Setting the Record Straight About Reps

Independent rep Richard Fairbrother of Taylor Sales in New Hampshire says the maligned group is necessary to the survival of both manufacturers and dealers.

Setting the Record Straight About Reps
Richard Fairbrother · December 7, 2012

“Do you know what they’re saying about you?” Over the past two weeks, my email has been inundated with forwards, comments and speculation regarding certain articles and video addressing the value of Rep Firms, and the Reps within. These comments, ranging from both good to many bad, even some outrageous, have ignited a firestorm regarding the discussion of Reps, and whether or not we have value to anyone within the industry. 

As a Rep in the industry, and now principal of my firm, I find it hard not to be distracted by these comments and even harder not to have a knee-jerk reaction to many of them. It’s human instinct. But then the Rep in me kicks in and the first question I ask is, “Why are these questions and comments even being made in the first place?” The second part of my Rep instinct kicked in and said, “This is an opportunity to set the masses straight!”

Since Larry Pexton went on record first, I decided to call him up and ask him the motivation behind his question. As quoted: “Where are the bright, young, up-and-coming manufacturers’ reps who will offer the right kind of education?”

My conversation with Larry was excellent. Triad Speakers has long been using Reps and sees the value in them. His was an honest question, simply pondering the future of new Reps as they provide a particular skill set and solve one of the issues in selling their product to dealers and ultimately, the end users. Larry was thoughtful, engaging and very up-front. I gave him some reasons as to why and he thought they were observant and true as well. 

Cue then, the release of the Azione Unlimited’s roundtable discussion about the value of Reps, which, strangely enough, had no Reps in the room. It does seem incredulous to me to have a conversation about Reps, without inviting Reps. One was invited, but it “didn’t work out.” 

When I spoke with Richard Glikes, president of Azione Unlimited, he informed me that the original motivation was based on a vendor meeting in St Louis, and the questions, now out in the open, were first bandied about by vendors, in June 2012. Citing it wasn’t the time or place on the agenda for such discussion, it was brought up as a talking point recently, to which the video shows. He and I also had a great conversation, and many thanks go to him for being so transparent with what happened and the information contained therein.

Some of the comments were extremely critical. Some were full of hyperbole (hope I’m not in the 20 percent that must die). Some were flat out ignorant.  Many were supportive. But what everyone in the room seemed to agree to is that the current “Rep Model” is broken and it’s up to us Reps to fix it!  Be careful what you wish for.

The final straw was the somewhat insulting list of 36 Pieces of Advice Reps need to know”. As if hearing many critical or disparaging remarks regarding our performance, ability and worth in our industry in the video wasn’t enough, we were then handed a list of how to do our jobs. Gee thanks, I had no idea. Insulting, at the least. As Mr. Spock would say, “Sauce for the goose, Mr. Saavik.”

Hey, isn’t what’s good for the goose, good for the gander?  My mother used to say that if people start looking at others and throwing stones, it’s to hide insecurities of their own.  Especially the neighborhood bullies.  And I suspect, that the reason the discussion was brought forth, wasn’t for the purpose of letting the Reps benefit from a groundswell of outcry that we aren’t paid enough or are jobs should be made easier in light of two sets of clients and the economy.  We may never know.

Reps Are Vital for Survival
Now, a few Reps immediately spoke out, others spoke out as well. But since I expected some sort of unified response from Rep associations, or more comments from Reps themselves and don’t see them, I decided I could sit on the sidelines no longer.

Before we begin, let’s realize that Reps currently have jobs because we are necessary to the survival of both manufacturers and dealers. Manufacturers don’t have to time, expertise or money to pay the amount of people needed to replace a Rep Firm.  Dealers can’t afford to be wrong about their product choices or business practices.  They at some point need to rely on the counsel of others.  The fact we already exist should be anyone’s first clue as to the fact we have value.

What Reps Do
My job, as defined by my predecessor, is to actively represent our manufacturers and our dealer base within our territory in the hopes of impacting sales revenues. Simple, right? Hardly. In any given day, I am responsible for:

  • Build a relationship with every dealer in our database.  (Can take 6 minutes, can take a year, might be never).
  • Be aware of our territory and to whom each dealer does what.
  • Understand the products and services currently offered by each dealer to each of the their customers.
  • Understand any pre-existing or future political/relationship potential hiccups with any dealer/manufacturer/customer among and between any other dealer/manufacturer/customer.
  • Understand the needs of my manufacturers.
  • Understand the needs of my dealers.
  • Understand the most beneficial and potentially prolific placement of all products within my manufacturer’s item lists.
  • Understand and extoll the story of our manufacturers in addition to building the value of their products and services in relation to profit, needs, and services offered by any dealer.
  • Create advertising/marketing campaigns on behalf of our manufacturers who don’t have brand name recognition, or such departments.
  • Introduce our manufacturers to our dealer base, with the hopes of impacting sales.
  • Introduce the concept of how the dealers would be able to sell said products, to achieve greater profit, differentiate themselves from competition and provide excellent services through quality, performance and price.
  • Teach dealers how to interface with customers who don’t know the value of performance or an experience, all the while when they believe the word value means “price.” (HDMI cables anyone?)
  • On any given day, drive 0-230 miles for an appointment.
  • While you’re on the road, manage any incoming calls, emails and/or texts to provide.
  • Buy lunches and dinners.
  • Listen.
  • Give advice. (This only applies when dealers or manufacturers ASK us to.)
  • Give the right advice.
  • Provide tech support.
  • Apply our knowledge of our territory, successful sales tactics, and new and creative solutions in which other dealers are partaking, in an effort to make all dealers better.
  • Answer the phone. (Apparently within 24 hours, which I find astounding as most of ours are done within 15 minutes, unless we’re in a dealer meeting which we don’t answer our phones and the meeting may take one to two hours).
  • Answer emails. (Apparently within 24 hours, which I find astounding as most of ours are done within 15 minutes, unless we’re in a dealer meeting which we don’t answer our emails, and the meeting may take an hour to two hours).
  • Accurately know every single thing about every single item in our line cards.
  • Provide timely information and price sheets.
  • Take weekly, monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly sales calls from our manufacturers.
  • Report weekly, monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly to or manufacturers.
  • Be blamed when sales suck. (It happens.)
  • Be accused of “clerking” sales when sales are good. (It happens, a guy on an internet video told us so.)
  • Handle RAs (return authorizations), provide technical support and make sure no damage is done by the manufacturer to the dealer and vice versa when things go both right and wrong.
  • Paint a picture of where and how any dealer can be successful, not only with our products, but truthfully with anyone’s.
  • Have consistent and timely communication with all dealers and manufacturers.
  • Attend mandatory meetings at trade shows.
  • Arrange trainings and/or webinars between us dealers and manufacturers.
  • Attend your open houses and help with the sales process.
  • Help consult with you onsite, with your customers, as the “expert.”
  • Research and identify trends and sales techniques that are new, worthwhile or old and vulnerable.
  • Know who’s going out of business and who’s getting into business.
  • Share news, both good and bad.
  • Interface with distributors/buying groups.  (Many of whom sell into our territories without us seeing a penny.)

  About the Author

Richard Fairbrother is principal of Taylor Sales in New Hampshire. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Richard at [email protected]

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