail manufacturer can’t take on your product.

“So, you search for reps who sell fasteners, and you find reps who sell complementary, non-competing products, like screws, nuts, and bolts, but don’t have a line of nails. They call on the right customers, don’t have a line card conflict, and could be a perfect fit.

“But you want to interview a deeper pool of reps, so you give some careful thought to other complementary, non-competing products. Reps who sell hand tools, like hammers, would have excellent contacts to sell nails.

“Ask yourself, and perhaps ask some of your best customers, ‘In addition to my products, what other products do you buy frequently? You should get some good categories to use for your rep search and get the right reps in place to grow your sales.”

Note: The manufacturer’s comments were edited for space, clarity and content.

Charles Cohon, CPMR, is CEO and president of MANA. In 2016 Cohon earned the Certified Association Executive (CAE) designation after completing American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) coursework and testing. Cohon also earned an MBA with honors and with concentrations in strategic management and entrepreneurship from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and was founder and owner of a very successful Illinois manufacturers’ representative firm for nearly 30 years before joining MANA.