Let’s start with the basic question: “Why hire a rep group in the first place?” The answer is actually quite simple: A sales representative group creates consistent, profitable growth for their supplier partners. For certain manufacturers, it doesn’t make economic sense to maintain full-time sales staff in-house; it makes more sense to contract out the sales, marketing and training responsibilities to experienced professionals who can provide a large impact in geographic regions, with fully developed relationships at dealer and distributor levels.
The RV retail sales floor is a battlefield – one where the strongest and most resilient dealers have survived the siege of the Great Recession and are still navigating through the downturn of the past few years. And now, with super-lean budgets and trimmed down staffing, they need manufacturer reps as their “mercenaries” to help continue the battle for retail sales gains and company profits.
What qualities should you look for when hiring a rep group? The following six characteristics are key:
Integrity & ethics
RV product knowledge
A “can-do” attitude
Integrity & Ethics
Just as you expect any of your own employees to be honest, professional and respectful, you should expect the same from your reps; after all, they are an extension of your company. You want an agent with a reputation for maintaining the highest levels of integrity and ethics.
The employees for the agency should demonstrate these traits daily in phone conversations, e-mails, conducting sales calls, training sessions and working with inside and outside distributor sales personnel. Whenever a mistake is made, they answer for it, correct it, and move on. No excuses. They should deliver what was promised, when it was promised. You hire a representative agency to be your “eyes and ears” out in the field knowing they have your company’s best interest in mind.
RV Product Knowledge
There is an old saying about consultants – that a consultant is simply a person who tells you what time it is after having looked at your watch. Your rep group should be a leader in the RV aftermarket field – someone who has been around the proverbial block a thousand times. They don’t need to look at your watch to know what time it is because they are the springs, gears, and face of the clock!
But, of course, experience alone isn’t enough. Our industry is changing all the time and the need for your rep to be well-versed on your product offering, and how it applies to distribution as well as retail, is critical. This means working through all aspects of your product: marketing, merchandising, and knowing how it will be accepted in the RV industry. It is important you hire a group that sees the “big picture” right down to the tiniest detail for your products success.
A ‘Can-Do’ Attitude
A top-notch rep group achieves success through passion and enthusiasm. They will demonstrate interest and excitement for the RV industry generally, and for people and products more specifically, in everything they do. The rep group you need meets challenges head-on and works through obstacles diligently and industriously.
For example, years ago we went to market with a particular product that most everyone in the industry thought could not sell. I received phone calls from industry people who stated the product was “too innovative for our industry” and that no one had “seen” it yet. I heard things like “stick to a brand everyone knows, that will create commissionable sales right away.”
But my team believed in the product and the supplier, so we simply worked harder to show how this new product would work. As a result, we took a product that had a different formulation and application, no brand exposure, and made it a top-seller in the industry. The supplier believed in our team, and we believed in them. A true partnership crafts success in the marketplace.
Dedication and commitment are critical characteristics. The best rep groups know how to build relationships and nurture those relationships over time to achieve sales growth. They are dedicated to that task. In fact, they are relentless.
One of the important lessons I have learned is to live in the shoes of the people you service. By this, I mean consumers, dealers and distributor outside and inside sales consultants. As a representative agency, we must understand and listen to what their needs are — in some instances identify needs before they do, and devote the time to do so.
Follow-through applies more to individual sales efforts and tasks, rather than to the totality of the business relationship (that’s dedication), but it is equally important. You want a rep group that routinely communicates what is going on in the field, and follows-through on key project tasks to make sure things are accomplished as previously agreed upon, to ensure miscommunication does not occur.
Follow-through also is the best lead-in to the next step in the process. You will benefit by having a group that takes the lead by following-up and following-through, even to the point where they will lead the sales team through the next sales opportunity or proverbial doorway, rather than sitting back and waiting for you to tell them what to do next, or vice versa.
For RVLI, the best example is our supplier line for RV aftermarket parts. A dialed-in rep force can truly lift the retail burden off the dealer by linking the supplier to the dealer (via the distributors) in a way that ramps up sales and margins. Having open and honest communication about the needs of a dealer — and how that transcends into our marketplace, is an outstanding and rewarding experience.
Right off the bat, let’s make this clear – adaptability is what to look for – not flexibility. Flexibility is good because it means the group can make adjustments. But adaptability is better because adaptability means the group will not only adjust to change, but they will learn from it and adapt to the changed landscape. This means you want a rep group comprised of hungry and avid learners. They will be quickly dialed-in to what your needs are; as quickly as things change, they will be dialed-in again.
Altogether, the representative sales consultant agency you choose should possess these identifiable qualities. Different agencies go to market in various ways, so you’ll want to be sure their strategic plans, business focus, and approach align with your company’s overall vision. Holding true to these main tenets and choosing an agency you can trust will set your company up for long-term growth.