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Get clear view of expectations to improve performance

Reps on the Road

Ed BrookesMost of my past articles have addressed issues in our industry exclusively from a sales representative's perspective. That is natural because that is what I do for a living and it is the constituency that I represent in the magazine. This month, though, I will turn the tables and look at the sales rep from the dealer's point of view.
     I conducted a very unscientific survey of various patio furniture dealers throughout the country to solicit questions or concerns that they have about their sales reps. I asked for things they may not want to ask in person. Maybe it was the way I went about gathering the information or maybe it is the stark reality of people's feelings and perceptions, but most of the feedback was somewhat negative.
     So, in no particular order, here are some questions they would ask us. Did you buy that special cell phone with no ringer and immediate pickup by voicemail?
     Are you really telling the truth that every product in your line is a best seller and I should floor it?
     Is your factory's customer service really that bad or did you forget to follow up on my issue?
     Can you not only visit my stores more often but actually spend time improving my sales staff or your product display?
     Can you become more knowledgeable about all of the lines you carry, particularly all of the benefits that will help me sell it?
     What am I doing right? What can I do better? What do I need to do to grow your business with my factories?
     Did you pay extra for that phone that does not ring on weekends when my store is actually busy?
     Do you have to sell everyone in my market? Do you have to sell them the same thing you sold me?
     These are just the highlights, or maybe lowlights of the feedback I received. Are all of the questions fair and accurate? Of course not, and some may be a little tongue-incheek, but where there is smoke there is fire.
     It is disheartening that most of us work hard and take pride in the job we do and still fight these stereotypes.
There is a solution.
     A large part of my career was spent on the corporate side of this business. In that environment, you would meet once a year with your superior and have a performance review. Most were not real formal meetings but most were very insightful. This is a practice that could go a long way in replacing some of the above misconceptions.
     I know we are all independent contractors and technically do not report to our dealers. That being said, what is wrong with an informal meeting once a year over lunch to discuss our performance? I'm suggesting sitting down in a relaxed setting with paper and pencil and asking your dealers a few questions about the year. What am I doing right? What can I do better? What do I need to do to grow your business with my factories?
     I am sure the discussion will take many turns but you would both walk away with a clearer understanding of expectations and how you are going to achieve them.
     As with all performance reviews, the first one is the hardest, but if the recommendations are followed you just cannot wait to get to the next one.
     Ed Brookes is an independent sales representative for Tropitone and Acacia Home & Garden. His experience includes retailing and manufacturing in the casual and residential furnishings industry.

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