A Super Solution
Although there are certainly some disadvantages to working with independent representatives, overall, independent representatives are a great panacea for small or even medium-size businesses. Even if you can afford to hire a sales force, you may be better off selling through independent representatives. They have established contacts that you may not have, which can work to your advantage. They don’t require the direction of a sales manager, and they won’t eat up as much of your time as a sales force would. They are typically more stable. If your product sells, you can count on their services over a long period of time. And they are generally extremely talented salespeople.
You must make sure that your independent representatives are convinced that your product or service is super. Let them know that your product is a winner and that it sells. Tell them successful sales stories. They will be much more impressed by sales results than they will be by any press coverage or awards that your products or services have garnered.
Tell them how your other representatives are doing with their sales. Keep them updated on any important sales statistics via email, phone, or your website. But don’t harass them. Don’t imply that they might not be pushing your product hard enough. Be encouraging. Provide positive feedback whenever you can. The best time to introduce an independent representative to your product or service is at a sales conference.
Motivating sales representatives is like motivating people during political campaigns. Having a strong candidate is just the beginning of waging a successful sales effort. You need to constantly build momentum. Representatives always talk to one another even if their territories are geographically distant. If one representative likes your product and your company, his or her good word will encourage representatives in other regions to “push” it to their clientele.
Great products and great representatives still need great sales materials. Provide your reps with polished samples, literature, catalogs, specification sheets, or whatever seems most acceptable for your industry.
Avoid the Biggest
In every territory and in every industry there are one or more independent representatives or representative groups who have been around forever. They “rep” the best and strongest lines, have the highest visibility, and, in the case of representative groups, have a large base of sales personnel. Sounds great, but avoid the best like the plague!
Unless your product line is one of the top lines in its field, it will probably just become lost in the array of “terrific” products already represented by a top salesperson. There won’t be any incentive to push your product. And, more important, customers won’t have the time, interest, or energy to hear about your product during the same sales presentation when they are already hearing about lots of other, stronger products.
Instead, choose a representative who carries one or two lines that are strong enough to ensure being seen by most prospective customers but not so many lines that your product is unlikely to make it out of the bag. All too often, the customer will have had enough and say, “Okay, that’s enough for today. Leave me the literature on your smaller lines.” This is the kiss of death. No presentation means no sale.
Make sure the independent representative or representative firm you choose is aggressive and hungry. Make sure the representative really wants to sell your line and sell it hard.
Pay Them First
Independent sales representatives are very sensitive to the timing of their paychecks. They may not call you and complain if your checks are irregular or late, but they just aren’t going to sell your products as hard if you don’t pay them promptly. Stretch payments to your suppliers, not to your representatives.