Where Have All The Good Sales Reps Gone?

Categories: Blog

Where Have All The Good Sales Reps Gone? By NetPlus Chairman, Dan Judge

The following article was first published in the IDA Management Journal in March 1993.  This was a very well-produced 16 page booklet by the Industrial Distribution Association (the predecessor to ISA). It was full of excellent articles and I had been asked to be a guest columnist while I was Marketing Director for Trumbull Industries out of my office in Lockport, NY.  Ironically, within a couple of months I was named the Executive Director of ID One, the first buying group in the industrial supplies industry.

So as you read this keep in mind that it was written over thirteen years ago.  And in retrospect I must have had some problems with a number of supplier salesmen because I came down pretty hard on them in this piece.  So this is not aimed at anyone in particular and certainly applies to distributor salespeople and independent manufacturer representatives as well as direct salespeople. Notice I just used the term salespeople as opposed to salesmen, in 1993, because we now have a strong female presence in all ranks of industrial supply sales.  Also the technology of today is light years ahead of that time so keep this in mind also.  I have edited this a bit in the interest of time and space.  

When I started in this industry in 1970, all of our suppliers had salesmen based in Buffalo, New York. Many of the major companies had two or three. And they were good salesmen!

Today, salespeople covering Western New York live in Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Cleveland, New York City and even Cincinnati. I realize the economy of the ‘90’s is different from that of the ‘50’s, ‘60’s and ’70’s and fewer salespeople are needed to handle the reduced volume of business. I could accept this if they were good.

In general, my complaints with the supplier salespeople center on the fact that they are not well trained in their product line or in how to relate to their distributors. If I were director of training for a manufacturer selling to industry through distribution, here are a few things that would be in my curriculum regarding distributors:

1.  Call for appointments.
The distributor management is too busy to deal with unexpected visitors and your time is too valuable to waste trying to call on a person who isn’t there.

2.  Call on the right people.
In most distributorships, the people who get things moving are the sales manager, owner, branch manager, marketing manager or a combination of these. These are the people who need to know about promotions, new products, sales meetings and joint calls.

3.  Plan your sales call.
Have an agenda for each of the people you are calling on. Bring new literature or new product samples and be prepared to discuss key customers, new promotions and other areas of joint interest.

4.  Don’t stop with the top managers.
Get to know the “troops.” Learn the names of the inside salespeople, check briefly with each, and even see the warehouse manager or office manager once in a while.

5.  Learn how to teach.
Give creative sales meetings; don’t just page through the catalog. Remarkably few sales meetings include samples of the product. Spend time teaching the outside salespeople how your product is used and where to look for sales potential.

6.  Know your product line – cold

7.  Don’t cancel appointments.
Especially those set up by the distributor salespeople for joint calls on end users. Do this more than once and you’ve lost them for good.

8.  Do not have favorite distributors.

9.  Do not talk about one of your distributor’s business to another.

10.  Learn how to help your distributor promote your product.

11.  During each sales call, be sure to check that your distributor has plenty of your current literature.

12.  Call your distributor sales management between appointments.

13.  Follow- up.
If you have told a distributor manager or salesperson that you will send them literature or a sample or get them some information, be sure that you do it.

14.  Remember, distributors have hundreds of lines to promote. Yours is only one.
If you don’t fight for their attention and activity in your line, another manufacturer’s salesperson will get that time.

Selling to industry through distribution isn’t “rocket science” and what’s above isn’t new, but the basics can still stand the test of time.