Over the past few weeks I’ve spoken to and met with a number of manufacturer reps, working on topics ranging from strategic planning to marketing initiatives as well as customer satisfaction and succession discussions. Inevitably I’ve been asked a common question that elicits much discussion … “what is the role of a manufacturer regional sales manager?”
Now, you may say the role is self-evident, “to manage a regional territory for a manufacturer.” While correct, it begs a deeper question of what is the job description and how does this role benefit a manufacturer … and how is it evolving?
The reason for the question is many reps comment about the regional manager who calls and says “I’m coming into your territory and I want to spend a few days with you, your team and with distributors and customers.” In most instances the rep describes how they rush to set up meetings with distributors and customers, calling in favors and there is usually with no specific, value-driven agenda for the meeting participants. Inevitably the RSM “waves” the corporate flag and perhaps talks about a new corporate initiative or a new product (frequently something the rep is just learning about.)
At the same time the RSM meets with the agency principal and reviews agency performance. And then the discussion is “how are you going to hit this year’s goal?” We know how that conversation goes.
And yes, some reps do comment about “good” RSMs. The commonality is that those individuals add value to the conversation, help plan, have technical expertise (usually the smaller manufacturer RSMs) and/or are great facilitators and know whom to guide people to within their own companies.
Perhaps RSMs travel into territories to wave the flag and perhaps travel because either 1) they don’t want to stay home, 2) need to show their managers that they are doing something (hence “in the field” or 3) think they can make the sale / convince the distributor or end-user?
Obviously, I’m being facetious, but it begs the question, “what should the role of an RSM be?” And, in the wake of consolidation, perhaps the role of the national account manager (or national account team) is more important and an agency may want this person to visit the territory to assist in “opening doors” and learning more about the manufacturer’s strategy for a specific national account?
Role of an RSM
Could / should the RSM role be able to:
- Commit the company to marketing and strategy decisions?
- Commit to pricing decisions?
- Communicate the company’s strategy as well as their national account strategy?
- Espouse their value proposition to distributors and end-users?
- Add value to the relationship?
- Provide product training (inclusive of competitive analysis, developing marketing plans, sharing applications, etc)?
- Solicit product development input from customers (ask them about their needs?)
During a recent discussion where the conversation became very focused on RSM’s coming into a market multiple times a year to “travel the territory”, it was posed that before meetings are set / chits are called in, the RSM be asked:
- What is the value proposition to the customer (distributor or contractor)?
The essence of the question is “what should the distributor / end-customer’s ROI be for their time? What will they learn to help them with their business?”
Some questions to ponder:
- Reps are measured on their sales performance. Could / should reps know the key MBO’s for their RSMs?
- Does anyone know of any manufacturer that solicits rep input on RSM performance evaluations (similar to an employee 360 review)?
- Is it fair for a rep to ask what is the reason for / benefit of the visit?
- As a manufacturer, is it acceptable if your RSMs interact electronically and only travel as needed?
- Reps, what roles do you want an RSM to play? What other roles / staff would you like to see come into your territory by your manufacturers? What would add value and help you sell?
- RSMs, how could reps make your visits more effective? How could communication be improved?
As the role (perhaps “expectations” is a better word) has evolved, as the role of “national account managers” has evolved, more digital interaction is used to improve productivity and extend reach, performance expectations increase and employee turnover continues, perhaps the role / expectations of RSMs is / should be evolving?
What is your experience with Regional Sales Managers visiting your territory / making a visit on you? Does it add value (other than knowing another contact at the company?)