The relationship between manufacturers and their reps is perhaps the single most important relationship that both can have as it is a synergistic, mutually dependent relationship that impacts the success of both companies. The best are a symbiotic relationship. For many it is a complicated one. It\’s a relationship that depends upon each doing their job to support the other. And the support merges at the point of the regional manager, who is the “quarterback” to relations between both parties.
Given the critical role of these individuals it is essential that these men and women understand the rep business as well as be teachers of, and to, their company. Regional managers essentially should be viewed as business managers for their geographic region and their companies should consider evaluations based upon a defined ROI (perhaps quantitative and qualitative) as well as the satisfaction of the regional managers stakeholders (essentially a 360 review, inclusive of input from their reps).
While conducting interviews for NEMRA’s Rep of the Future study (and you can still take the survey), there appears to be a growing disconnect between many reps and the regional / district managers with whom they interact.
It’s not that these individuals are uncapable, inconsiderate, disrespectful or do not perform. In fact, most personally like their district / regional managers. The issue is that most reps do not find value in the roles that these individuals perform.
Reasons expressed include:
- Companies are being managed by Finance and IT
- Regional managers cannot make decisions, especially when in front of a company.
- Lack of pre-planning and objection setting when visiting a rep, hence they “occupy time” and need to be “ferried around” to visit distributors. This correlates with feedback from distributors who feel regional managers visit but frequently do not provide an ROI for the time and slow in responding to needs
- Poor turnaround time to questions
- Lack of product knowledge and ability to contribute to a sale when in front of a contractor / industrial buyer or a specifier (engineer, architect)
- Inability to articulate company strategy
- Challenged with contributing to jointly developing marketing strategies when visiting a distributor (or sharing what has worked / best practices).
In most instances regional managers are good delegators, directing inquiries to individuals within their companies.
And reps value the district / regional manager who helps them sell and adds value to the distributor or end-user relationship through idea generation and making the manufacturer “easy to do business with.” In the words of one rep, “the win when they value us and interact with my team as my team then wants to support them. We call this emotional connection, they become part of our family.”
In the age of industry consolidation, and with more expected, some reps expressed that they could benefit from visits from manufacturer national account management who may have connections with regional management of a national chain or be able to express the supplier’s strategy with the national chains. A one-day visit by a national account manager may be more valuable to a rep than a three-day visit from a regional manager.
Being a regional manager can be a lonely job. On the road 4 days a week for sometimes three weeks a month. Different city every week. Sleeping in strange beds (sorry Marriott, but it’s not home!). Paperwork (or should say computer work) every night. Management reports and emails, always trying to catch up. And needing to respond to internal requests, distributor requests, perhaps end-user interactions, and then the need for management reporting (and then there’s the inevitable “Salesforce.com” database to review, comment and analyze!) . Perhaps develop PPT presentations and prepare for tomorrow’s meetings. From their perspective, a challenging job.
While the value of these interactions can be improved, it is further complicated by turnover in these roles. Some from promotions, some from “changes in direction” or the infamous “reorganization.” Bottom line is that there are new people in roles.
Training is needed
To help manufacturers prepare regional managers for their roles and educate district / regional managers as well as manufacturer customer service management / sales operations personnel, NEMRA, encourages manufacturers to send personnel to its Manufacturer’s Best Practices (MBP) Workshop.
The next Manufacturer Best Practices Workshop is scheduled for October 15-16, 2019, in Chicago. Limited space remains to join individuals from ABB, Dialight, Eaton Cooper Power Systems, Legrand, Hammond Manufacturing, Milbank and Rack-A-Tiers (and some of these companies are sending a team.)
The session is designed to help manufacturers increase sales through collaboration, leadership, communication and raising the level of professionalism within manufacturer / rep relationships. The investment is only $995, which is a nominal investment to upgrade staff and relations with a manufacturer’s salesforce.
The quality of the rep / manufacturer relationship is directly correlated to the success that a manufacturer has in a territory and their ability to grow sales. It’s been said that “capturing the hearts and minds” of one’s audience is the key to winning. In a competitive environment where winning typically means taking market share, capturing the minds of the sales force should be job one for a manufacturer.