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Tightening the Ties that Bind

How Manufacturers’ Rep Firms Can Better Serve Our Industry

During these challenging times, every company in our industry should be looking for better ways to serve their clients and create the best customer experience possible. Now, at first glance, those words seem like they are squarely directed at electronic systems contractors (ESCs). However, I believe this same sentiment can be applied to a different kind of company in our industry, specifically the manufacturer’s representative or “rep agency,” as they are commonly known.

I use the word “company,” because in many cases these rep agencies are owned and operated by a small number of people, and often involve a one-person operation. In some cases the rep is an employee of one of the larger manufacturers, but more often rep agencies have agreements with multiple manufacturers and, therefore, represent and provide support for a variety of products while working directly with ESCs. In my view, this means that rep agencies and ESCs are often running very similar kinds of businesses.

I would argue that reps should consider the ECSs that they work with as their “clients,” and the manufacturers that they represent as their “suppliers.” Viewed in this way, the similarities between these two types of

Manufacturers reps need to get close to their clients to know exactly how to be of the most value.) firms seem clear, as well as many of the challenges. What is also clear to me is the fact that now more than ever, rep agencies should be looking for ways to better serve their “clients” and add as much value as possible to those relationships. So what does this mean specifically? Here are my top-three recommendations for how manufacturers representatives in our industry can better serve ESCs in these challenging times.

I believe that you should actually know how and why the products you represent are designed the way are and which are best suited for a given application. This means that you need to spend time digging deep and learning about the technical and application aspects of the products you sell, so you can become a reliable source of real-world application knowledge to your ESCs. We already know how to read the spec sheet or visit a website; we need more than that for you to be of real value. If possible, you may want to try using/installing/programming these products, and you should definitely be reviewing all literature for errors and omissions. In short, you need to work hard at being an additional high-value resource to the already standard website/tech support type of resources available from the manufacturers you represent.

No, buying the president lunch or dropping in with donuts to “see how it’s going” does not count. You need to spend time with the actual “guys-onthe- ground” and not just the person responsible for ordering products. This may mean offering to assist on-site with an installation or helping an ESC receive and organize a large order of your products at their warehouse. These and similar actions offer real assistance to the ESC and give

you first-hand insight into how the ESC runs their business, potentially highlighting other areas where you or the manufacturers you represent can add even more value. The bottom line is that you need to get close to your clients to know exactly how to be of the most value.

One of the most valuable things that any rep can do is to become a trusted advocate for the ESC when dealing with the manufacturer. The idea here is to get involved and assist with any issues that arise during the normal course of business. The rep is often in a much better position than the ESC to understand and navigate the internal structure of a manufacturer organization, including areas like business operations, technical resources and even “politics” that may need to be considered. This knowledge can be of great value in assisting with disputes that may arise over pricing, deliveries, terms, discounts, etc. These and similar situations offer an opportunity for you to act in a responsible way to ensure both the ESC and the manufacturer feel they have been treated fairly and have been well represented. Even in non-dispute- oriented interactions, there is great value in connecting the right person from the ESC with the right resource inside the manufacturer organization— something that may not happen by simply calling tech support.

Richard Millson (richard. [email protected]) is president of Vancouver-based Millson Multimedia.