How to Build the Perfect Manufacturer Sales Rep

How to Build the Perfect Manufacturer Sales Rep

For years, we’ve worked with companies who have been on a quest to build the perfect manufacturer sales rep. Failures are more common than successes, and when things don’t work out failure generally lands squarely on the head of the reps. Reps depart and the building process starts anew.

Sure, some reps aren’t good at their jobs, but often the manufacturer shares the blame for failure if not the consequences. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Manufacturers can build the perfect sales rep by managing:

  • Areas of responsibility, and priorities
  • Performance criteria

The perfect rep will look different to each manufacturer, but each will be guided by clear definitions of these two factors.

An Imperfect Scenario

Sales reps often balance a set of competing responsibilities: Sales, education, managing communication between their territory’s dealers and brand management, and warranty resolution. Their territory probably includes a mix of high and low performing dealers.

Sales and marketing management have their own competing expectations. They need to build sales, keep dealers happy, put out fires when problems occur, and steal market share away from competitors. The sales rep is their point person for all this.

And each month the sales rep receives a summary of their performance. It’s a sales report. If sales meet or exceed goal, the rep is golden. If not, the rep is on the bubble. Maybe she’s thinking about her next job.

Sales rule. Everything else is entirely secondary to the sales rep. Not to management, though. See the conflict?

The sales rep’s performance doesn’t match management’s expectations. That’s not her fault, because management has built her that way.

The Right Way to Build a Sales Rep

To avoid the imperfect scenario, follow a more systematic plan for building a sales rep.

First, clearly define the scope of a sales rep’s job, and their priorities. Are they responsible for building sales, educating dealers, or growing the brand footprint within dealerships? Spell this out and show them where your priorities lie.

Share a sales plan that segments dealers in meaningful ways – high performers, low performers, those that show potential, those that need to be shown the door. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach to sales development, equip your rep with a plan that is realistic and most likely to return the highest rewards for the company, and for the rep.

Avoid the temptation to turn your sales rep into a marketing rep. This is common to many manufacturers, but it puts them on a dangerous path. It pretends that sales people have marketing skills; most don’t. Worse, it consolidates a number of key tasks – brand communications, gathering customer feedback, and sales – in one person. Reps are an important link between dealers and manufacturers, but it’s critical that they never become the only link.

Second, implement a performance measurement plan that reflects the actual activities you expect your rep to perform. Measuring sales is easy. Measuring dealer knowledge or other things can be trickier.  But it matters; you have to measure every aspect of the performance expectations you’ve defined.

To put it another way, rewards and penalties have to match your expectations.

Sales reps that clearly understand what’s expected of them, and see their performance reviews (and compensation!) aligned with those expectations, are most likely to work toward those expectations. The result: Sales becomes a more cohesive organization, rather than individuals just trying to do whatever they can to get paid and keep their jobs.