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Sales reps and brokers key to managing supply chain

When we talk about people vital to your retail success, most assume we are referring to staff. While there’s no denying staff play a vital role in shaping consumer opinions about your store, providing good (or bad) service and setting the stage for a return visit (or not), I have focused my past couple of blog posts about vital relationships with your supply chain. Good relationships with those who sell you merchandise play a big role in your sales and in the satisfaction of your customers.

If you missed them or want to refer back, you can check out my post about direct brands here and my post about distributors here.

The focus of this post is on sales representatives (who I shall refer to as “reps”) and brokers. People with these titles perform vital functions to your supply chain operating at its peak efficiency. For the sake of definitions in this post, I am going to refer to reps as those who work with and for one company only, as an employee of that company. I am going to refer to brokers as those who represent multiple lines but not as an employee of any of them. The distinction is probably subtle in many cases but makes my references clear.

Reps and brokers have very challenging and ever-changing roles. If all goes well, they are unsung heroes, with the brands, distributors and retailers all enjoying good sales, growing happy customers and appreciating the role that each played in making sales. If, however, things aren’t going well, the reps and brokers become scapegoats, the ones who let the others down and caused problems.

A good friend of mine who works as a sales rep recently told me that staying with the same brand for two years was a major accomplishment. If a broker/rep doesn’t bring enough sales, he will be replaced. However, he can also be replaced when bringing in a lot of sales. Many brokers have built up a line to the point that a brand decided to hire a staff person to manage it going forward. Sometimes brokers are changed out just to have a different “face” on the brand in the market. Each broker has some relationships that are stronger than others; a change may help the brand get additional exposure at a different set of retailers.

What should I expect from reps and brokers?

While every rep/broker should make sure that you know about new products, sales, line drives, show deals, consumer literature, staff training programs, etc., each rep/broker will do things a bit differently. Things to ask are: How often will he or she visit your store? When you do demo events, will he or she attend in person, hire a demo person or send samples? How accessible is he or she via email or cellphone? You should certainly expect a rep/broker to make an appointment before dropping in to see you and make sure that he or she knows what is, and is not, acceptable when in your store.

What should reps and brokers expect from me?

You should let reps and brokers know what you are looking for: What are your ingredient standards? Do you use floor displays? Do you take advantage of monthly and show deals? Do you use case stacks deals? Are you active with product demos? Let them know how often you want to see them. (Given the size of their territories, they may not be able to accommodate your requests.) If the rep/broker is new, let him or her know what role you see the brand(s) playing in your stores and what, if anything, you’d like to change.

Realize that reps/brokers may not have the authority to do what you want. They, however, are paid on the product that they sell you. If you are asking for “sales tools” (things that will help you sell more product), they are going to want to get them for you. They may not be able to get them for you, but they will go to bat for you.

What things have you used to help improve your relationship with your reps/brokers? Please share them in the comments below.

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