What Do Manufacturers Look for in a Rep?

by Charles Ingram,  VP of Sales & Marketing, Eriez Magnetics

The best manufacturer-rep relationships are those where both parties respect each other, understand their mutual expectations and have shared business values. While manufacturers may have some variations on the attributes of rep organizations they wish to represent them, there are some constants we all look for.

At Eriez Magnetics, where we’ve been working with independent manufacturers’ representatives for over 70 years, our best representative agencies possess the following:

A formal company overview — This sounds like a simple requirement all professional reps should have, but it’s surprising just how many agencies solicit representing our line without a basic presentation of their company. The best reps provide an overview of their history, markets served, territory covered, a synergistic product portfolio, services provided and current manufacturers represented.

Marketing skills — It’s true, manufacturers expect more from their representatives these days. Years ago, reps really served as field sales personnel. Sales leads were sent out to reps who then were the technical resource for their customers. Now, largely due to the Internet, product and technical information is more generally accessible. Customers are usually well along in their project research by the time a sales rep is contacted. The best reps have a formalized marketing program which actively promotes their company’s expertise, strengths, products and services.

Additionally, all professional rep agencies should have a quality website with links to the manufacturers they represent. We’re proud of our reps and want them to present a professional, concise picture of their agency to our mutual customers. After all, if a rep agency can’t promote their own company well, how can we expect them to do a good job promoting our company?

These programs, of course, should be integrated with their principals’. Reps serve as a manufacturer’s eyes and ears in the field, so their feedback and input regarding market trends, the competitive environment, and even rep council involvement is critical. When manufacturers’ and reps’ marketing strategies are aligned, their successes will multiply.

Customer relationships — Okay, this attribute has always been a constant in the manufacturer-rep relationship. The leading reason manufacturers go to market with independent reps is to leverage the customer relationships and local knowledge reps bring to the partnership. Our best reps know our customers’ key personnel, manufacturing processes, and hot buttons. They are familiar and are willing to assist with conflict resolution, too. Without solid customer relationships, a rep firm will not attract or maintain quality lines.

Business plan — This does not need to be a chapter book. Some of the best rep business plans I’ve ever read were only one page. They contained a brief summary of the agency’s focus, expertise and strategic direction. This illustrates to a manufacturer that the rep is operating a professional business, not just selling products.

MANA membership — You bet! Membership in the premier association for professional rep agencies signals to manufacturers that a rep is professional, serious about their business, and willing to invest in continuous education and development.

Succession plan — Well, you knew this one was coming. This is the one that causes manufacturer sales managers to lose sleep. What’s the future for my company’s representation in your territory? The manufacturer is looking for growth, sustainability and continuity in the organizations that represent them.

At our company, we’re fortunate to have an average tenure of over 20 years’ representation with our U.S. and Canadian reps, with six agencies on our team for over 50 continuous years. These representatives have the attributes referenced here that will continue to serve our long-standing relationships. Do you?

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 vice president of sales & marketing 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.