It’s Only Common Sense: Rethinking The Rep Situation

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When are fabricators going to get it?

I spend a lot of my time helping board shops with their rep issues. I spend too much time trying to convince these shops that they are going to have to change the way they handle their rep relationships. They’re going to have to start treating reps as partners rather than secondhand citizens if they want this whole thing to work. It’s that simple.

I am constantly amazed when fabricators tell me without batting an eye that they have the “best shop in the industry.” They claim to have the best service in the industry, and they believe that reps should be beating a path to their door for the privilege of selling for them.

I really get a kick out of shop owners who tell me that any rep should be delighted to sell for them, because, “We are no worse than anyone else.” I’m not kidding. Some owners actually say that.

And then they proclaim their reps to be a bunch of “lazy bums,” and that everything would be OK if I could only find them the “right” reps to sell their terrific products. When I ask them if they have a marketing plan or are doing any advertising, all I get is a loud snort and an impatient, “Who needs that stuff? We don’t need any of that. We just need the right reps.”

I ask them if they have a program for managing the reps. I point out that one of my partners offers a very successful, proven plan that will guarantee that their rep program will succeed, but they scoff and say, “We talk to our reps all the time and don’t need any of that.”

When I ask them if they are willing to give reps house accounts, they refuse even before the words have time to pass my lips. “No way will we ever do that. They have to earn their accounts; they have to bring in new business and not even go near our current accounts.”

When I point out that it is better to serve an account locally than from 3,000 miles away, and giving the reps these accounts makes perfect sense, I still can’t budge them.

When I ask them if they would be willing to pay a small retainer or even a draw to get the reps started, since it is a very long, expensive process to find new accounts, get them surveyed and qualified and get that first order, and then wait another 60 days to get paid, the fabricators just about come through the phone, roaring, “No way will we ever do that! We did that once and the reps screwed us!”

And here is the clincher: When I tell them I might be able to recommend a pretty good rep in, let’s say, New England, they tell me, “Well, we can’t really put in a rep in that territory because we already have a rep there, but he isn’t doing anything for us right now.”

And when I ask why he isn’t doing anything, and why don’t they try talking to him to get him going again, they tell me, “Well, we owe him a bunch of money and have not been able to pay him for six months…but he should still be trying to sell for us, right?”

So, if you are a board shop owner and any of these scenarios sound familiar to you, good! Maybe you’ll get it one of these days. Now I am going to make it easy for you to understand:

If you see yourself in any of these examples, you need to know that reps are tired of working with your company and companies like yours.

They are sick and tired of being screwed by you. Your product is not always great and, frankly, neither is your service. It is not a great privilege to sell your products. And as the market gets tougher and tougher, it is that much more difficult to represent you and nearly impossible to make any real money representing you.

Besides all of the usual pitfalls of representing a board shop, there is always this other dilemma: Your rep could be too successful, bringing in so much business that when your accounting department sees how much you are going to owe them when the next orders come in, you think nothing of terminating them. Never mind the fact that reps are always at the bottom of the stack of people you have to pay, and if you go out of business they are always at the top of the list of creditors who will never get paid!

Now do you get it? Those of you who continue to disrespect your reps and not cooperate with them are not going to be able to sign them for much longer, so you are going to have to find another way to sell your products.

For those of you who are willing to enter the 21st century and embrace a new rep/principal relationship, listen up!

You are going to have to treat your reps with the trust and courtesy that a true partner deserves. You are going to have to make sure that the relationship is a win-win. And, yes, you are going to have to pay the piper. Pay your reps a retainer, or at least give them some accounts if you want to have them work for you. That’s all there is to it…it’s not that hard.

It’s only common sense.





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