Rep Yourself!

This post might come out of left field for some of you who don’t actively follow this blog, but for those of you who are active participants in the promotional products industry, I’m this will hit a chord somewhere.

For a reason unbeknownst to me; suppliers in this industry feel the NEED to hire outside/3rd party sales staff to represent their product lines.

What exactly is an outside sales rep you might ask?

Let me clarify – Instead of building out their OWN sales force internally/organically, some suppliers opt for the “work for hire” option. I’m not exactly sure what the requirements or experience one must have before they can call themselves worthy of the title “outside sales rep”, but from my experience, it doesn’t take much!

Don’t get me wrong, there are some OUTSTANDING sales reps out there, but they are a to few and far between in this industry. We feature products from dozens of major industry suppliers, representing most of the Counselor Top 40, in our product catalog online, yet I bet I can only count the number of 1/2 way decent sales reps on one hand if I tried.

What’s my definition or what do I feel makes a decent outside sales rep you might ask? I judge the sales reps assigned to our account by three main criteria: Knowledge, Attentiveness, and Ability to take Action. Anything else is just the frosting on the cake.

I’ll start with knowledge. Nothing frustrates me more than when a supplier rep comes into my office and READS me their catalog word for word. No offense, but I gave up the magic carpet and reading time in Kindergarten (though those WERE THE DAYS!). I’ve sat through countless meetings where I full heartedly believe I knew more about the line or product they were representing or trying to sell than they themselves did. Isn’t this there job? Is product XYZ CSPA compliant? Is this product pad printed or screen printed? How’s this product selling? What’s hot? Going back to me post last week about Supplier X announcing that they’d be relocating their production facilities to a different state (without sharing this with any of their key accounts first!), when speaking to our outside sale rep for Supplier X earlier this week, they didn’t even know this was going on and scheduled to take place NEXT WEEK! If you insist on meeting and consuming my valuable time; please, Please, PLEASE have something more to talk about other than bragging about how you’ve added koozie can coolers to your product line, so instead of only have 3,000 different suppliers to source this exact same product from, I’ve now got 3,001. Ground breaking stuff. Come prepared. Give me something that is going to excite me, even better, provide me with some ideas , items, or share some news that’s going to help us BOTH make more money. Don’t just roll in the office unannounced with a duffel bag full of crappy products I’ll never sell, pulling each product out of the bag one by one like a human PowerPoint slideshow.

Second criteria I judge a rep by is their attentiveness to our account, our needs, and the industry as a whole. If you don’t know what’s going on with our account, our sales, or what our needs are, yet you’re the once responsible for managing it with the supplier you represent, how do you expect us to react? Communication is key. Did you add some new products to your line recently that are really taking off? Tell us. Are the new 4th quarter flyers ready, share one! Is the factory closed, moving, flooded, or are you filing for bankruptcy tomorrow – tell somebody. My favorite is, we’ve reinvented ourselves, all those special perks you had to earn before by achieving sales of $100,000.00 or more a year are now available to all distributors, regardless of their sales volume, and for our valued distributors who do still do $100,000.00+ more business with us you’ll get a slightly nicer gift basket (Ghirardelli Chocolate instead of Hershey’s) this Christmas than those who only place one order a year with an average order value of $75.00. Oh yeah, by the way, those service offerings or volume pricing you earned before; um, yeah those are gone. All of this without even an email, formal press release, NOTHING! This has got to stop.

I don’t know what it is, but I think this industry would be so much stronger if we’d just pick up the phone and call one another instead of relying on big brother ASI or email as much as we do. It’s kind of sad, but how can one expect to forge a long lasting relationships built on trust, an almost PARTNERSHIP have you, if we can’t remember to tell one another that we’ll be out of stock on most of our for the balance of 2009 because we’re filing for Chapter 11 in a week?

Last but not least – a good outside sales rep should have the ability to take action. This is probably the most important measure of success for any sales rep and probably their most decisive and powerful tool in their respective toolbox – yet so many show up to our door with no intention of EVER following through on anything we discuss. Getting the basics like:

– A Copy of Your Image Library
– A List of Your Top 50 Products
– A Copy of Your 20XX Catalog
– A Phone Call or Email Back

is like pulling teeth. I hate reps who promise the world and don’t do anything. Sometimes it’s their fault, other times it’s not – the supplier doesn’t give them the tools, training, or self empowerment to make even the most basic of decisions on their own.

If I was an outside rep – I’d ask myself why am I working for this company if this is the case!

I hate sitting down for 3 hours, talking about how we can grow and increase business together, only to know the moment they step out that door everything we talked about will have gone in one ear and out the next. I see this happen all the time. Why is that I have a notepad and pen ready; taking notes as we talk, and all you’re doing is sitting there with your bag of tricks pulling one trinket out after another as if your showcasing the products on QVC or something. I’m sad to admit even some of our BEST reps still suffer from this… Not returning phone calls, being unable to resolve problems with the suppliers they themselves represent and serve as our primary contact for… it’s ridiculous. There is one supplier rep in particular that represents an organization out of Hauppauge, NY. This rep is so out of touch from reality that I even wonder if he knows what email is let alone ever used a NON rotary phone.

Alright, enough nagging…

I flat out HATE supplier reps as they often do very little to improve the supplier distributor relationship, and in my honest opinion, they often make things WORSE – it’s just one more layer of BS one must go through before we can get through to the decision makers at the suppliers themselves . Think of the game of telephone. By the time the message has been repeated enough times from person to person and the message finally reaches its intended recipient; the message had most often changed from that of the original. Take that times 10 and you’ve got an outside sales rep for you!

Combine this with the fact that most outside sales reps more often than not directly profit (receive a % of sales) from sales between the distributor and supplier that are NOT a direct result of their efforts and you have yourself a fat cat, no, a parasite, robbing everyone of their time, money, and if you ask me – their decency.

Suppliers – please, please, PLEASE heed my call… Get rid of these suppliers reps. Dig deep, do the dirty work yourselves, train your own sales forces, and we’ll all reap the benefits! For all you outside sales reps out there, I don’t know how you sleep at night… If there was ever going to be a day and your number was to be pulled/your gig be up – it’s now. Start packing there is no need or room for you in this industry.

SIDE NOTE: We often don’t get to pick them or have any say in who gets assigned to rep our account!

Bret Bonnet

Co-owner of Quality Logo Products - Bret is a high energy, gadget loving nerd who is PASSIONATE about Quality Logo Products. Recently selected as a member of the "Top 30 Under 30" by Counselor Magazine, he has been working in the promotional products industry since he was 16. Bret is constantly playing with his iPhone and his favorite TV show of all time is Fraggle Rock. You can connect with Bret on Google+.

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