The Value of Networking With Your Peers

by Michelle Jobst, CPMR, Jobst Incorporated

We can all be very busy as we remain focused on the day-to-day activities of staying in front of our customers. From time to time, however, it’s important to perform activities that allow us to entertain alternate and new perspectives to what we are already doing well. The very exercise of moving out of your own bubble and connecting with similar but diverse organizations can put a shot into our growth and increase our value to the principals we represent.

This leads me to two questions that are asked and answered by Geri Stengel, founder of Ventureneer, in the article she authored in Inc. magazine:

  • What are you doing to add to the value you bring to your manufacturers?
  • Are you networking with your peers?

Her conclusion in that article was that “Entrepreneurs with larger and more diverse networks [tend] to grow bigger companies.”

That point was driven home in the course of a networking and educational event earlier this year. Cindy Doherty, NEMRA, and I, both CPMR graduates, invited other female representatives from MANA and other national organizations to attend Woman Rep Expo 2018 (WRExpo).

Prior to the meeting attendees provided input on topics that they felt should be addressed. The agenda included conversations about staff issues, best practices in communication with new and existing manufacturers, gender and generational dynamics and aspects of legal contracts, payment for services, and pioneering fees.

In addition, I felt it was important to have us all look at the many tasks we perform in our agencies — weekly, monthly, quarterly. We categorized each task with the goal of discerning where we can bring our best skills to the table and spend the majority of our energy performing tasks related to those items.

The last portion of the exercise looked at tasks on the list that are not our strengths. Discussion developed about the best use of our time resources. Rounding out the conversation we focused on ways to more productively use our abilities when it came to delegating tasks or outsourcing them to others with a better skill set.

Here is a major takeaway from our meeting — networking with other female sales representatives is an important key to growing our businesses. Attendees represented a diversity of products, territories, industries, and sales cycles. A common, compassionate and open communication style, tied to a shared understanding of how our sales channel functions allowed us to connect on many levels and to identify possible new solutions. The group shared a sense of mentorship and a willingness to help each other. The rate at which we see positive business results because of networking should dramatically increase.

Here is what some of the attendees had to say about the event:

“Every session had great ideas and suggestions to improve and grow my business and I will definitely be implementing many of them. It was such a wonderful experience networking with my peers as women rep owners and I look forward to next year!” — Cindy Doherty, CPMR, COO, Intralec Electrical Products, Ltd.

“I found the WRExpo to be a great avenue for getting together with other like-minded women in the sales representative career path. Since there aren’t a whole lot of female rep firms, being together with the group made me feel less isolated in this industry. I was motivated and inspired by listening to the other women’s experiences. During our meeting sessions we were able to review how each of us handles certain situations and challenges with principals and customers and even review when to hire, whom to hire, and how to motivate new employees, sub-reps, etc. We were able to share what works for each of us. I also felt instant friendships forming. Definitely looking forward to our follow-up phone calls and the next opportunity to meet!” — Marnee Palladino, president, MARN, Inc.

“It is always nice when you can speak with other individuals who understand your business. The WRExpo, created a low-key environment that allowed us to share with one another what things we were doing well, what things we needed help with and to get advice on how to take the business to the next level. Most importantly the network has been established and friendships were created. We now have the names and numbers of several other women business owners/friends who are only a phone call away if I need to run something by them.” — Tasha Sharp, owner, Sharp Incentives.

“I am highly impressed with the caliber of women that came to the WRExpo. In the sales world, at least from my history, women have not been supportive of one another. Talking with this group, I found trust, friendship, support and so much help in areas that I did not fully understand we were all walking through. With a group like this, we will be able to support up-and-coming women to break through barriers that we fought to overcome on individual levels. There are great things ahead for women representatives!” — Molly Morrison, territory rep, Quality Sales, Inc.

“WRExpo 2018 provided us with an amazing opportunity to network and develop key relationships with like-minded women independent sales representatives. I am pleased with the sense of community and camaraderie which developed over the weekend. This event created a comfortable environment in which we shared experiences, resources, best practices, and ideas. The topics covered were relevant and the discussions which occurred during each session added value both on a professional and personal level. I was inspired by the knowledge and experiences shared by each woman in attendance. Overall, I feel that the WRExpo community is a unique and powerful resource for women to connect, offer support and share resources. I look forward participating in future conferences and events.” — Keynae Agnew, CPMR, CEO/president, Agnew Pacific Enterprises, LLC.

“Attending the WRE2018 was the best thing I could have done for myself and our sales rep business. I am not a sales rep — yet! I am the office administrator and often called upon to help with the needs of a supplier and/or customer. I saw this conference as an opportunity for me to gain more knowledge to support our sales staff. What I found was so much more.

“Going to this conference was totally out of my comfort zone, as I work in the office and I knew these women were all sales reps. What I found was a group of women that were supportive of each other, a totally different perspective of being sales rep (I work with all men) as well as more knowledge and tools for the industry.

“I have often thought about becoming a sales rep but have been scared to pull the trigger. Being with this group of women this weekend, feeling the camaraderie and having the support of these women, I am now ready to start the process of becoming a sales representative.” — Kara Brashear, administrator, Central Tower Exchange Corp.

Michelle Jobst, CPMR, is a graduate of the College of St. Catherine, St Paul, Minnesota with degrees in speech communications and international business economics. Jobst has over 20 years experience in technical sales; her work history includes experience in customer service and export. She is a member of the Rubber Division, ACS (American Chemical Society) and SPE (Society of Plastic Engineers). While she started working at Jobst Incorporated in 1994, she grew up with the business in her home when her father started out in 1978.