If you are starting out in this business or at a place of growth, choosing the right manufacturer's representative can make all the difference to your bottom line. Here are things to look for when choosing the right team.
The Rate of Response (within reason)
We live in a face-paced world and sometimes your clients demand answers yesterday. When putting together a solution, you may have a question and need to reach out. How fast does that rep or firm respond? Now, I do not think they should be responding 24/7, although those companies do exist. I find it best to set the expectation up front. When you email, how long before you expect a response? How about a phone call? Let them know the standard you want to uphold. Response time can be the difference between getting a job and not getting it.
It is easy to sell training of a product that you don’t have in front of you. What is hard is to solve a problem after it occurs. How is an issue handled? Is it escalated on to engineers only for you never to receive an answer? Do they sell you the problem-solving software, which now you don’t know how to use? How the firm deals with obstacles is what allows you to sell the product again and again. If you keep ending up with glitches they cannot solve, find another product! Abort mission!
Many firms are now offering design services. Most famously may be Crestron with its True Blue support. I’ll never forget the pitch they give you when you ramp up to be a dealer. “Our engineers have a bag packed ready for those impossible scenarios. Call us.” They also provide design services when putting together larger systems, but they are not the only one. Ingram Micro also has such a service and with a wider array of products. It is great to call with a need for pieces and have them help you put the system together saving you time and money.
It is important to know the communication methods of your reps. If you are a chronic emailer, and they can’t type, the synergy will not mesh. Remember, you are buying their products, so it is not without reason to want someone that communicates the same way you do. Do they check up on you with valid reasons? You want a rep in your corner that knows your business model. They should make sure you are getting the best prices and products, and be reaching out with that information. If you are only a hundred dollars from hitting your VIR rebate, then they should be calling.
Is this the kind of rep that sells the cheapest products or the right products? The right products will have a good warranty and reputation in the field. Don't be afraid to social network these questions. Twitter is a great place to ask fellow integrators, and so is CEDIA. Turn to the person next to you while waiting for the next demo or during class and ask questions. It takes awhile to find the right product line up, but once you do, you can have less downtime in the field and more money in your pockets.
Does the firm provide training for its products and for new employees? Do they have a road show, and if so, does it come to your area or do they help pay for you to go to theirs? How is the training done? Webinars? E-classes? These are all good questions to ask before you starting doing business with the company. Our industry changes rapidly, and these firms need to be your support staff, keep you and your team up to date.
Often overlooked, a rep’s freight policy can make or break your profit margin. Maybe that flat screen has a great instant rebate this week, but you will lose all those extra dollars if you don’t make freight. Keep a list of your distributors and their policies since it can be hard to remember them. Also, find out if they also have a local office where they stock products that you sell—saving the day in a pinch. Often, even if they don't have the product locally, having it shipped to their office will save you the shipping cost. (Just beware that if it takes you or an employee an hour to get there and back, calculate that cost into your bottom line).
Does the rep know your name? Can they pick you out in a line up? Having personal attention can make all the difference. I may have an advantage here since I'm a female in a male-dominated industry, which makes remembering me easier. (Not always good when you want to sneak out of a class or training though). If your rep does not know you by name, it is defeating the entire purpose of having a rep. Have they ever stopped into your company? Do they know what your sandbox is? The only thing they will be wasting is your time if they call on you for products that you don't sell; like security cameras if you don't sell security. If they are not making the effort, why should you?
There are some great reps out there and some others. Finding the right reps equates to a stronger company. Align yourself with the right team and save yourself future issues and headaches.
What do you look for in a firm?
Heather L. Sidorowicz is the president of Southtown Audio Video in Hamburg, NY.