by Charles Ingram, VP of Sales & Marketing, Eriez Magnetics
So, you need to find a great rep. Whether you’re just beginning to establish an independent manufacturers’ sales channel organization or have had one for years, there are some pretty good, well-proven methods for finding great reps to join your sales team. Even our company, Eriez Magnetics, has the need to fill a territory upon occasion, despite our reps’ very lengthy tenures — a 20‑plus year average and several that have been with us over 50 years. Like hiring employees at your own organization, it’s hard work to find the right rep agency with the right fit to represent your company and products.
Here are some tips we’ve used to successfully recruit reps:
- First thing is to outline a profile of the “perfect rep” for your company. This should include target markets served and most appropriate complementary products represented. An idea here is to review your best two to three reps as a benchmark.
- A terrific resource for manufacturer members is MANA’s RepFinder® directory. This directory, available through the MANA website and smart phone app, is easy to use and quickly identifies reps already in the territory who presently carry complementary lines. Because they’re members of MANA, they’ve acknowledged their agency’s commitment as sales and business professionals.
- Check with a sales manager colleague from a non-competing manufacturer. This is typically someone who may have experience with reps you share in other territories. For me, it’s not been unusual for that contact to ask me for recommendations about another territory to help him or her while on the same call.
- Here’s a resource that I find many sales managers overlook — sales reps you already have. Reps have a web of contacts with other reps whom they have gotten to know from shared sales conferences, training seminars, trade shows, etc. They’re on your team and have a vested interest in your company’s success. They know your company’s culture, products, people, and how you work. Many of our reps have been exceptionally helpful in identifying reps in other territories for us to consider. They will even assist with selling the potential rep on representing your company. Everybody wins when this scenario is fulfilled!
- Also, most manufacturers receive frequent inquiries from rep agencies interested in representation of their product line. Be sure to maintain a running file of such inquiries — even though you may not have a need when that contact is first made, there just might be a time in the future for that very territory. It’s just possible your next great rep is already in your desk drawer!
- If you have some existing good customers in the targeted territory, they may be able to provide ideas based on the reps they feel are supporting them well already. Your customer will be pleased to have been asked even if things don’t pan out.
- And finally, a great manufacturers’ representative for you will be one who has customer relationships in the key markets you serve; a professional website which includes industries served, products represented, territory covered and organization overview; an updated business plan which includes a succession or business continuity provision. When these strategies and objectives are aligned, you will have the foundation for a long and profitable relationship.
Finding a great manufacturers’ representative is not a cavalier exercise. Rep turnover is expensive, causes loss of sales momentum, and disrupts customer relationships. Doing it right and thoroughly can pay off in long-term sales growth and business success. Oh, and if you’re like me, you’ll make some fantastic friendships along the way!
Charles H. Ingram, in a career spanning over 37 years, has served in management at several leading tool manufacturers as well as led factory-direct, distribution and independent manufacturers’ representative selling organizations throughout North America and abroad. Ingram is executive vice president and chief marketing officer for Eriez Magnetics, which designs, develops, manufactures and markets advanced technology equipment for magnetic separation, vibratory applications, metal detection, and materials conveying and controlling applications from 11 manufacturing operations worldwide. He is the first manufacturer elected to the MANA Board of Directors. He received a bachelor’s degree in political science and history at Denison University, Granville, Ohio, and completed advanced management studies at the University of Tennessee.