In Defense of Good Reps


By Jeremy Burkardt October 7,2011


Eight Ways Sales Reps Can Exceed Dealer Expectations


Jeremy Burkhardt (jburkhardt@speaker craft.com) is president of SpeakerCraft in Riverside, California.

As an independent business owner in the custom industry you often have most of your brand interface with an independent sales representative who sells many different product lines. This has been a popular go-to-market strategy, because it costs the factory less money than hiring a full-time team of people for each territory. The question I hear many dealers ask is, “What is the rep supposed to do and why do they get big commissions on every single product I buy?”

In recent months a spate of independent sales reps have been fired by various manufacturers searching for a new ways to survive. Now, I have never fired anyone that I thought was doing a great job, and I think that is probably the rule for most factories. But as business has slowed in the channel, some manufacturers think they can bag their reps to save money in the short term. My feeling, however, is that without a great sales team in place, products won’t sell and that many of the recent terminations will be rehired in the next six to 12 months.

How can you run a great brand without someone leading the charge, daily, with every dealer? Having had both factory-direct and independent reps since 1994, I want to give you the low down on what a good sales rep should do for you.

The following has been compiled with SpeakerCraft dealer input around the country in discussion groups and factory focus groups. You have told us that you have some great reps and some lame reps as well. Reps are your lifeblood with the factory they represent for you and should be seen as your business partner. As with any business relationship I suggest you set a clear set of expectations of what you want from a rep upon visiting you. The days of “just dropping in” are long gone. These days, it’s all about delivering value to you, so when your meeting is over you can make more money. Here are eight suggestions to help reps perform better during challenging times:

1) Fix Stuff

This is the most important thing a rep can do on a dealer’s behalf. When something goes wrong with a product, on an order, or any issue, they need to be your go-to person to get stuff fixed. The rep is the dealer’s factory contact, and no matter what it takes, they need to make the calls, get the right product shipped, follow through, over-communicate, and make sure the dealer is always taken care of, properly.

2) Protect Your Territory

Dealers wants to know who is selling products and who is in business competing against them in their territory. The rep needs to keep the dealer in the loop and respect his distribution parameters.


Establish sales targets and hit them, and any independent sales rep worth their salt will take good care of you.

3) Product Master

The rep is the person that should know more about the products they sell than anyone in the market. If a rep isn’t technical and his dealers have to call a factory for an answer, then that rep is not good at his job. This is how reps get paid, and they need to bleed technology and knowledge.

4) Training

A good rep should have full PowerPoint trainings on each brand that he sells and at any time be able to make an appointment to train their dealers and their staff. The best reps will introduce dealers to new business opportunities by training on more than just products.

5) Factory Advocate

A good rep needs to be able to go to bat with his manufacturer partners to help his dealers gain better sales deals, terms, and credit limits. The rep is in charge of helping his dealers flourish with the brands they carry.

6) Business Advisor

Reps should be able to share best practices with their dealers, evaluate their facilities, their showroom, employees, pay, contracts, and ideas to help them grow.

7) Communication

Dealers should have one or two days a month when all reps are asked to visit. A savvy dealer will send their reps an agenda of what he wants to cover, well in advance of this meeting.

8) Provide Sales and Training Support

From simple product literature to deep training on how to program or install, if a rep doesn’t have a car full of samples and sales support materials, then they are doing their dealers a great disservice by not providing tools that manufacturers spend millions of dollars to produce.

Your local rep is your friend and advocate, so use them all you can, because their commissions range from one percent to more than 10 percent on every product you buy. Become important to them by establishing sales targets and hitting them, and I promise that if the rep is worth their salt, they will take good care of you.

9 Comments

  • avatar

    I agree and we pay far greater than that if you earn it. No pot just lots of desire to improve. We just caught a bad rep in a territory ended it and have a line of guys interviewing.

  • avatar

    Keep in mind that as a CI, you are effectively paying for the services of your rep whether you are using them or not every time someone in your organization orders a product that they represent. If you aren't using your reps to help you grow your business, you are throwing money away. Ask them point blank - "How can you help me grow my business?" If they can't answer that question, they probably aren't a good rep..

  • avatar

    Right to the point. Good reps bring value, bad reps don't. Factories without an effective way to directly provide the services that good reps provide will suffer for it and so will the customers that relied on those services. Sales representatives aren't the only way, just a good way if managed correctly.

  • avatar

    For the last 10 years at least, rep commissions have gone down and rep expenses have gone up. Many manufacturers have cut resources available to reps, and increased the pressure to turn numbers any way you can. Not to mention the prolifaration of distributors selling and mass merchants selling products into your territory you get ZERO commission on. The regional chain specialist (ie: Tweeter, Magnolia, 6th Avenue) allowed man reps to earn a living for a long time. That sales channel is dead. The last factor I will mention is the older baby boomer reps have not developed the next generation of reps to take over when they all retire soon. Funny how some accounts think every rep can afford to drive a Benz and work 2 days a week. It's very righteous of Jeremy to stick up for good reps, but he is a lone wolf. More companies will continue to eliminate reps as margins continue to get squeezed on all of that great Chinese Stuff we all sell!

  • avatar

    I'm amused at Mr. Burkhardts diatribe as he on numerous occasions has attempted to extricate his company from relations with independant reps. Including holding dealer seminars where he champoned the idea that reps might not be necessary until some dealers pointed out that reps were the only reason they sold SC. He also has tried to develop a model where a rep firm might be the exclusive property of SC clearly not grasping that it is the combination of a collection of quality lines combined with great dealer support that allow those firms to even exist as commisions dwindle.

  • avatar

    Jeremy is generally right on with his comments on this business...and I believe he is right now. Yes, there are plenty of lazy, worthless reps out there, but the real gems are the ones that you come to rely on and use as the "go-between". Instead of dismissing the rep network, hire better reps. It is a lousy job, but the ones that embrace it do amazingly well and deserve to do so. The manufacturers need to quit looking all the wrong outlets to increase business and profits--losing reps and selling direct on the internet will put them under and I hope very quickly!

  • avatar

    The value in an effective rep firm is providing a manufacturer with "now" sales growth and first class field service while having the ability to position a brand for future sales growth in a territory. 15-20 years ago a manufacturer could prosper by selling their brand through retailers. That formula changed 10 years ago and opportunity was found with value added service driven integrators and convenience driven e-tailers. Today, the remaining value added integrators and few remaining retailers are buying more from local distribution warehouses. This in effect has required reps to react by reducing staff, adding lines and deluting their offering. The remaining A rep groups have found a way to add value through the use of technolgy, better communication and prioitizing there dealer sales calls. These same challenges exist for all businesses. Those who have found creative ways to change are prospering. Those that have not have gone out of business or find themselves very frustrated.

  • avatar

    I agree that this required reps to react by reducing staff, adding lines and deluting their offering. The remaining A rep groups have found a way to add value through the use of technolgy, better communication and prioitizing there dealer sales calls. These same challenges exist for all businesses. Those who have found creative ways to change are prospering. Those that have not have gone out of business or find themselves very frustrated. Nice list. http://www.fourgltephones.com

  • avatar

    That sales channel is dead. The last factor I will mention is the older baby boomer reps have not developed the next generation of reps to take over when they all retire soon. http://www.Vicodindosage.info

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