On behalf of NSCA members, we want to say thanks to the independent manufacturers’ rep firms in our industry. Being an independent rep means that you work on straight commission, employ others, carry overhead, pay benefits, and take the same risks as every small business.
A rep business is one with few (if any) guarantees; most manufacturers place a 30-day termination clause in their contracts, which means the rep firm could lose that line with very little notice. That is added pressure which most companies don’t have to face.
Here’s what I’ve learned about independent “reps” over the years. There are good ones, and there are not-so-good ones, just like the contractors and manufacturers in our channel.
Here’s what the best reps do to set themselves apart (in my opinion) from the rest:
The best reps seem to carry the preferred product lines. But I think it’s more than that. The best ones always seem to have the first shot (or the last look) at new technology or the most popular brands. They take on “strategic” lines, which is often more of a benefit to the integrator.Their reputation, which extends to their lines, is everything. In our relatively small industry, everyone knows everyone – by making a few reference calls, the same names always seem to surface.
The best reps seem to have women working in key roles. In my observations, these women are very detail-oriented. That attention to detail keeps the little problems from becoming major problems. They educate, they check back, they don’t overcommit, and they do what they say they will do – without repeated follow-up. Many of these women think long-term better than their male counterparts, and seem to do a better job of communicating and managing conflicts.
The best reps don’t fear the 30-day contract. They have confidence in their skills and capabilities, participate in training, and invest in the product lines they carry. And they exceed expectation by focusing on getting the job done.
The best reps add value in every situation. They look at every sales call or visit as a way to better their relationship with the integrator, and never waste their time. They bring new opportunities and leads to the integrator, and are willing to stay by their side until the sale is complete.
The best reps only go to the end-users and consultants to educate, inform, and qualify a lead. They promote products with the intent of directing the sale through a qualified systems integrator in their network. Building and maintaining trust is a top priority. They’ve learned to manage the ever-changing buying influences as the dynamics of “who brings in who” has begun to shift. Often, this puts the rep in the driver’s seat for lead distribution, and in uncomfortable situations to make recommendations in certain markets.
The best reps are advocates for their customers; they fairly and professionally manage conflicts between the manufacturer, consultant, and integrators. They are there when we need them, regardless of the size of order or the complicated situation that developed. They work for – and are paid by – the manufacturer, but are advocates for consultants and integrators when issues arise.
The best reps hire and groom the best sales people. They bring on a technically savvy sales team members who are also capable educators. In some cases, these firms have purposely diversified into IT lines and adjacent technologies in order to build expertise in these areas, which can really be helpful to smaller integration companies.
I’m particularly proud of the rep firms that give back to the industry and sponsor events, do educational programs, improve their business and leadership skills, participate in professional development, and generously share that knowledge with our integrator members. So, for our friends who are professional independent reps, we just wanted to say “thanks” in case you don’t hear it very often. -Chuck Wilson, NSCA Executive Director