In this industry, Manufacturer reps have historically been solely focused on selling their product line. Their time is spent signing up new dealers to sell their product, and most of their efforts and conversation are centered on convincing dealers to begin selling their line (or to continue selling their line).
Even with that limited scope many reps don’t even have an in-depth knowledge of their own line. They know the selling points, but it doesn’t go much deeper than that. Well, this type of rep doesn’t have much value in today’s market.
The New World of Reps
Let me describe to you the new world of manufacturer reps that are emerging.
Manufacturer reps typically have limited territories where they spend their time. They know all of the major players in their territory, and they know a lot about those major players. These reps travel their territory frequently and meet with as many key people as they can (and not just dealers). They are exposed to so much information as they travel and make their connections that they are in a unique position of knowledge about their markets; more so than any dealer could be. It’s a matter of exposure to all the “goings on” in a market that dealers can’t keep up with.
The interesting thing is that when the reps visit dealers they’re not there pitching their product. They are there having a valuable conversation about what’s happening with the dealer (or other businesses), teaching them what they know, and helping them improve by the knowledge they share with them. The formal “sales pitch” to the dealer almost becomes unnecessary. As a bi-product of a good relationship, the dealer will discover what the rep sells.
Below are some of the key capabilities of these reps:
- They know their markets – They keep up with, and know what’s going on in their markets. They know what trends are emerging in each of their markets and the effect of those trends on dealers. They study the large companies that drive demand in their markets & know what they’re up to and how it will affect the dealers in the area. They have an in-depth knowledge of what is working and not working in their markets, as well as what’s coming.
- They know the manufacturer landscape – They have a comprehensive knowledge of all the major manufacturers that sell in their markets. Some of them are more informed about a manufacturer than the manufacturer’s own rep is.
- They have a broad network – They have valuable connections with many manufacturers, their reps, many dealers, many local suppliers, salespeople, business people, and others. They have spent years building this network so that they have multiple points to make a connection with dealers and others.
- They have been in the dealer business – Many of these great reps have a background in the industry. They have owned businesses, run businesses, been salespeople, etc. Because of this, they have a perspective that stands above the rest, in that they understand the unique problems of the dealers. If there’s one thing dealers recognize quickly, it’s whether someone trying to sell them something has been in their shoes or not.
- They know dealer operations – Because of their research & experience in the industry, and from their relationships with so many different dealers, they have a deep level of knowledge of how a dealership should run effectively (or they have specific areas of targeted expertise). As a result, they can provide great value to a dealer as they observe the dealer function, and recommend improvements along the way. They can help dealers with anything from a better organizational structure, to the type of software they should be using, to how best to negotiate with their suppliers, and much more. This kind of interaction is the most effective in winning the dealer’s trust for a long time.
Why is this Valuable?
So why are these reps so valuable when you find one? It’s because they are almost like industry consultants. They have huge knowledge value that dealers need, but dealers are too busy running their business to spend time to gain it. They would have to pay someone else to coach them. And the best thing is, these reps don’t charge for the coaching. They know that by helping the dealer succeed, the business will eventually come their way to stay. So they look at it as an investment.
Here are some examples of the specific challenges ALL reps should be able to help dealers with:
- What kind of marketing is working best in my market, and is it worth the expense?
- Should I take on this new related product line to bring in more revenue?
- Are there any companies or individuals looking to buy dealers in my market?
- Is there any software that could revitalize the way I do business?
- What’s going on in my market that I should be concerned with, or aware of?
- What is my competition doing, and how well are they doing it?
- Where can I find some good salespeople?
- What’s a better structure for my business as far as employees are concerned?
- What should I be inventorying, if anything?
If reps can talk intelligently about these things and “coach” dealers in ways where dealers end up saying “I wish I could hire [joe rep]”, then that rep is going to be invaluable to the dealer. If a rep can’t talk intelligently about these things, then it’s just wasting time (the reps’ and the dealers’).
Where Are These reps?
So where do we find these reps? Well, that’s a tricky question. But here are some clues:
- Manufacturer rep organization – It’s rare to find these reps working as an “employee” for most manufacturers. These reps are the “movers and shakers” in the industry. They aren’t usually satisfied simply working as an employee. If they are working as an employee, then the manufacturer has succeeded in creating a very entrepreneurial environment. These reps want to shake things up and pave new ground.
- One question to rule them all – If a rep walks in your door, here’s the 1 question to find out his worth in a matter of a few minutes; “tell me what’s happening in my market”. He should be able to impress the heck out of you with his grasp of what’s happening that you didn’t even know about. That’s a clear sign you’re dealing with a keeper.
The old paradigm of being a manufacturer’s rep is slowly going away. They are being replaced by a valuable new breed of reps that have an entirely different focus.
The difference between the new breed of manufacturer reps and the “old model” reps comes down to this: dealers look forward to visits from the new breed, and they want to avoid the interruption of visits from the old. Why? Because they are actually getting business value from the good reps every time they meet. It’s not a sales meeting, it’s a coaching session. These reps know that coaching sessions naturally turn into sales meetings once the trust is built.