Create a job description for your reps.

In the past year I've had the pleasure of participating in four manufacturers' national sales meetings. My assignment was to share what I believe showroom managers and salespeople want from the reps that call on them. I developed a fairly long list of common sense criteria. I used my experience of having owned a successful, three-location business. I also talked with and e-mailed several other showroom managers/owners for their input. My “survey” wasn't terribly scientific, but it gave me plenty of information to help me develop my theme for the folks who had asked me to talk to their reps.

At the risk of upsetting some reps out there, my survey and my own experience told me that about 20% of all reps calling on showrooms might be called really good. Fifty percent are fair at best - and the remaining 25% might as well stay home. Now that's a sad commentary: to suggest that 75% of all reps calling on showrooms are only fair - or worse.

I also believe that showroom managers and salespeople count heavily on the manufacturer reps that call on them. You're quick to complain and slow to take charge of your own destiny. I believe too many people select the manufacturers they represent more by the reps that call on them and less by the total package that the manufacturer might have to offer. Case in point: I have a wonderful plumbing wholesaler consulting client who has multiple showrooms spread across six or seven states. I have seen them turn their backs on two or three great lines because some of their showroom managers didn't like the reps that called on them. As previously stated, there are more reps out there that aren't as strong as they might be than there are really good ones.

So, I know you're starting to think it's the manufacturer's job to hire, train, motivate, etc., their salespeople. They don't work for you and you have your hands full running your showroom.

I believe that when you recognize that not all the reps are going to be what you would like - and that YOU can do positive things that will make a situation better, you can turn a disadvantage into an advantage.

I'd like to encourage you to do several things. First, don't rate the manufacturers you represent, or might represent, solely on the rep. In the past I have shared a Vendor Rating Form that I used in my business and have shared with a number of clients and others. The rating form has 30+/- areas to rate the manufacturer (the local rep that calls on you is only one of those items). I believe you should rate each of your major vendors at least once a year. It's very much like an employee performance evaluation. Go through the rating process - then sit with the manufacturer and share the results. Stroke the good things and try and agree how the weaker areas can be improved. YOU have a wonderful opportunity to be proactive - to help your key vendors do better, which in turn will help you do better. If the local rep is one of the weak points, talk with his/her boss or even the next boss up to try and find some way to improve the situation. Don't just accept it the way it is. (If you would like a copy of the Vendor Rating Form just e-mail me at

I'm not suggesting that the reps that call on you aren't important. They are, but some have a lot of room for improvement. Once again, instead of waiting for the manufacturer to take the lead, I believe you have an opportunity to take the lead - once again be proactive. Here are some thoughts on how to do that.

First, develop a list of criteria that you would like the reps that call on you to try to follow. It's like a job description. You're telling them “if you want to be an important partner with us here are our expectations from you - the rep that calls on us. We will help you in every way possible to meet these expectations.”

The following is a sample job description. You can add or delete items to make it work for you.

Manufacturers Rep Job Description

Works For: The manufacturer they represent and the clients they call on. Self-employed.

Job Description:

  • Always follow through on what you say you're going to do.

  • Be professional - all the time.

  • Be totally honest - all the time.

  • Focus on the client - all the time.

  • Always call and make an appointment. It will save time for you and your client.

  • Advise the person you are calling on what you will be talking about and how much time it will take.

  • Stick to business. Keep “small talk” to a minimum.

  • Know your products better than all of your competition's reps.

  • Know your competition's products.

  • Be able to relate your product knowledge to your clients…including features, benefits, value, quality, etc.

  • Make training of showroom sales consultants a priority - using one-on-one training and/or product training meetings.

  • Be sure all price sheets and brochures are 100% up-to-date.

  • Work the hours necessary to get the job done (it's not an 8-to-5 position).

  • Be sure displays are always 100% complete and up-to-date.

  • Be a great communicator on all issues important to your client.

  • Help maintain any and all inventory. Keep adequate levels based on sales, and keep it neat and organized.

  • Help move out slow-moving and obsolete inventory.

  • Help resolve any and all product or invoicing problems in a satisfactory and timely manner.

  • Be sure your client and your manufacturer handle RGAs in an organized and timely manner.

  • Make sales calls with and for your clients where deemed mutually beneficial.

  • Be sure to touch base with all the necessary people on each client visit. Don't ignore anyone.

  • Be loyal to your manufacturers and your clients.

  • Reach an agreement with your client on how often you should call on them.

  • Help coordinate a mutually beneficial marketing plan for the products you represent. This includes, but is not limited to: advertising, promotions, public relations, competitive analysis and market research.

  • Be the communication conduit between your clients and the companies you represent.

  • Assist with staffing special events that your client puts on like special sales, open houses, trade shows, etc.

    When I talked with the showroom managers and sales consultants, their biggest pet peeve was the “follow through on what you say you're going to do.” The feeling was that too many reps promise to do something and then don't do it! So if any of you reps are reading this, resolve today to make good follow-up one of the areas in which you will excel.

    In summary, some of my best friends in the industry were/are reps. I recognized there were some really good ones and some really poor ones. My basic business strategy was that if I worked as hard at developing relationships with the reps that called on our business as I did with my potential clients, I greatly enhanced the ultimate success of my business. You might try to adopt this attitude in your business. Sometimes it will be the case that you can't live with them - and you can't live without them. Recognize it for what it is and do everything in your power to help make those 75% fair-to-poor reps better. Everyone will be better for it!