Several years ago I wrote anarticle on “The Roleof the Rep” from the eyes of a showroom owner/manager and sales consultant.
I had done an informal straw poll to see how showrooms rated the manufacturers who called on them. This very informal poll revealed the folks running showrooms were less than pleased with how the majority of the reps were performing. I shared the information I learned from that small survey with the readers of Supply House Times. The showroom side of the industry agreed with my comments, but not surprisingly many of the reps took great exception.
Recently, I participated in a conference that had more than 100 showroom owners and managers in attendance. I was curious whether the attitude toward reps had improved. I was disappointed and distressed to learn that in the opinion of several dozen people I talked with the evaluation had not improved very much.
But instead of writing an article that “beats up” the reps, I’ve elected to take a proactive/positive approach to see if we (all of us) can come up with a plan and program to help the reps improve their image and their performance in the eyes of their customers.
Since I write specifically on showrooms that’s the area I’m addressing with these comments. However, being very familiar with the wholesale plumbing/HVAC segment of the industry I believe many of the following thoughts and suggestions might apply there as well.
I believe the whole issue comes down to good communication. That means showrooms must do a first-class job communicating with the reps who call on them (and their bosses) and encouraging those same manufacturers reps to be first-class communicators with the showrooms. This shouldn’t be a one-way street where the showrooms complain about the overall quality of the reps calling on them. Reps have many of the same concerns and complaints about their showroom clients. Instead of complaining, why can’t everyone do something to improve the situation? A good place to start would be to communicate in a professional, businesslike manner on issues that cause the complaints and concerns.
I believe a great starting point would be to develop a “Showroom Reps Job Description.” I am, and always have been, a big believer in job descriptions. I believe everyone deserves to know exactly what’s expected of them in performing their job.
How about starting with the showroom managers sitting with their team and a few of the main reps that call of them and develop a mutually agreed upon job description for calling on your business? I’ve included a list of almost 50 bullet-point items that might (should) be included in this job description. Use this as a guideline – add, delete and change to meet your mutually agreed upon job description.
Doing a detailed, written job description is just the beginning. For maximum effectiveness you also must do at least an annual job performance evaluation. This is where the showroom does an honest evaluation of the rep and then sits down with them and shares the good things and those things that might/should be improved. This form of communication is what makes the whole process work. Being proactive and positive beats the heck out of just sitting back and complaining on how lousy the reps are that call on you.
All parties should be involved in trying to improve this area that’s been a concern for years in this great industry. I wish I had done more of this when I owned my business. Too often I was guilty of letting the weaker reps get a “pass” and ended up doing a lot of their work for them. I also believe manufacturers have a responsibility to participate in helping to develop this rep job description. If everyone pitches in it’ll get done and it will be done better.
This also is an opportunity for The Association of Independent Manufacturers/Representatives to take a leadership role in helping develop a showroom reps job description. I love AIM/R’s mission statement that ties right in with what we’re talking about. “AIM/R is dedicated to enhancing the quality and value of professional manufacturers representatives.” Here’s an opportunity for these folks to walk their talk.
Job description specifics
Please realize this is coming from the showroom point of view. There also is a pretty long list of things the showrooms should/could be doing to help the reps be more successful. These bullet points are in no particular order. You will need to select and prioritize the items that will be part of your rep job description.
- Be a great communicator;
- Have excellent product knowledge on the products they represent;
- Possess strong selling skills;
- Be professional in everything that they do (dress, language, etc.);
- Always make an appointment and be on time;
- Always have a specific subject of importance to talk about;
- Keep nonbusiness conversation to a minimum;
- Be respectful of each other’s time;
- Have a thorough understanding of what the rep must do to help make the showroom successful;
- Realize it’s not an 8-5 job;
- Be well-organized;
- Be an excellent time manager;
- Be an outstanding trainer (one-on-one and in groups);
- Have a pleasant and friendly personality;
- Be able and willing to build rapport and relationships;
- Be 100% honest all the time;
- Do callbacks, texts and emails in a timely manner;
- Reach a mutually agreed upon timeframe for when and how often to call on the showroom;
- Always follow up and follow through on what you say you will do;
- Keep displays and display product current, complete and clean;
- Keep inventories current, organized and in keeping with sales demand;
- Help move out slow and obsolete inventory;
- Help keep RGAs current and processed in a timely manner;
- Be willing and able to conduct informative, fun and lively product knowledge meetings;
- Make sure all catalogues, brochures and price sheets are current;
- Help keep the showroom team informed on pertinent industry news;
- Help the showroom maintain current styles and trends;
- Make jobsite calls when necessary;
- Make calls on related industry professionals as deemed necessary;
- Respect the confidentiality of each showroom’s business;
- Help teach selling skills to showroom sales consultants;
- Set monthly/annual sales purchase goals and monitor on a regular basis;
- Make recommendations on how to grow sales and margins;
- Help resolve showroom clientele problems;
- Keep showroom sales consultants informed on product availability;
- Help develop a monthly/annual marketing plan and budget;
- Help work special events, sales and promotions;
- Know your competitors’ products;
- Teach the features and benefits of your products;
- Be loyal to your manufacturers and your clients;
- Do an annual evaluation of the showroom and its business with you;
- Continually make recommendations on how the showroom can improve its business with you;
- Be sure your bosses all the way up the line are familiar with our company, our needs and what should be done to grow our business together;
- Be passionate about your job, your products and the companies you represent; and
- Help showrooms be good merchandisers of your products.
I’m sure you can think of several other items that might be added to this list. Get your team together and use this list as a base to develop your own suggested manufacturers rep job description. Once you’ve accomplished this, sit with every one of your major vendor reps and present this to them. Explain this is how you would like them to work with you. Let them know that you’d like to do a twice-a-year evaluation using this job description as the format.
You need to be aware the reps have a lot of other customers and responsibilities and that your total intent is to help them help you be a better, more profitable partner for them. Explain that you have taken this proactive action with the sole purpose of helping each other.
My goal in writing this article is the next time I do my informal survey on what showrooms think about their reps that call on them, the results will be much more positive.
By everyone working together we can make this happen.
Being proactive and positive beats sitting back and complaining.
This article was originally titled, “The perfect showroom rep” in the April 2015 print edition of Supply House Times.