Technology — Embrace It or Die!

by John Sandifer, SanCo Sales, Inc.

It is to be expected that with any major change in the way the independent manufacturers’ representative conducts his business that change is going to be accompanied by negatives and positives. So it is with the continued impact that technology and the tools that travel in technology’s wake.

At one time (at the beginning of my career as a rep) the agent set forth from his office on a daily basis armed with an itinerary of sales calls that had to be completed that day. What he had in front of him was a full day of across-the-desk personal contact with prospects and customers.

How times have changed!

Today’s rep — armed with a SmartPhone, tablet, e-mail, voice mail, etc. — is on duty 24/7 and is expected to provide immediate response to his customers, many of whom make it more difficult than ever to gain some of that valuable face-to-face, across-the-desk time.

There you have it in a nutshell — the negatives and positives of an ever-evolving technological landscape. The fact remains, however, that technology is here to stay and in order for the rep to survive and thrive, he had better enthusiastically get his arms around this change and learn how to use it to benefit his agency.

In our agency, for instance, we use cloud storage that allows us to share and update files across multiple devices. This is critical because whether you are on your iPhone, tablet, laptop or desktop, all of your reps have access to the newest and most up-to-date brochures and files. In addition, we use a CRM program to keep up with our contacts and manage follow-ups. For agency owners these days it’s especially important to have all the contacts from your outside sales force and the ability to monitor their progress.

Adding to the dependence on technology there is an every-growing trend of companies wanting brochures electronically delivered instead of printed copies (which probably end up on the bottom of a stack or in the waste basket). Having a tablet accessible to show customers new product literature on the spot is very beneficial. Adding to their ease is the fact they can be e-mailed within a matter of seconds, leaving very little, if any, time for them to be forgotten.

And before I forget, there’s now a free service from Google that allows you to upload your contact list into a map, allowing you to see your customer’s location, contact information and even phone and e-mail. When you are on the go, you can pull up the bookmarked page and see what customers are in your proximity that you may have forgotten about. A tool such as this makes you more productive and saves travel costs from jumping around town.

As I recount all the techno tools that are available to reps today, I can’t help but recall a rep who used to work for me a few years ago. The fact that he balked at getting an iPhone because of the inflated price speaks to the point he no longer works for us.

I’d have to believe that anyone possessing that type of thinking would be hard pressed to be successful in their job today. Add to that the fact that at the same time reps are faced with the task of becoming familiar with these tools, so too are their manufacturers and customers. Several of our existing manufacturers, for instance, have implemented online RFQ systems that can be accessed across multiple platforms (iPhone, tablet, etc.). Technology and the use of technology is not a fad. Keeping up to date will soon become the norm, and we either embrace it or die by it.

If I have any advice for reps who are debating how deeply they want to dip their feet into technology, I’d recommend that they jump in all the way and make sure they have a support system in place and the commitment from their sales force to use the tools you implement.

John Sandifer has been a member of MANA since starting SanCo Sales, Inc., in 2001, the same year that he received the CPMR designation. He is also a Charter Member of the local Dallas MANA Chapter. With 35 years of experience as a manufacturers’ representative, Sandifer has worked sales territories in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Western Tennessee. Prior to starting his own agency, he worked with one of the larger OEM rep firms in the Southwest. SanCo Sales specializes in selling made to print components in metal, plastic, rubber and assemblies to the OEM market.