Snake Oil Salesman or Snake Charmer
The traveling salesman has always had slightly negative, slightly shady reputation. If you’ve ever seen The Music Man, particularly the opening scene on the train, you know what I mean. I would like to think business has changed from the days of the “snake oil salesman” to what we now refer to as a “manufacturer’s rep.
I have been a “rep” for quite a few years. Sometimes I wonder if I know anything at all. Other times I think I am on the verge of splitting an atom. I don’t have all the answers; some times, I don’t even have or understand the questions, but indulge me for a few minutes while I share my experiences.
At a minimum, you should expect your rep to understand their products and services. Typically when a new product or service is offered, it starts with pretty pictures via an email campaign. Anyone can make pretty pictures. Let’s see how it really works and functions and does it make sense for you, the distributor, to offer and promote.
Before any of you comment, yes I have done demos where the dang thing was put together upside down, or the ease of set up is made easier with a large hammer, but I can take the ribbing and say “you saw it here first folks.” My excuse is that I hardly ever do this, which is not much of an excuse. But, it can be entertaining, if not for me.
You should expect an update on the company — What has been its successes and its shortcomings. If you have “hitched your wagon” to a company, then you need to know we are headed in the right direction, bringing new, innovative products to market, adding staff to accommodate growth, and improving the overall customer service experience for you, the distributor, and ultimately for your customer. I always try to give a little State of the Union in my meetings. You need to have confidence in us.
You should expect industry knowledge. Classic Exhibits has distributors in many different segments of this industry. We can tell you what we are seeing, not seeing, and sometimes what we are afraid to see. We travel and chat with portable/modular distributors, custom houses, event companies, Internet resellers, and suppliers. In some ways, we want to be your “Canary in the Coal Mine.” We try to be an extension of you and your company. I never talk about a specific customer and their methods, but I might tell you that “many companies are having great success with venue-based marketing” or that there are a lot of customers doing well with Sacagawea. We want to give you information that will help direct your company.
You should expect your manufacturer’s rep to assist in the mentoring of new employees. We aren’t trying to run your company, but many times a new employee just needs to talk to a veteran. It may be about strategies or products or industry history or specific venues. I get asked tons of travel-related questions because I have done so much of it. I look at mentoring as another way to offer advice and make friends.
Whenever a Classic Distributor has a new salesperson, I want to connect with them. The goal is to make him feel part of an industry that is made up of a lot of really smart, seasoned folks.
You should expect your manufacturer’s rep to “grease the wheel” from time to time. When you are struggling with something, and it isn’t making sense and adding up, call your manufacturer’s rep to ask them to get involved. We can sometimes prevent issues from developing (if you see problems coming). We also can get far deeper into “the system” than you, the customer can. Think of us is as your insurance agent. You have a claim and the adjuster does their thing. You look at the results, or the pending results and scratch your head and say, “Hmmmm, that makes no sense.” The next call you make is to your insurance agent. He or she needs to be that buffer and so does your manufacturer’s rep.
You should expect your rep to be a listener. If Classic Exhibits does one thing better than the rest, it’s listening to our customers. We encourage ideas to be brought to us. It seems like every trip I take (about 25 or so a year) I get in a conversation where a customer offers up something that will make us better. The flip side of this is the customer always needs to feel comfortable in “venting” to you. Sometimes they just need to be heard. The last thing you ever want is for your clients to think you don’t care or are only giving lip service. Listen. Listen twice as much as you talk. That’s why you have two ears and only one mouth
Finally, you should expect your rep to be a friend, or at least a close colleague. Friends buy from friends. So if you really want to boil down everything to one simple thought: we are out to make friends. Can you become friends with your customers? Do you like people and are you genuinely interested in their lives. I have been to weddings, funerals, vacations, concerts, sporting events, fishing and hunting trips. They are all opportunities to engage and spend time with a customer and a friend. It makes my life richer because I like and respect them . . . and if it adds to our business growth, then that is a bonus. My good buddy Scott Lindsay and I have been on hunting trips together. You spend 15 hours in a truck each direction, along with sharing a hotel room for five nights and tell me you aren’t better friends than when you left. To build a better relationship, just be friends.
I can honestly say, with the customers I have had over the years, it certainly doesn’t have to work. I have had the best experiences with some truly wonderful people. Can you say that about your job?
Till the next time,