The Importance of Principals Having a Professional Approach to Prospective Reps

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

When a manufacturer approaches a prospective manufacturers’ representative, the manufacturers’ representative wants to learn two things. First, does this company supply a product or service my customers need? If yes, the next thing they want to learn is, do they understand the professional way to work with us?

What do we mean by that?

Before coming to MANA, I owned a manufacturers’ representative business. Prior to that, I worked as a sales manager for a company that sold through independent manufacturers’ representatives. That experience, along with what I learned here at MANA, taught me there are three kinds of principals. The first are those who “get it,” the ones who perform as professional role models on how to partner with their reps. These principals become emotional favorites and their manufacturers’ representatives spend far more time selling their products than other principals’.

Principals new to working with manufacturers’ representatives but who want to do it right make up the second group. They make an effort to learn how to become like the first group. The ones who joined MANA access the “Steps to Being a Quality Principal” online educational program. They invest time to learn the right way to work with their manufacturers’ representatives. That investment brings a substantial return when their manufacturers’ representatives respond by selling more for them.

The third group wants to do “their way or the highway.” In some cases, they act like they are the boss and the manufacturers’ representative is the employee. Bad mistake! In other cases, they believe the manufacturers’ representatives make too much money. Those relationships turn adversarial. They fail to work and the manufacturer blames the manufacturers’ representative.

On the other side of the relationship, the manufacturers’ representative population is not all created equal. Fortunately, a significant number operate as professionals and exceed their principals’ expectations. At the other end of the spectrum, you find “reps” that operate as salespeople who pay their own expenses. They do not operate as professional businesspeople and fail to meet expectations.

How do principals attract and sign up the professional manufacturers’ representatives? When they reach out to prospects, they market themselves as a company that understands the effective way to partner with them. They let prospective manufacturers’ representatives know they want long-term, high-trust and mutually profitable relationships. Once they sign agreements, they behave accordingly.

MANA helps manufacturers connect with professional manufacturers’ representatives in a couple of ways. The manufacturers join MANA and use the RepFinder to create prospect lists and contact likely prospects either by calling or e-mailing them. Regardless, your message needs to not only tell them what you supply, but how you plan to work with them. Some use the ad programs we offer, either in Agency Sales magazine or the online ad platform. Again, you need to get your commitment to the independent rep way of selling across in your ad.

I learned a lesson a long time ago in a marketing course I took. Be sure that what you market accurately describes what you offer. Worst outcome that can happen is when someone buys into what you offered only to learn what they got nowhere near represents what you told them to expect. The trust level goes negative big-time and the manufacturers’ representatives spend time and effort selling other principals’ products rather than yours. You must “walk the talk.”

Learn the effective way to partner with your manufacturers’ representatives and get your message across when you recruit new ones. Work with them as “Partners in Profits,” and that creates the desired outcome for both of you.

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.