by David Ice, CPMR, Ice & Associates, Inc.
In the 1990s, I had the good fortune to be hired as the sales manager for a contract manufacturer who had a desire to build a rep sales organization in the United States and in adjacent countries. As I proceeded into that assignment I met, interviewed, hired, and trained several dozen rep companies — both single- and multi-person firms. They quickly taught me what they needed from me as their advocate to the manufacturer. I guided them to achieve the growth my boss desired. Working together, both the reps and the principal were successful.
Almost a decade later, I decided to form my own rep agency. As I contracted with principals, I tried to capitalize on the lessons learned as a principal’s sales manager to find ideal manufacturers for my firm.
To achieve “ideal” status, the principals should have at least three key attributes.
1. Focus on the customers’ needs
The customers define their needs at the outset of the business relationship. Messages are sent by a written request, through communication with the reps, or in verbal discussions among all parties. The product specifics may change as the process develops, but the need for the product usually remains constant during the process. The ideal principal focuses on the product requirement, and adjusts internal methods to get the job done on time and in budget.
Unfortunately some principals focus on their internal needs first, and ignore the customers’ defined requirements. That action leads to processes being ignored, delivery dates being pushed out, and as a result, to increased insecurity at all levels. The rep often must go into a “manage and mend” mode to try to retain relationships and momentum. Focusing on the customer’ needs at the outset saves a lot of time, money and grief.
2. Excellent communication to everyone in the sales chain
Good communication inside the walls of the principal’s company seems like a no-brainer. But that communication is often non-existent, or lacking in clarity, which leads to missteps, impacting both the rep and the customer. Poor communication necessitates additional requests for answers — a time-wasting effort for everyone. Insufficient communication sends the unfortunate message to the rep and to the customer that the manufacturer is not well-organized or isn’t sufficiently interested in the business opportunity. Whereas, clear and timely responses send the positive message that the manufacturer is the supplier to work with for this and future needs. Therefore, an important rep function is to make sure both the principal and the customer are communicating correctly.
3. A full understanding of the rep’s function
Rep organizations are independent business entities and they must maintain that position with their principals and customers. They must be viewed by the customers as the salesperson of the principal, and by the principal as the customer’s advocate. The rep’s job is to be the initial information source for the principal to their customers. Principals therefore, need to keep the reps current on internal issues, and any external issues which impact the rep’s ability to do that function for the customers. Reps develop, retain and protect their customers’ information sources. The rep needs to consistently transmit pertinent data learned from these customer sources to the principal. Reps who can simultaneously achieve the salesperson and advocate role usually are very successful. To achieve that success often requires the rep to do extensive education of the principal’s staff and to repeat such education as needed.
Being “an ideal principal” is a great goal. Keeping these attributes in mind will help.
Following a 40-year sales career with large corporations, David Ice, CPMR, founded Ice & Associates, Inc., Lawrence, Kansas, in April 2000. The agency has accounts in nine Midwest states, representing 10 principals. Ice is one of the founding members of the MANA Kansas City Chapter and served as the program chairman. He completed his Certified Professional Manufacturers’ Representative work at Arizona State University in 2009, and has served as an elected board member and chairman of the Board of Directors for MANA.