What Makes a Great Principal?

by Lisa Wilson, L.S. Wilson & Associates, Inc.

I recently saw the movie Elvis, the story about the rise and fall of Elvis Presley. There is a man in the movie by the name of Tom Parker (“The Colonel”), played by Tom Hanks. The Colonel latched on to Elvis because he could see early on how talented he was. The Colonel, of course, had ulterior motives for connecting with Elvis, but I won’t tell you what those were in case you want to see the movie yourself. The Colonel took 50 percent of all the money that Elvis made. Needless to say, he “used Elvis.” As I think about it, Elvis was used just like a lot of independent sales representatives.

It was in the midst of a conversation with the president of one of the principals I represent that it occurred to me that I should write about the attributes that make a great principal — someone who is quite different from the Colonel.

We (the principal and I) were discussing the response I had received regarding pricing for a potential customer that I have solicited for three years. The feedback the company president offered me was extremely valuable in assisting me to get the order. I actually went so far as to compliment the president and let him know how appreciative I was.

This man had been in sales prior to taking over his own company. He sold the same products that I am selling now and sold them to the same industry. He is intimately familiar with the equipment the products are used for. His experience and input have been extremely beneficial for me.

This man wants me to succeed and always has. At the beginning of our relationship, I asked him if I could visit his company’s factory to see firsthand how the products are made, and more important to meet the people who make it happen. He really liked this idea, and as a follow-up he had two factory salesmen take me to their accounts so I could learn different applications for the products I was going to sell. This helped a great deal. It’s always good to know how other customers and markets are using the products you are selling.

Next, I asked if I could speak with some other independent sales representatives. He immediately provided me with a list to contact.

If the aforementioned are some attributes we as reps should look for in a desirable principal, here are some additional thoughts:

  • Provides leads and is willing to turn business over to me within my territory.
  • Knows what questions I should ask.
  • Guides and helps steer me in the right direction — something I don’t mind at all.
  • Offers to go on sales calls with me to help secure the sale. I don’t get offended and don’t feel or think that this person is trying to do my job for me. I don’t feel threatened that the customer will be taken away from me. It’s all good.
  • Trust this person 100 percent. We both operate the same way and have told each other we like doing business with one another.

The president told me because I worked so hard to get the opportunity to quote, he wants to help me do everything I can to secure the business. As an example, he offered to provide 55-gallon drums for free and if the customer likes it, they pay. If they don’t like it or it does not work, they don’t have to pay.

I tell the president that I like the way he does business, and he replies by saying, “I like the way you do business, too.”

  • This principal pays for all my meals, tolls, gas and hotels. This is the type of principal that you don’t mind working hard for and will go the extra mile.

This is the type of principal you will do anything for. There has always been good open communication from the beginning and we both make it a point to communicate often. This makes both parties feel they are doing their jobs and it enhances the rapport.

While I previously listed some attributes for the ideal principal, here are some signs pointing to a poor principal:

  • Not willing to sign a contract.
  • You don’t feel you can trust this person.
  • Not willing to share any expenses.
  • Keeps the sales representative out of the loop. Does not let the sales representative know when a customer calls, why the customer called, and what the customer wants.
  • Does not pay the sales representative on a timely basis.
  • Does not copy sales representative on quotes to the customer. You have to ask for the quote.
  • Does not provide any leads to the sales representative.
  • Has existing business in your territory but wants it to remain a house account.
  • Not willing to provide market development fees.
  • Tries to reduce the sales commission.
  • Does not offer training.
  • Will not allow you to talk to other sales representatives.
  • The people that work for the company are not happy and there is a lot of turnover.

For more information on finding out what to look for in a good principal, check Agency Sales magazine online and type in “what makes a great principal.” Additionally, check out the MANA Resources Section online. There are many resources with great topics in the MANA Resources Section in the member area of the association website (www.MANAonline.org).

Lisa Wilson is president & owner of L.S. Wilson & Associates, Inc., a manufacturers’ representative firm based in Bristol, Wisconsin that has been in business since 1998. Before opening her rep firm, Wilson spent 23 years in manufacturing positions that included purchasing management, production scheduling and planning, and customer service. Wilson also is on the Board of Directors for the Chicago Rail Mechanical Association.