Selling through a network of third-party reps or sales agents can be a challenge. How do you get more than your fair share of their time?
When I was marketing a line of electronic components at Panasonic, we spent a lot of time thinking about the most effective ways to work with our sales partners. Along with a very smart sales leader, Dave Kenneth, we came up with an approach to becoming the emotional favorite which seemed to work pretty well.
Easy to Do Business With
This was the guiding principle around which all other decisions were made. If sales reps find it easy and low-stress to work with you, they’ll be more inclined to push your products. After working with the principals at a a few of the best Electronic Manufacturers Reps, we focused on the following:
- Be fair and honest
- Provide top-quality training and sales tools
- Deliver excellent support through the engineering and inside-sales teams
- Listen to feedback
- Run contests and incentives that align with the reps’ goals
So, how’s it done? Here are some ideas on hitting the right note in each area:
Fair and Honest
Like any relationship, you need to meet on even terms. Even though, as the supplier, you are likely to be a larger organization (with more lawyers!) than the rep, make the contract terms mutual where possible. Provide clear rules on territories and house accounts; carve out exclusive territories or clearly-defined verticals; and include reasonable payouts for taking customers direct. The criteria for converting a rep customer to a house account should be clear and reasonable – and always discuss with the rep management before making an account direct.
Training and Sales Tools
Gone are the days when you can expect all the sales reps to be in the office on Monday morning for “mandatory product training.” Your knowledge base needs to be online, accessible 24/7 – whenever and wherever a rep wants to learn – and mobile-friendly.
Add incentives for completing training modules or passing progress tests, and use gamification with leaderboards and head-to-head contests between offices.
If you make it easy for reps to get information – technical specs, pricing, shipments – then you make it easy for them to pull in the order. Set them up with a dedicated inside sales contact, give them online access to product information and price sheets, and get your technical team to visit the territory and make joint calls.
Sales Incentives and Contests
Base the contest on products and selling behaviors that both you and the reps care about, otherwise – unless the reward is substantial – it will just become noise. Keep the rules and qualification simple, so the rep doesn’t need an algorithm to know if they’re winning. And use leaderboards and regular communications to show them how they’re doing against other reps, and progress towards the goal.
You can’t beat traveling with the reps as a way to find out what they need. Ask them which sales tools they regularly use (yours, and from other suppliers); what’s most frustrating about working with your company; and what their best supplier does for them.
A Rep Council brings together a few of your reps to talk about specific topics on a regular basis. In-person is great if you can manage it, but phone-calls or virtual meetings can be effective too. Just be sure you’re willing to act on their recommendations.
I won’t guarantee that a focus on these will make you their #1 product line – brand-value, price points and market-share all play their part. But if you become the rep’s emotional favorite, you’ll soon find that you get more of their time and energy than the other suppliers.
If you want to read more, take a look at my white paper on Designing an Effective Sales Incentive Program
[Note: This article was originally published on Linkedin]