You Can’t Sell From an Empty Wagon

by Charles Cohon, President and CEO, MANA

“I want to hire some reps for the new product I am bringing out in six months,” said the manufacturer who called me. “Can you help me?”

My response was not what she wanted to hear, but it was what she needed to hear.

“I’m glad to hear about your interest in reps. Reps will be the best way to take your new product to market. I understand your eagerness to start recruiting reps right away. In your shoes, I also would want to start “getting my ducks in a row” before my product was ready to launch.

“With apologies, though, my experience working with reps suggests this will not be effective. Reps you contact before your launch are most likely to respond in one of two ways:

1. “Your prototype looks great, but I only get paid once I actually sell something. If you don’t have anything I can sell yet, there is no way for me to get paid, so I will need to wait until you have a product I can sell and you can ship to a customer before moving forward.”

2. “I don’t doubt that you intend to launch your product, but I have had previous experiences where I have started to work on a product, only to discover that some unanticipated issue arose, and the product never launched. Lots of things can happen. A major investor can back out, there can be a regulatory issue like a failed environmental test, or a competitor can unexpectedly corner the market by launching ahead of you. I am ready to start once you launch, but I can’t start before you launch.”

“There is one other option. You could offer reps you hire pre-launch a monthly Market Development Fee to start selling now. But if you pay reps to start selling pre-launch, their customers will probably say: ‘Sounds great, come back and talk to me again later when I can actually buy this product.’”

Whether you are trying to recruit reps or customers, as my late father used to say, “You can’t sell from an empty wagon.”

Charles Cohon, CPMR, is CEO and president of MANA. In 2016 Cohon earned the Certified Association Executive (CAE) designation after completing American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) coursework and testing. Cohon also earned an MBA with honors and with concentrations in strategic management and entrepreneurship from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and was founder and owner of a very successful Illinois manufacturers’ representative firm for nearly 30 years before joining MANA.