by Kenneth Russell-Murray, ElectraSpec, Inc.
The wants and needs of a manufacturer and the manufacturers’ representative are aligned: drive revenue, increase profits and manage costs; however, the rep’s role goes beyond these common goals. It is understood that hiring a representative who is paid solely on a commission basis is a cost-effective alternative to marketing and selling any product, but hiring a manufacturers’ representative gives you a lot more bang for the buck.
Reps are marketers. They market their manufacturers’ products through various means. Representing more than one line, especially when complementary, opens doors and creates a synergy that can result in leverage for all manufacturers on a rep’s line card. Manufacturers’ reps conduct presentations to both end users and distributors, will attend trade shows and even keep clients informed by sending out monthly newsletters highlighting their manufacturers’ products. A manufacturers’ rep of today is a creator; finding ways to use social media platforms to market products, announce promotions and events, advertise their services and their line cards. Reps often provide additional visibility, at no cost to the manufacturer, through memberships in various organizations within the electrical industry. For example, in Canada a manufacturers’ agent may be a member of EFC (Electro Federation Canada) and or CEMRA (Canadian Electrical Manufacturers Reps). Being a member of these types of organization provides not only exposure for the rep but as well the manufacturers represented.
A good rep is an effective communicator who often facilitates communication between, for example a manufacturer, a distributor and an end user. Reps not only provide customers with samples and/or catalogs, they also take on the role of negotiator when it comes time to discuss pricing. They are effective facilitators in this process. Manufacturers’ reps frequently take on the role of diplomat, since there is always a possibility that things may not go as planned. Adapting to these situations and then communicating with customers when there are delays in deliveries is all part of the job as a rep.
Manufacturers’ representatives are teachers and self-educated; they are constantly learning and adapting. First and foremost, they must educate themselves on not only the various features of the products they are representing but also the technical aspects. Reps need to be knowledgeable about the applicable certifications that exist for the product. In fact, a rep can become involved in researching the necessary steps required to have an item certified. This is especially true for the electrical industry. A rep will provide training on products on-site or virtually, which is when a rep becomes a teacher.
Performance is key for a manufacturers’ rep and it is true that this brings success. How often, though, do we realize that reps are advocates: for the manufacturers represented and customers, be they distributors or end users. Reps wear many hats and learn quickly within this business that adaptability and embracing change are keys to survival. A rep with experience has strong local market knowledge and has well-established relationships at all levels of business. In any given day a rep could have a conversation with a CEO, an inside salesperson, a buyer, a local electrician or an engineer. A rep promotes relationships, enhances interactions between customers and manufacturers. A manufacturers’ rep is a true chameleon, embracing change and adapting to it every day.
Kenneth Russell-Murray is president and owner of ElectraSpec, Inc., a manufacturers’ agency located in Quebec, Canada. His agency has been operating since 1995. Russell-Murray became a member of MANA’s Board of Directors in 2020 and is also on the Board of Directors for EFC (Electro-Federation Canada) representing the province of Quebec. During his spare time Russell-Murray enjoys downhill skiing, golf and tennis.