Manufacturers Requiring Their Reps to Perform More Tasks — How Should Reps Respond?

by Jerry Leth, Vice-President and General Manager, MANA

When I owned my manufacturers’ representative business back in the last millennium, my principals wanted one thing from me — orders! Our members now tell me principals still want orders, but other activities as well — filling out online CRM reports, market research, succession plans, and more. What’s a rep to do?

Last year, I made a presentation to 20 roofing manufacturers’ representatives. During the Q&A, one participant asked, “Are principals asking MANA members to fill out online CRM reports?” I asked the group, “How many of you have principals who asked you to fill these out?” Half the hands went up. I then asked, “How many of you that do these get any value from performing the task?” Only one hand went up.

Which leads me to the answer to the question on what’s a rep to do?

Whatever the manufacturer asks the manufacturers’ representative to do above bringing in business must provide value for both of them. If together, you set it up so the time you invest in filling out online CRM reports, etc. also brings you value, you meet the goal. You both get a positive return on the time you invested.

MANA recommends both sides of the relationship work with each other to create annual “Mutual Action Plans.” The two parties meet and put together a plan to follow for the next 12 months. Just like a business plan, you create a vision statement or goal. For these relationships, both mutually agree to a sales target. It is not a quota the manufacturer unilaterally sets. You both also create a mission statement that defines how together, you achieve the goal.

Like a business plan, you also perform a “Situation Analysis.” You list the strengths of both of you, then the weaknesses. In your action plans, use the strengths to overcome the weaknesses.

Also look for opportunities. Where will the time you invest bring the greatest returns? Focus on those when you create the action plans. Finally, look for and take into accounts any threats you perceive. For example, new competitors who enter the market or customers who move away.

Once you complete the situation analysis, go to work and create the action plans for the following year. Some plans require action on the part of the manufacturers’ representative while others require action by the manufacturer. By working together as a team, the chances of meeting or exceeding the goal increase substantially.

What happens when the manufacturer tells the manufacturers’ representative to perform functions that only benefit them? In most cases, these functions take time for the manufacturers’ representative to perform, time they take away from selling the principal’s products or services to customers. Less time selling, fewer orders booked. Where’s the value in that?

When you as a principal take unilateral actions like this, you create another unintended consequence. The more manufacturers’ representatives perceive you as a role model on how to work with them, the more time they spend selling your company’s products. When you tell your manufacturers’ representatives to perform functions that fail to benefit them, the less the manufacturers’ representatives perceive you as an emotional favorite. The less they perceive you as a role model, the less time they spend selling your products or services.

The more you work together in ways that benefit both of you, the greater the rewards for both. Invest time working together to create ways to take advantage of new technology in a way that works for both of you. That investment brings a significant return.

Jerry Leth, MANA’s vice-president and general manager, started as membership manager in August 2000. Previously, Jerry owned and operated Letco Tech Sales, Inc., a MANA member, multi-line professional outsourced sales agency he founded in 1989. Before starting his own agency, he managed a network of manufacturers’ reps as vice-president of sales and marketing for torque and tension equipment. Jerry graduated from Stanford with a mechanical engineering degree. He started his career at Hills Brothers Coffee in San Francisco in engineering and production before embarking on a sales career.