June 14 2016
A few years ago I had the honour of sitting on the board of NEMRA (National Electrical Manufacturers Representatives Association) after having been chair of CEMRA here in Canada. It was a period of immense change for NEMRA. The previous president had retired, the offices moved to Portsmouth NH, a new president was in place, and a big preoccupation that often came up in board meetings was, “How do we change our image?” For those who remember, the NEMRA logo used to be a man with a briefcase. For as long as I can remember, that’s how I saw my father leave to go work every day. “You’re nothing without a nice attaché case,” my dad always said.
If only my father could see us now. Tablets, smartphones, Cloud-based files, Dropbox, Repfiles, CRMs… you name it, we’ve got it. Not always by choice either. Were did the unwritten rule of “24 hours for a reply to an email” go? Now, no sooner has the client seen the “read reply” in his Inbox then your phone rings: “So,” he says to you, “what do you think?”
Independent reps have had to change dramatically the way they go to market. We’ve changed the way we market and sell our products, but mostly we’ve changed the way we market and sell ourselves to manufacturers, distributors and customers. The independent rep has had to invest huge amounts of money on technology but also on employee training. Product “specialists” are now a common thing in the new era agency. In the competitive market that we live in, knowledge is power. The knowledge we bring to customer presentations is the power that can mean the difference between getting and losing an order. In my previous article (What Is an Independent Manufacturer’s Sales Representative), I said that independent sales reps “live and breathe for the sale, for closing the deal, for getting that PO.” The level of knowledge we have had to develop in the products we represent has increased as dramatically as the technology linked to them.
Today, customers get on the Internet and educate themselves on business problems, products and solutions, read independent reviews, join communities, and consult peers — all in a matter of minutes. Because of this, the independent reps have had to become much more self-sufficient and less dependant on information being funnelled to them. We go hunting for the information needed to secure that buying decision. Take contractors, for example: time is money. It’s what can make the difference between making money or losing money on a project. They all purchase products at relatively the same price. What can make the difference? Installation time. “How easy is it to install your product? – Click on the link I texted you and it’ll take you to the YouTube video.”
That being said, there is one thing that has not changed: human relationships. They are still the key to the independent reps success. We have spent decades, and in certain cases, generations, in developing those relationships. Technology is changing at a pace that most of us cannot follow. Our relationships with our manufacturers, distributors and customers may evolve WITH the technology, but not BECAUSE of the technology. Manufacturers will always need people who can help them open that door. Independent reps will always be there to open it for them: with their Bluetooth Ocular contact linked to the infra red sensor on the automatic door opener.
As a manufacturing agent, Marc Laplante of Laplante and Associates represents a full range of products used in the sectors electricity, mechanics and ventilation, as in residential, commercial and industrial and also at the level of original equipment suppliers; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more on Manufacturing in CEW from Marc Laplante below: