While it’s true that selling products directly to the consumer today has been made easier by the latest technologies, the need for face-to-face sales exchanges between real, live human beings remains a critical part of any successful sales strategy. The trouble is that many home-based or other small business or franchise owners with something to sell often find that the retail marketplace is nearly impenetrable.
If you’re a business owner, especially a new one, you may be looking for ways to get your products on as many store shelves as possible. One way you can go about it is by cold calling retailers that feature products like yours to see if they’ll bite. Another is to spend whatever it takes on search engine optimization to maximize your online exposure. Direct mail and email campaigns have also been known to bring in orders, but at what cost?
It might be nice to know that there is another option―you can hire a firmly established, professional sales representative, or “rep.”
A sales rep, also known as a sales agent or broker in some industries, is an independent business person who acts as the sales arm for one or more enterprises and is a professional who specializes in the retail marketing of a range of complementary products and services. Most reps are paid a commission for their sales efforts as opposed to a salary, with the typical rate somewhere between 10 and 15%.
Using a professional sales rep can be a great investment for any entrepreneur, as they typically manage a host of long-standing and trusted relationships with multiple retailers in specific industries across the country. That means that buying into the right rep’s established network alleviates your need to identify and pitch relevant retailers yourself, saving you significant time and money. Sales reps also provide a certain degree of credibility in the marketplace, especially for an upstart business owner who is new to the game.
While some sales reps require an advance on commissions, the vast majority of them only get paid if and when they sell your products or services to their clients for resale, so what have you got to lose?
The next question you might be asking is, “How do I go about finding a professional sales rep that will represent my products or services to the greatest number of appropriate retailers in the most favorable light?”
There are a number of ways you can get started, and here they are:
- Frequent trade shows―Good sales reps will tell you that they’re always on the lookout for the most suitable or next big thing that they can market to their network of established retail clients. In fact, their clients count on them to aggressively seek out the products and services that, in turn, make their customers want to frequent their stores over and over again. If you think you’ve got what sales reps and their clients are looking for, you need to get out there and talk up your offerings. A trade show is just the place.
- Hire a consulting company―You can also find good sales reps by hiring a consulting company that specializes in matching up businesses like yours with just the right professional of this kind, one that is specifically suited to your needs and industry.
- Talk to buyers―Another way of identifying just the right sales rep for your business is to inquire with the retailers who you think would be most interested in what it is you have to sell. Ask them who they buy their products from. They not only can help you to identify who the most successful and appropriate reps for your products or services might be, but they can also tell you about the most promising upstarts in the business. Keep in mind that the newest reps may have something that even the most established ones don’t―they’re “hungry” pros-in-the-making who likely will give you more of their time and energy.
- Ask other reps―The world of the sales rep is actually quite small in many ways. Reps talk and network about and with one another quite frequently. There’s no harm in asking reps for their thoughts on who might represent your products and services best.
At the end of the day, one thing all sales reps can agree on is that they only want to represent businesses if the packaging, price and level of demand for what they’re selling are right. Additionally, entrepreneurs need to know that reps do their homework too. If a rep thinks a business is unlikely to fill orders in a timely fashion or is close to going out of business anytime soon, he or she is not likely to risk his or her hard-earned reputation by affiliating themselves with that organization. Good sales reps are smart business people. They are looking to build long-standing and credible relationships with both their clients and their customers. Their livelihoods, and perhaps yours, depend on it.