I have worked with independent sales representative firms throughout my career and wanted to share how I found firms that produce rapid results. These results include increased sales revenues, market share, and rapid strategic account product placements. As I discussed in my previous post “Should you hire Independent Sales Representatives?” before you hire an independent sales representative (ISR) you must understand the role they play as well as the role you will play supporting their efforts. For example, good ISR’s have a close network of buyer relationships and lines of complimentary products. Their goal is to sell as many of their product lines to the buyers they have built trusted relationships with over the years. ISR’s rapidly increase your speed to market and placement. At the same time they are “independent” if they wanted to be “managed” they would not own their own business.
So how do you hire the right ISR for you? Today there are many online tools to help you find ISR’s, from online rep finders to blogs and legal sites that even provide templates for ISR contracts. However sometimes the ways we did things prior to the internet, prior to the availability of so many tech based tools is still the best way. Below are the ten steps I learned to use over 15 years of experience on how to find top producing ISR’s.
1. Identify the accounts you want to sell in a region
2. Determine the appropriate buyers who purchase your product category at each account
3. Call each buyer, explain you are planning on hiring a independent representative and ask what are the top three firms you would recommend
4. Review your current markets where you have independent representatives and what complimentary product lines do your high performing firms have?
5. Call the sales managers at these complimentary firms. Ask them who they hired in the market(s) you plan on developing, and who they would not recommend and why
6. Take the lists you now have and prepare a letter of inquiry to introduce your company, your products, and the sales opportunity to the various ISR’s. Ask them to respond by a specific date with a presentation of their firm, the lines they currently carry and any other information you require.
7. Note the firms that called to confirm you received their information and asked if you had any questions. Weight them higher than those that do not follow up.
8. Sort all the responses and weight them with buyer and other manufacturer referrals. Review the lines they represent. Do not quickly dismiss firms that have competing products to yours as good independent firms will drop poor performing lines for product lines with bigger revenue opportunity or bring with them entrance into other strategic accounts within their territory. You may already have a relationship with an account in their market they have not opened, so representing you may open a door to a new relationship and sales opportunity for all their other lines as well.
9. Call the firms you are interested in working with and get a feel for their professionalism and phone presence
10. Book a Hotel room with an attached meeting room in the desired market and meet with all your top candidates. Request that not only firm principals attend but also some of their salespeople. A mistake many firms make is hiring an ISR based on meeting the principal of the firm, and they actually work with a team of different people.
11. How well did the firms you met with sell their firm and the value they can add to your organization?
12. Listen to your gut. Ask yourself honestly: How well does this firm match our team’s culture?
13. You also need to insure your product line will not get lost in their portfolio of products. How important will your product line be to this firm? Will your line provide 10%-20% of their overall commissions or will you “just pay their light bill?”
The above steps consistently produced high performing ISR’s in the markets I have served. It may seem like a lot of upfront work, however I have found the time you spend upfront finding the right firm for you will pay multiple dividends over the years, result in explosive growth quickly and a strategic partner to help your company grow year over year.
How about you…do you have a technique you use to find independent sales representatives?
Are you an independent sales representative? What do you want manufactures to know?
How do you know when it’s time to hire a new firm?
What do you do if a key account says they do not want to work with one of your ISR’s?
What is your policy on “house accounts” in the ISR’s market that you do not pay commissions on?