Most manufacturers have outside reps. These are self-employed individuals or in some cases, larger businesses who employ many reps. They are not on your payroll. This in itself is a management challenge. Herding cats, managing a legal partnership, controlling a five year old’s birthday party all come to mind in terms of “hope over experience” events. We can but try!

Here are a few tips I’ve garnered over the years. It might help maximize their potential.

Rep Network Management Tips

1. High Bar: These people are brand ambassadors. So please let’s not have idiots representing the brand. Set standards when recruiting reps including, limiting the number of other products they can sell, studying their track record with other clients, intensively interviewing them to understand their ability to tell your story AND diagnose prospects.

2. Churn: What gets measured gets done. Monitor their performance and keep churning until you find the right rep for you in that region with the right cultural fit.

3. Reward: Incentivize behavior. Be crystal clear on the commission structure (keep it real simple) and be precise on when commission checks are cut. Understand their commission structure on other products they sell (and validate their answer).

4. Educate: Teach them well. Educate them on your products, your sales process and your competitors and market. Specifically sales training often misses these issues:

a. The bad consequences of a prospect choosing the wrong product.
b. The ROI by choosing your product because……
c. The competitive advantages of your product AND what that means for that individual prospect (not the company but that actual person).
d. The relationship the prospect should expect AFTER the sale is made.
e. How to diagnose people’s issues in a way that shows you’ve heard them and how the product would be used in their specific situation.

5. Town Hall: Find a reason to bring them together at least once a year. Build a following and allow your strong company culture to burst through the noise.

6. Shadow: Watch then in action. On a select sample basis, join them on sales calls whenever possible, to hear your story being told live.

7. Collateral: Quality web sites and content is not just about your prospect audience. It’s also about educating your own team both indirect reps and direct sales team members. Create cheat sheets to teach them the fundamentals of your competitive positioning, your story, and your track record.

8. Understand: Know your reps. Build a relationship with them. Understand their situation, their history. Send birthday cards. Show them you care. Little things go a long way. Remember they have other clients. Differentiate yourself from the other relationships.

9. Feedback Loop: Remember to gather feedback from your reps on the marketplace. What are they hearing on trends, product ideas, problems with your products, problems that are not being solved on customer sites?

10. Success: Share successful performance. Use awards, spotlight blogs, newsletters and case studies.

Many of these ideas can be tweaked for all types of channel management challenges.

Happy New Year to all my readers and have a remarkable 2016.