As part of the countdown of our top 10 most popular blog posts of 2016, here’s number 10!
Many manufacturers rely on agents to represent them in niche markets or remote geographical territories. Countless complain about the results, but in return, award them with blind trust. You begin to wonder if these agents are actually “secret” agents.
Here, B2B manufacturers export nationally and internationally. According to the market niches, in the absence of a direct sales team in all territories served, relying on an “agent” is a viable solution. There are a series of definitions for an agent, but in general, it is a person or business that approaches products and services in markets identified for third party accounts. This way of doing indirect business development is a common practice, particularly in areas where the sales cycle is long and where opportunities are often related to human or relational factors between the contractors and manufacturers. Agents are also useful when the culture, language, and business practices are specific to the territory.
Naturally, manufacturers are looking for agents with experience and a roadmap in their field and target markets. This is why “gray haired” agents are often hired. They claim they have contacts and are able to approach them. Unfortunately, not many have the skills nor a structured approach to accomplish what is expected of them: sales, or at least, bring in opportunities. Nevertheless, many manufacturers give blind trust to these agents. Doing business with an agent is not to absolve one’s self the supervision of the sales process, as having an agent is not a valid reason to not support one’s sales team.
Choosing your agent
Manufacturers, if you can’t deploy your own sales team or invest in the development of your market in a direct way for linguistic, cultural and political reasons or by simple economic sense, dealing with an agent is a good option for you. Choose wisely.
You are entrusting them with a mission of importance for your business. Do your homework, evaluate them. Get their advice on how your own sales team can penetrate the market. What is their actual knowledge of the environment? Do they have a plan for you, a structured process (marketing plan, marketing activities, etc.)?
Will you record their activities, and if so, how often? What other product lines do they represent and how will these activities be an obstacle to your offer?
Your long distance sales team
Managing a sales team is a challenge and can be more so if you are doing it remotely. An agent is a member of your sales team. Stay in touch with them. Make phone meetings and weekly conference calls using Skype, Google Hangouts (still used by a lot of companies), or any other way possible.
Do you support your sales team with tools and marketing initiatives? Do the same with your agents. Customize your tools according to their needs. Still, keep the upper hand on incoming contacts and require that they use your management customer relationship (CRM) system when performing follow-ups and to document all communication. You are the owner of the data they collect for any sales opportunities.
Too many manufacturers rely on ‘secret’ agents who don’t supply them with feedback. Do not hand over the responsibility to someone else. Be proactive with these resources as your sales team requires support and supervision.
Choose your agents and evaluate them. Hold them accountable for their actions and be in frequent contact with them.
A good agent works for you and communicates with you. Look for those who are committed to your offer and have a plan of action for its start-up. Blind faith has no place here. Powerful agent, Yes! “Secret” agent, No!