Selling to customers across the country can be daunting. How do you keep your company top of mind for your retail customers, how do you track when your retail customer will need a reorder, and how do you keep them up to date on new products, specials, inventory, and other relevant topics?
You can do this with an inside sales team who will add to your overhead or you can hire independent sales reps across the country who get paid as they sell. Neither way is wrong, a company just needs to decide which is the better option for them. If your company decides having independent sales representatives is the correct path, then here are the basics to get you started on a successful journey with your independent sales team.
- You want to scale your business and you don’t have the desire or perhaps the human resources and/or the financial resources to do it internally. Independent Sales Reps are the best avenue for you to grow your business.
- Independent Sales Reps are your partner, not the enemy – besides you and your loved ones, they want your business to succeed the most. BE THEIR PARTNER
- Keep in mind, as the Manufacturer, you have 3 customers to keep your product line in front of:
- Sales Representative
- Retail Buyer
- End Consumer
Respect, Communication, and Responsiveness are going to be the foundation of a good working relationship with your independent sales team.
Set the stage on how you will work together. I can not stress enough how important communication is between you and your sales reps.
- Work with each rep group principal to establish the best method to communicate with their group. Here are some options (choosing more than one option is encouraged):
- Is it bi-weekly/monthly newsletters to principals?
- Quarterly calls with principals?
- Monthly newsletters to all reps.
- Quarterly call to check in with each rep?
- Set sales goals with your rep principals’ input. Have regularly scheduled meetings with the rep principals to discuss the progress of their team on reaching their sales goals. Work together on any adjustments and support needed for the rep group to meet their goals.
- Set up an advisory board of sales reps to meet monthly or quarterly. Use this advisory board for input on sales promotions and new products. And for them to share what’s going on with independent retailers.
- Don’t forget what information your sales reps can provide you. They are your “boots on the ground”. They will see trends, find out what retailers are worried about, know what stores are doing for events, and a host of other things you want and need to know about the specialty retailer.
Status Check on the Basics
It is your responsibility as the manufacturer to provide the tools your sales reps need to properly sell your product line.
- Do your sales reps have all the materials they need to sell your line?
- Physical catalogs AND price sheets
- Digital file of catalogs, price sheets, product images and usable social media posts
- Current list of customers in their territory. You need to identify house accounts in their territory and share your house account policy.
- Product line spreadsheet including this information for each item in your line:
- long descriptor
- short descriptor
- keywords for search engines
- awards won
- link to the product web page on your website
- dimensions and weights
- case pack quantities
- wholesale price
- MAP Price
- Do you have a system in place to forward sales leads to the appropriate sales rep?
- Does your rep know how to properly submit an order? And do you confirm receipt of that order?
- Do your rep principals know how and when you’ll pay commissions?
- Do you have a spreadsheet of all sales reps with names, addresses, e-mail addresses, and cell phone numbers?
The left hand (your sales reps) should always know what the right hand (you) is doing – – NO SURPRISES!
Never let your sales rep learn news about your company from the customer. Things you should be communicating on a regular basis to your sales representatives:
- Your standard terms and your special sales promotions. Yes, it is important to regularly supply this information to your sales reps, they have many lines – remember the sales rep is your first customer, keep your line and pertinent information top of mind for them. Also, don’t overcomplicate your sales promotions, short flash promotions are typically not appreciated as a normal course of action. Follow the KISS rule on promotions (Keep It Super Simple).
- Inventory Status
- Any reviews or press coverage your products or company has had or awards won
- Your policies on selling on Amazon, Faire and any other third party sites
- Any policy changes or price changes
- Sales leads (your policy on house accounts vs rep accounts)
- The communication you’ve had with a retailer on an issue or a compliment (share this with the rep who covers the account and their principal)
- All reps should be on your retailer mailing and e-mail lists for promotions/newsletters that you send to retail customers (ideally, they should receive these communications a day or two prior to your retailers)
Having a good relationship with your sales reps comes down to communication, providing them what they need to do their job and mutual respect. Spend the time building that relationship. Some things to remember when you feel frustrated are:
- They are independent because they want to run their territory and set the rules on how they work. Most reps have long standing relationships with their customers and they use that to help sell your products.
- Not every product is right for every store.
- If they don’t sell, they don’t make money. And when they sell it takes 30 to 90 days or more before they see their commission.
- Remember they carry 30 plus lines, so they have 30 plus terms and specials to remember. And they have 30 plus sales managers/owners calling them and expecting to be the #1 priority.
- Be open to them providing you information – both good and bad. You need that flow of communication to be incoming as well as outgoing but if you aren’t easily accessible or aren’t open to hearing bad news or negative criticism then eventually your sales reps will stop telling you what you need to know.
Enjoy the relationships you will build with your sales teams, and the successful business you will grow together.