Here He Comes Again … The RSM


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:

  • Facilitate?
  • 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?)

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6 thoughts on “Here He Comes Again … The RSM”

  1. As a former Representative, Regional Sales Manager and now software provider, the relationship you describe is one that sometimes has no direction. The challenge is manufacturers (particularly the RSM’s managers) do not always look at the rep as a “partner”. When it is truly a partnership then the relationship becomes easy. The RSM’s job is to motivate, education and listen to their representative for strategic selling. The representative is hired for their local relationships and knowledge of the local market. In many cases the RSM believes it is their job to have those same relationships and that is when the role becomes questionable. One last observation is this role of the RSM has become more of a title and needs to get back when the RSM had decision making power. — Just thinking

  2. The main reason I have RSMs is to be the “squeaky wheels that get the grease.” Most reps carry so many lines they can’t possibly service them all effectively and efficiently. Some mfgs, myself included, feel it’s necessary to have a presence in the field to make anything substantial happen. Unfortunately, that is not always enough. The reps have the relationships, but since they are spread so thin, if no presence, no representation.

  3. Very interesting questions! I believe it’s my job as “factory guy” to focus on a handful of products or initiatives with my sales reps. You’re right – these companies have an expansive line card. If I can focus on a few key items with the reps and distributors AND contractors I’m not burdening them. As a company we track the sales trends of these items and I’m responsible for the success or failure. The other purpose is to get the pulse of my territory. Our factory is in Ohio so it’s extremely beneficial to me to see first hand what’s happening on the West Coast, for example. It’s led to changes in design, sales strategy, and most importantly where to concentrate our efforts. I try not to bother my reps too often. These guys are professionals and know what they’re doing. There is turnover in these agencies and training and traveling is very beneficial especially when they are unfamiliar with the line itself. It’s not just costing my reps money to walk into that distributorship or contractor’s office – my company shares that cost too. If they need to address another line while we are there and it’s in a territory they can’t get to more than a few times a year – that’s completely acceptable to me. There’s a fine line with being a burden and being of assistance. I call distributors and end users from the office and have made appointments on behalf of my reps at times. If a “factory guy” plays it correctly he can be an asset in a lot of ways. A rep agency knows pretty quickly who’s just coming out to fill a quota or get away from home. I know my guys read your articles I’m sure they will give me their feedback!

  4. David,
    I believe this is a great area to explore. I work with a number of manufacturers who struggle to have a RSM presence in the field. I believe this is an issue. My advise to RSM is pretty straight forward: If you had a bunch of direct salespeople in the field, how often would you want to visit them? What would you want to do to improve their performance? What do you think you would discover?
    Even though I totally support the Manufacturer’s Rep position/industry, I see it as not so much different than a direct sales team.
    20 percent are stars
    30 percent are great most of the time
    30 percent are good enough
    20 percent need major overhaul/improvement and/or termination
    The RSM needs to know who’s who, help the great be stars ad the good get more orders. And, sadly, sometimes they need to push the eject button on the guys who just don’t get it or are poorly matched with the line.
    BTW – I am forwarding this blog to a dozen folks who need to think about what they are doing.

    1. Frank, thanks for your input, and for sharing.
      And an RSM, even for direct salespeople, needs to ask “what is my value to my team? / Why am I traveling to their territory? or “What can I do that they can’t?” We’ve had success with smaller manufacturers managing direct and reps remotely by having “the right” communications vehicles, feedback mechanisms and metrics. Mutual expectation setting is crucial.
      And sometimes you have the best that is available in a market based upon the available talent pool. That inevitably is the bottom 20%, sometimes some in your 3rd tier.

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