A "Rant" in Sheep's Clothing: Deep Thoughts from Multi-Line Rep Nowell Wisch
As I continue my ...Really?? rant series, this time it's from the perspective of a multi-line rep. My goal in these rants is to address communication challenges and best practices from all facets of our industry. By seeing situations from another person's vantage point, I hope that it helps remind us that communication is a two-way street. And we all have room for improvement.
In this rant, as a distributor and publisher, it's not possible for me to share from a
multi-line perspective. Therefore, I have sought the input of wordsmith and outstanding multi-line rep Nowell Wisch. I've known Nowell for many years and knew he was the right person for the job. Not surprisingly, he hit this one out of the park. I "wisch" I could write like Nowell. This is great stuff! Coming soon, the perspective of suppliers.
"Multi-line rep rants to the right of me. Multi-line rep rants to the left of me. Multi-line rep rants behind me and multi-line rep rants before me..."
Well, OK, maybe not a "rant" per se. Why would a multi-line rep rant at the very customer base necessary for his survival? Because when you've been contacted by Jeff, you can't say no, and he asks for a "rant." This is a "rant in sheep's clothing" since it is a cautionary tale at worst, and a plea at best. It is a "Why should I talk to you?" and "What do I get for my precious time?"
A multiline rep spends the day earning trust. Our commissions will reflect the extent to which we can do that. Distributors call reps every day because they know that the three minute conversation might save hours of research in solving a client's problem. Good reps from "single product" companies earn the same amount of respect, and their success is often affected by the range of products they offer. The wider the range, the more business they can do with a particular distributor. Many, many sales managers and company owners have heard distributors remark, "Gee, I sure wish you did (name a product). Everyone in that business isn't as reliable as you."
Our job is to look for opportunities to place a product from one of our suppliers into one of the distributor's solution set for a client need. Multiline reps have not "heard it all before" no matter how many years they have done the job. One of my friends who has been a rep for more than 40 years will admit that part of the attraction of the job is that he still gets to think about solutions in a new way every day. While he has a decade or more as a rep on me, he still likes to think about the problem and come up with a new and exciting way to solve it. "Sales incentives, human resources problems, safety programs, I don't care what it is ... I can find something to offer that my clients haven't thought about, and that makes the job fun," he says.
While most of us wandered into this industry from someplace else, we have stayed in this industry because we like what we do and we appreciate the opportunities our customers give us to earn money by solving problems. We like earning a living in this business. So about what or why do we rant? Well, that changes depending upon whom you speak with. Distributors rant about their customer's buying habits changing and the influence of the Internet on business. Suppliers rant about their customers buying direct from Asia or slow pay. Multilines? What do we rant about?
The "rant" part of this is that my clients are becoming too busy, or disinterested to see me very much anymore. My daughter, who is my scheduler and lifeline, works harder than ever for less results getting me into see you and your staff. I used to have three "key" appointments a day, three days a week. These were typically a breakfast meeting, a lunch meeting and an afternoon meeting. Between those, I would do a drop-in at a distributorship on the way to the next call. This worked really well and I saw 12-15 companies a week plus a few more unscheduled stops on either Monday (staging day) or Friday (wrap-up day) for a total company count of around 20.
Today, I'm lucky if I can get three "key" appointments in a week. This makes it necessary to change how I do business with you and what we both can expect from each other. Today, I throw a dart at the map, hit a city, look for distributor addresses and plan a route. I try to do three to five "drop-in" calls a day now, often without a "key appointment" to anchor the day so I therefore "have to depend upon the kindness of strangers."
Worse than that, however, is that even when we get a meeting, we only get about 10% attention from the participants. In a lunch meeting I recently had, out of the 11 sales people employed there, only six bothered to stop by and only two weren't texting or checking email on their phone during my presentation. As my friend Jeff would ask, "Really?"
Yes, really. I spent $130 dollars for pizza, drinks and salad and had two people pay attention. At $65 per person, that isn't a great return on the investment. I spent $260 last month for a rep show in Las Vegas that had 31 distributors attend and 24 of those spent five or more minutes with me discussing specific pieces of business. Doing the math, I figure that each contact cost me about eleven dollars and I will probably see more than five thousand dollars in business, which will net me about $250 in commissions. That almost pays for the day and there will be residual sales that will help me show a profit sometime during the rest of the year. If I could do a show every week, I would be far ahead in the game over time. Even from my client's perspective, the time spent with me is a win because in less than two hours, they came away with a dozen or more ideas and solutions for problems that might have taken them days to uncover by conventional means.
In contrast, I did a drop in on a prominent distributor and took a chance that he would give me five minutes. He did and I stretched it to 40 more because we discussed specific needs of several thorny "on my desk right now" client needs that required solutions. I left with a reasonable expectation that there might be three sales resulting from this meeting and they could run to the tens of thousands of dollars in business. More importantly, he sat with me and left his texting device on his desk so our time was focused and productive. The cost to me? $11 for parking and a cuppa Joe... great ROI dontchathink?!
I know that everyone doesn't have time to see me when I appear on the doorstep, but if they do take the few minutes they can spare, I can usually justify the visit with a concrete example of a solution for a problem. Even if the solution isn't for a supplier's item that I represent, they win, often big! For example, I recommended a pen from one of my lines in a recent meeting. The distributor was excited because she had not thought a simple pen would be a solution. When she made the presentation two days later, the client loved the idea of a pen even though they didn't like mine. She sold a different pen and wrote a several thousand-dollar order and I am now a welcome intrusion on her otherwise busy day.
Sing it ... "All we are saying ... is give reps a chance!" If a rep shows up, announced or not, the five minutes might turn into a half hour of productive time discussing client solutions to a client need that might not have been evident in the privacy of your own mind. I'm not asking for a blanket permission to drop in any time, all I'm asking is give me an opportunity to do my job ... helping you get rich and service your customers. Most of my fellow reps are longtime members of our elite industry and we bring a wide range of experience to your table. We want to help you win. Let us do our job, please.
Nowell clearly nailed the topic. It's a blessing to have a relationship with so many amazing people in this industry. By coincidence, by good friend Rick Greene, focused a Promo Marketing blog post on Nowell and his desire to serve his clients. This is a great piece and also defines the benefits of working with a good multi-line rep.
Jeff Solomon, MAS is affiliated with a Top 10 distributor company. The FreePromoTips.com website and e-newsletters he publishes are packed with beneficial information and exclusive FREE offers from a few forward-thinking supplier companies. Don't miss out on what's happening! Opt in to receive their e-newsletters! LIKE their page on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.