Who are Reps and What Do They Really Do?

By Ron Devoe
Successful Sales Consulting

consultant-0114A phrase often quoted from the Bard is “a rose by any other name is still a rose.” While it does not roll off the tongue quite as well, it can be said that a rep by any other name is still a rep. For over three decades, I have heard the frequent uttering of the word, “rep,” either preceded by an unflattering adjective or followed by some form of expletive. Even my friend, the well informed and articulate founder of this publication, has offered an opinion on the validity of reps. To be fair, his thesis relates to the less meaningful contribution of mediocre to poor reps rather than a criticism of good reps. I believe this can be said of all facets of our industry, yet it seems as though the rep frequently gets an unfair review.

  1. Sales are down… Blame the rep!
  2. Back orders… Blame the rep!
  3. Excessive inventory… Blame the rep!
  4. The economy is sluggish… Blame the rep!
  5. There is smog… Blame the rep!
  6. Trouble in the Mid-East… Blame the rep!

By definition, an independent manufacturer’s representative (rep) is a commissioned agent under contract with a manufacturer to develop, strengthen and maintain a dealer network within a geographical territory. One of my daughters, who was asked years ago in her first grade class about what I did, simply replied… ”He travels a lot.” I tried in vain to explain to my mother about my database of dealers that I call on within the communication industry. After I had explained database, she then told others that she thought I sold the Yellow Pages. If friends and family cannot understand, how can the industry of which reps are a vital part, ever understand what reps do?

In my attempt to help the industry fully understand what a rep is and what he or she does, I believe that there are many different words that can describe their activities which may not be quite as evident. Here are a few:

  • Peddler: Show to sell, show and sell, show and then sell.
  • Prospector: Mine for every opportunity for your manufacturers and your dealers.
  • Trapper: Secure the sale and turn over to the dealer.
  • Juggler: Work several lines, but keep everything moving.
  • Anchor Man: Be prepared to expound on all news within the industry.
  • Intelligence Agent: Know everything the competition is showing, introducing or considering.
  • Soothsayer: Know all things that are about to happen.
  • Tightrope Walker: Balance all activities to give % growth to every represented manufacturer.
  • Caterer: Feed all in attendance in sales meetings, lunch and learns and road shows.
  • Travel Agent: Book hotels and travel for visiting manufacturers.
  • Chauffer: Drive manufacturers throughout your territory.
  • Sherpa: Haul in and haul out loads of demo equipment.
  • Arbiter:  Resolve dealer/manufacturer conflicts.
  • Technician: Troubleshoot to discover problems at job site.
  • Magician: Wave magic wand to correct shipping errors, faulty installations and DOA hardware.
  • Counselor: Listen, console and counsel dealers, end users, manufacturers during tough times.
  • Head Hunter: Know of all job openings and preferences, but never be the source of any employee movement.
  • Bill Collector: Gently twist the arms of slow paying dealers.
  • Barker: Be prepared to work at endless booths at trade shows and dealer events. Reps must cover the time that manufacturer’s staffs are having lunch at these events.
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Often reps are asked to be Miracle Workers, Priests or Operators of a Non-Profit Business.

A rep has to continually be a part of conference calls, webinars and business reviews and must always be responsive to phone calls, texts and emails in a timely manner.

All of the above are seemingly daily roles assumed by the reps. Many rep firms are small and therefore the principal has to wear even more hats as she or he returns to the home office to assume the roles of financing, HR, IT management, data entry, marketing, etc. No problem… sleep is really over rated.

Despite all the monikers and hats that a rep wears, he/she is still a rep. My oldest daughter, Darcy, when seven years old, had just seen Coal Miner’s Daughter and heard the song “I’m proud to be a Coal Miner’s…” She then piped up singing” I’m proud to be an Independent Audio Video Manufacturer’s Representative’s daughter.” Again, her lyric did not trip off the tongue but it had great meaning to me and she now carries the title of rep herself.

So who are reps and what do they really do?

They are regularly engaged in every facet of our industry. They are routinely observed in dealer and consultant offices. They are actively engaged with their manufacturers. Their handprint is seen in every project from home theater to house of worship to digital signage to video conferencing. They rep (represent) our industry.