Lead Generator #17 – Sales Agents & Reps

Using a sales agent sounds like the ideal method for those who don’t like sales and marketing. Just pay someone else to do it, right?.

Unfortunately, nobody cares for your business like you do, so I do NOT recommend this as a primary source of business. To be blunt, if you are not ready and willing to market and sell, you are not ready to start a consulting practice!

But done correctly, agents and reps can generate incremental business. It has worked for us, and we are even included on one manufacturing rep’s line card. We are also listed in a training catalog. While neither is a major source of business, it is still good business and much appreciated.

Here are some comments on dealing with sales agents and reps, based on my 25 years as a full-time consultant — 7 years as a field sales engineer — and 2 years managing independent sales reps.

  • Synergy – Look for someone already in your market niches. For example, both our rep and our training firm serve the same business niches we do. They are already in front of the right people, so it is easy for them to offer our services as an add-on.
  • Share of mind – Good sales people are busy. Keep in contact — out of sight, out of mind — but don’t overdo it. An occassional e-mail or phone call will suffice. If/when the opportunity arises, offer to buy them lunch or dinner (or even a beer.)
  • Support – Good sales people value their time. It is a precious resource. Make it easy for them — provide materials, answer questions, and follow up right away. And don’t be bossy — rather, ask what they need and how you can help them.
  • Payment – Good sales people are motivated by money. Don’t expect things for free. We pay commissions as follows:
    –10% on a lead. We follow up, close the business, do the work, and bill the client.
    — 20% on a purchase order. We do the work and bill the client.
    — 30% on paid business. We do  the work, then and get paid for it.
    Our payments are based on fees only, but not expenses. They get paid when we get paid. And we mail their check out right away — no delays.
  • Agreements – You need an agreement or memo of understanding that spells out terms and responsibilities. Keep  it short, but it must be signed by both parties.

So how do you find a suitable sales person? Network and cultivate contacts.

A good place to start is trade shows. Ask companies in your market place who they use. This is particularly useful if you are targeting a specific locality. Most people will share this, as long as you are not seen as a potential competitor.

Another good place is professional organizations. That is how we met our manufacturer’s rep, along with several clients. Local  chapters are particularly effective — they are like watering holes where everybody regularly meets to quench their business thirsts.

What kind of sales person are you looking for? Briefly, here are four classes of sales personnel:

  • Reps – Also known as manufacturer’s representatives. These are often small independent sales organizations who focus on both a business niche and a geographical niche. They usually operate on full commission, do not carry products for sale, and are paid upon sales/delivery. We are on the “line card” of one rep who serves our business niche.
  • Resellers – Like reps, there are often smaller firms that specialize in marketing services to specific business niches. One example is firms who match-make expert witnesses with law firms. Another is training catalogs, a method we use. Like a rep, both make their money upon the sale.  (Unfortunately, there are charlatans who want advance payment — my advice — don’t do it.)
  • Distributors – These are usually larger organizations, but may also focus on business niches. They usually carry products for sale, and may offer ancillary services. The latter is where you may fit as a consultant, particularly if you serve a special niche. We’ve done business this way.
  • Field sales – These are full time company employees, and likely can not represent you, but may provide contacts as they have a lot of visibility into their territories. I was a field sales engineer (Intel & Tektronix) for seven years, and often passed along leads to consultants as a courtesy (no fees.). In return, they advised me of potential sales opportunities.

Don’t overlook other professionals or similar businesses. Depending on the business, fees may or not be the norm. If no fees are involved, do your best to return the courtesy. Don’t take without giving back.

Finally, avoid conflicts of interest. As Registered Professional Engineers (PE), we do NOT pay fees to non-sales organizations, nor do we accept fees for referrals. Neither are allowed by our rules of professional ethics.

We do pass leads and recommendations along as appropriate, and we make sure our clients understand that no money changes hands. Keeps it clean and simple.

Hope his has given you some ideas on how you might use existing sales organizations. But you still need to do the bulk of the sales and marketing yourselves — at least if you want to stay in business!

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