by Charles Ingram, VP of Sales & Marketing, Eriez Magnetics
A common topic of discussion among manufacturers’ sales managers, besides the exploits of their favorite sports team, is how to get their reps’ attention for their company — and keep it.
While there are certainly special or unique methods many manufacturers use (no, I’m not sharing our unique ones here), several tips are worth reviewing to assure your company has best practices in place to garner your reps’ attention.
Treat your rep as a partner in the business of sales
Remember, both the rep and manufacturer have value for each other. The “Us and Them” attitude simply will not foster a positive relationship. When reps are made to feel that they are truly partners with their principals in serving mutual customers, this team approach will benefit each and contribute to growth and camaraderie.
Answer the phone. Respond to emails promptly. Collaborate on communication with customers. Manufacturers who respond promptly and clearly to reps’ inquiries and needs will gain respect and selling time from their rep sales force.
No agreed-upon expectations? Don’t be surprised when there’s a disconnect in performance measurements. Clearly communicating expectations of both parties keeps reps focused and comfortable with their role in your partnership.
Perhaps highest on the list for earning and keeping your reps’ attention is generating sales leads for them. Sure, magazine “bingo cards” are a thing of the past and today’s customer inquiries come through many different portals; however, the best way to motivate reps remains getting quality sales leads into their hands.
Offer regular training
Not sales training. Application, product and company training. Give your reps the tools to educate customers on how to best use your products. Your training programs should also include time devoted to helping your reps understand and absorb your company’s culture, strategies and history. After all, your reps are out in the field representing your company brand, not just your products.
Be sure to provide your rep team with regular updates and insights into your company’s activities, marketing plans and strategies. This can be accomplished through newsletters, meeting minutes, general announcements and, as with our company, a rep-specific portal on your website.
An important and valuable contributor to communication exchange is a well-organized and structured Rep Council. Our company implemented an active Rep Council with helpful tips from MANA over 25 years ago. Our Rep Council practices transparency, unfiltered communication and healthy dialogue that has served us very well over the years. Be sure to promote and publicize actions attributable to Rep Council meetings so all your reps know they have a voice on the team. MANA can help you establish a valuable Rep Council, too.
Reps love new and improved products and services. A manufacturer who strives for continuous improvement in these and other areas of their company is a manufacturer with which reps are eager to be associated.
Make sure your reps know they are free to contact all levels of management. Just understanding that they aren’t limited to their principal’s sales manager will help solidify reps’ feeling part of the team.
Pay commissions due on time!
This one seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it? Well, over my years in sales management I’ve been continually surprised at the stories I hear from reps about manufacturers who delay paying their reps commissions due or reducing commission after an order ships based on profitability. This is probably the best (and fastest) way to lose your reps’ attention.
Years ago, when commission checks were “snail mailed,” my company’s commission checks were completed a day later than usual. We sent out our reps’ checks by overnight delivery so they’d arrive on the same day as they would have if mailed. We still get positive comments from our reps about this effort to keep our commitment.
Side note: Our company learned about the trend toward wire transfers of commission payments from an article in Agency Sales years ago and have processed payments this way ever since. If your company is still mailing paper checks to your reps, change to the faster, safer wire transfer method. Your reps will thank you.
By now, you’ve very likely thought of some other tips of your own to get and keep your reps’ attention. That’s good. Make it a regular review subject with your management team — and your rep partners.
Charles H. Ingram, in a career spanning over 37 years, has served in management at several leading tool manufacturers as well as led factory-direct, distribution and independent manufacturers’ representative selling organizations throughout North America and abroad. Ingram is executive vice president and chief marketing officer for Eriez Magnetics, which designs, develops, manufactures and markets advanced technology equipment for magnetic separation, vibratory applications, metal detection, and materials conveying and controlling applications from 11 manufacturing operations worldwide. He is the first manufacturer elected to the MANA Board of Directors. He received a bachelor’s degree in political science and history at Denison University, Granville, Ohio, and completed advanced management studies at the University of Tennessee.