What Manufacturers Value in Their Reps

by Ed Juline, CPMR, CSP, Mexico Representation

The selection of manufacturers’ representatives can be one of the most overlooked yet critical activities that a sales manager or leader can undertake. Once the decision is made to include the use of reps as an alternative or supplement to an internal sales force, the process for the evaluation and selection of the reps must be as meticulously designed and followed as any process for hiring a full-time internal resource. A year or more lost with a rep can set a company back even longer when considering the time required to train and replace the rep.

As a global director of sales with responsibility for reps, agents and distributors worldwide, who also used to be a full-time rep and still owns a rep firm, my approach to the question of “what manufacturers value in their reps” truly comes from an evaluation of both sides of the coin. To be asked by one of your principals to become their global director of sales based on the work you did for them as a rep is quite an honor and when your belief in that company and its products is strong enough, you’re faced with a predicament regarding your dream to own a business and the opportunity to help a principal do something spectacular. In my case, I was able to retain ownership of the firm and by hiring a sales manager who admittedly might be more capable than I am at running the rep firm, I was able to take the opportunity.

Although knowledge of a manufacturer’s product line or industry can be valuable, I have trouble including it as it varies from industry to industry and isn’t always absolutely necessary. Relationships and knowledge of a specific territory can also be valuable but with today’s turnover among purchasing, engineering and production people and the advent of the millennial employee, those relationships seem to need refreshing and can be originated much faster than in the past.

Three of the universal cultural values or firm personality traits that I always tried to present to our principals and that I look for in reps and agents are as follows:

  1. Hungry fighters — One of the best job descriptions for a salesperson I’ve ever read, to quote Harvey Mackay, “Nothing can ever beat a hungry fighter with a positive attitude.” It’s short, simple and describes perfectly what a manufacturer needs from its reps. The interesting part is that this one simple description can easily ferret out the bad or underperforming reps by simply asking them to give a specific example of why they are a hungry fighter with a positive attitude. The good ones can do it without blinking an eye.
  2. Patient and persistent — It’s the rare case that a manufacturer will use reps when the sale is a simple or repetitive process. This is the perfect example of when to use an inside sales force. Therefore, an outside rep is employed when the sales cycle is long or the touches infrequent and thus patience and persistence need to be key traits of the rep. Once a manufacturer sees a rep losing patience with a deal or wanting to give up at the first adversity, the red flags should be going up.
  3. Sales process — Although the rep firm does not have to follow our sales process or a standard sales process, I want to know that they have a process. How do they identify potential customers? How do they make contact with those customers? How do they qualify those customers? How do they get the customer to trial or get an RFQ, and how do they then convert to a sale? Whenever I hear a rep talking about the next step in the process or even two steps ahead in the process, I know we are in good hands.

Each manufacturer will value different things in their reps, but each manufacturer decides on a few core characteristics to value and typically sticks to those with the selection and retention of reps.

Ed Juline, CPMR, CSP, has been working in manufacturing operations and sales in Mexico for 15 years. When IBM decided to move the manufacturing from North Carolina to Guadalajara, Jalisco, they needed someone to lead the project. Juline raised his hand and said “I’ll do it!” After a successful transplant, he wasn’t quite done with Mexico, taking the severance that a non-manufacturing IBM was offering and going on to work for Nypro as the Dell Business Unit manager and then Pertek-Erler as plant manager. When MacDermid Autotype wanted to get into the Mexican market and searched LinkedIn for the keywords “Mexico Plastics Appliances,” Juline’s profile was at the top of the list. The transition to sales led to solicitations for representation from a number of companies wanting to sell into Mexico and Mexico Representation was formed.