The Power of Reps

IPRO October Conference to Focus on Relationships Between Manufacturer, Representative, and Customer
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At press time for this issue, I learned that custom install industry icon Bill Skaer had been honored again by the trade association that he helped get off the ground more than 20 years ago. Already named a CEDIA Lifetime Achievement winner, Skaer was chosen as this year’s CEDIA Fellow, affording him a lifetime of free admission to the association’s annual convention and other well-earned perks.

Immediately following the announcement, I chatted with Skaer about CEDIA and his new perspectives on the industry now that he’s working on the manufacturer side of the fence. He told me that as an integrator for many years, it hadn’t really occurred to him how tough it was for manufacturers and their independent reps to secure “quality face time” with their dealer customers. It’s not that the affable and well-recognized Skaer has any trouble connecting with dealers, but said that he has a renewed respect for how road-warrior reps can provide “incredible value” to dealers, if only given the chance. But, he also acknowledged that the onus is on reps to respect the time of their dealer customers.

Knowing that the independent sales rep organization, IPRO, would be holding its 2015 conference right before the CEDIA show in Dallas next month, I reached out to executive director Ray Wright to get his take on Skaer’s comments and how IPRO is trying to guide its members during challenging times.

Wright acknowledged that it “costs a lot” for every face-to-face representative sales call (in the range of $275 to $375 per call), which is all the reason why a rep needs to be prepared for the call, and the dealer should respect the rep’s role as well.

One of the focus topics at IPRO’s October 12–13 conference will be the planning and preparation for each sales call. “Too many representatives,” Wright said, “are so pressed for time that they do less than a stellar job of preparation, and then ‘wing it’ when they face the customer. Not acceptable.”

One of the real opportunities for a representative is being a marketing resource for both customers and manufacturers, he added. “These guys have relationships that, in some cases, are decades long, and they are trusted confidants,” Wright said. “Most know exactly what is happening in the marketplace in real time, and while being sensitive to confidentiality they can be a wonderful source of information for customers and manufacturers.”

Unfortunately, Wright noted, manufacturers can be slow to request or use a rep’s information because sales managers are focused on “quota achievement and little else.”

A key element of the IPRO Conference will be the relationship between manufacturer, representative, and customer.

“We will be taking the first steps to create a new partnership between these roles–a more inter-dependent relationship that can be more efficient and communicative,” Wright said.

As IPRO sees it, the key message for all three roles is that they each have an opportunity to maximize sales and profits.