I recently answered a question on linked in with regards to working with independent sales representative firms (ISR) that is all too common. The Vice President who posted the question mentioned his frustration with independent sales representative firms. He went on to say “how do you hire good representatives as he has to change representatives often, and none seem to be opening new accounts and growing our companies’ market share?” I really do not have enough information at this point to answer his question.
I have hired independent representatives for over 15 years of my career. Good independent representatives are worth their weight in gold. The company that chooses to hire an independent sales force needs to understand the role of these professionals. The main role of independent reps is to use their current relationships, established through supplying complimentary product lines they represent, to get your product placed. They have built trust with buyers in their market, and their relationships with their accounts will ALWAYS be more important than your rep contract…and their relationship with you. Factories come and go, but the accounts in their market limited. Just as you may feel risk when you hire an independent representative firm, the firm actually has a greater risk. Each product line they represent is both an opportunity to become more important to their buyers and increase their income, as well as a risk. Should they agree to represent your products and your company fails to do what they say they would do, and or your product fails to meet your brand promise, the local sales representative not only loses potential commissions, but they run the risk of a break in trust. (Their most important asset they have with buyers)
If you are thinking of hiring independent sales representatives, I would ask you to answer the following questions…
So tell me…
· What market are you in?
· What problem does your product solve for that market?
· The representatives you choose, how did you choose them?
· Did you profile complimentary products that touched the same buyers, and then hired those representatives that had those lines?
· What is your commission structure in relation to the industry, other lines the representative carries?
· When you hired the independent representatives, where did you get their names?
· What % of the independent firms overall income do you represent in relation to the time required to sell your product?
· How well do you know the buying process for your products?
· Do you have sales tools you have developed to help the sales process match the stages of the buying process?
· Do you have written buyer personas?
· How does your competitor(s) sell? Direct, or with independent representatives?
· Did you hire them with base revenue in each market, or will they only “eat what they kill”?
· Do you have any “house” accounts in their market?… you know, the big guys you don’t pay independent representatives commissions for?
If independent sales representatives wanted to be “managed” they wouldn’t be “independent.” As a manufacturer, a “factory” your role is to provide products that solve unresolved market problems. Your job is to understand the market potential for your product and build obtainable goals from the market up. Unfortunately the majority of factories establish goals by extrapolation. (In other markets we have sold z units, and you have y number of those accounts, so your goal should be z times y…right? Wrong!
I am looking forward to hearing from those companies contemplating the hiring of independent sales representatives.
Please answer a few questions for me;
How did you establish the goals for their territory? Was the independent firm involved in the building of the territory goals?
Do you have written buyer personas?
Have you mapped the buying process?
Do you know the sales process for selling your products?
Have you identified sales tools for the steps each persona takes in the buying process?
If you answered “no” to any (all) of the above then your problem is not finding the right independent sales firm, it is what you lack, and it is how you have set your sales representatives up to fail. Independent sales representative have instant access to goal achieving accounts if equipped and set up to win. What independent sales representative are not…they are not magicians, nor are they your product management, development or marketing.
In my next post I will share how to find and hire independent representatives that add tremendous value quickly. I will discuss how hiring the right independent firm is the most cost effective investment you will make. I will discuss how even the biggest bean counting CFO will be thrilled with the ROI produced by independent sales representative firms.