What’s the Value of a Rep Council?

by Craig Lindsay, CPMR, CSP, Pacesetter Sales & Associates

It seems to me that many of our manufacturers have either done away with or for some reason have lost interest in having rep councils in the last 15 years. When I started in the rep business there were a number of our principals that had councils and it was often considered an honor to be part of one. Like all things, there had to be value added for them to continue so presumably someone (and maybe both parties) lost interest due to a lack of value to the participants. Many of us have likely been part of these in the past and perhaps have experienced this. From the principal’s point of view they became complaining sessions and from the rep point of view
there was a belief that “nothing ever happened from them anyway.”

The downside of the disappearance of these sessions is twofold; first, it seems as if the relationship between manufacturer and rep is changing and it may be related to this. At one point, these rep councils created a spirit of teamwork between manufacturers and reps — we worked together on problem solving and business building and it felt like we were all in this together with better understandings of each other’s needs and opportunities. It is fair to say that collaboration in any business can be omnipotent and certainly for our prototypical model where we have do have a “business-to-business” relationship that exists as opposed to a “principal-subordinate” relationship. Ultimately we both want the same end result. Without this constant higher level contact, discussion and involvement from the business leaders of our respective businesses the fear is the relationship will become more adversarial over time. I think we would all agree that this would be an unproductive environment to work in.

The second and conceivably more concerning downside is the ability to deal collectively, openly and constructively with the changes in our business that we see coming in the future. For example, there is certainly a move afoot for consumers (both business and individual) to buy online through Internet suppliers (insert Amazon here). Today, the impact may be nominal, yet the trend over the next 10 years is in this direction. So, how does compensation work for this — what is fair for both parties, how is it traced, etc, etc. There are other daunting topics that bring on challenges for all involved. If you deal with distributors then the question of “private labeling” is rearing its head (and has been for a number of years now) yet in many cases there is no solution on how to deal with this in the manufacturer-rep relationship. As well, many manufacturers are setting up to allow end users to purchase directly on their website and this has an impact on the level of involvement of both parties. One can argue pros and cons to this strategy; however the reality is that it will happen and the levels of responsibility should be dealt with. Others factors that will impact our collective businesses are CRM implementation, services offered and compensated for, sales process, and alignment of expectations versus compensation.

All big topics — this author certainly does not profess to have the answers for these key issues that will need to be addressed in the coming years. I am confident there are solutions. As the saying goes, “None of us are as good as all of us,” so rep councils can be a conduit toward putting us back together to finding solutions that meet all parties’ needs. If your principals are not active with a rep council, I would encourage you to make it a topic so we can all work effectively in the future.

Craig Lindsay founded Pacesetter Sales & Associates in 1992. Now, 20 years later, Pacesetter has representation from coast to coast in Canada with providing both safety and industrial products. A MANA member from the beginning and past District Director, Lindsay also serves on the Board of Directors for CPSA (Canadian Professional Sales Association). A past president of SEMAA and former board member for NIRA, Lindsay holds both his CPMR and CSP designations.