Setting up a sales rep network is one of the most cost effective ways to start selling regionally, nationally or internationally. Expect sales reps to take a 10-12% commission, but for inventors starting out selling their product, this is much cheaper and more effective than trying to hire, train and motivate his or her own sales employees.
Sales reps bring with them expertise, experience, industry knowledge and many contacts within the industry-all things that you need to succeed. Additionally, while stores will buy from anyone, they prefer fewer vendors, so sometimes being an inventor with one product makes it difficult to get into retailers. But having sales reps that already sell to your target market means that many of your target stores already buy from your rep and can add a new product without much hassle. Also when adding new stores, your reps won't face the same resistance that a one product inventor faces since they carry other products.
There are lots of reps, but you need to know how to find them. Follow the below steps and you should be able to locate plenty of reps.
Trade Magazines and Trade Shows
Locate the leading trade magazines and trade shows for the industry. If possible attend the trade show, go to booths with complementary products and see if they have reps or maybe the booth is even run by reps.
Subscribe to the industry trade magazines and in the new product sections, send away for information on complementary products and when you receive the sales literature, see if there are local reps names included. Talk to the rep and see if he or she knows additional reps.
Trade Association Websites
Sometimes industry trade association websites have lists of reps. Gales' Book of Associations, found at most larger libraries, and Internet searches should be enough for you to find industry trade associates.
Also check out manufactures sales representatives directories such as MANA, Manufacturers Agents National Association.
Talk to Other Inventors
When attending trade shows or other industry events, network with other inventors and ask them if they know any good reps.
Preparing a manufactures' rep agreement
Before you start contacting sales reps, you want to have a manufactures' rep agreement ready in case they are interested. You can find a sample manufactures representative agreement on the Internet or have one done by an attorney.
There are many particulars in the agreement that you will see in samples that you find in libraries or on the Internet. The main thing for you to be prepared for is to expect to pay a commission of 10 to 12%.
Prepare rep materials for a mailing
Having great materials for your rep mailing is key to success. You need to let reps that you have a hot new product, that you are running a professional and serious business and that you are ready to do all it takes for your product and your reps to succeed.
The literature should include sales flyers, price lists, stories and testimonials. You should offer samples, list your web page, and include info on manufacturing capabilities. Discuss marketing support, i.e. ads being run, trade shows you will attend, PR efforts, and other support. Offer information on sample policies, consignment or guaranteed sales for new customers, and co-op advertising programs. Also include what reps will receive for promotional materials, sales materials and samples.
You need professional looking materials so the reps know you mean business. If your mailing looks like it was put together by a fly-by-night company, it is unlikely you will attract talented and experienced reps.
Sending out the mailing
Send your mailing only to 10 to 15 reps to start. Then call them up and see if any of them are interested in your line. If not, check to see why they are not interested. You may need to make some changes in your package.
If your first mailing didn't go well, make changes to your package and send it to another 10 to 15 sales reps and again call them up and if they are not interested, find out why. Keep on doing this until you know you've got the right mailing materials. Then make a larger scale mailing to all of the reps on your list.
When sending out your mailing, don't send the contract, but have it ready if someone is interested.
Interviewing the reps
If a rep is interested, make sure you ask him or her a few questions to make sure that he or she is really the right rep for you. Here is what should you look for:
Reps should have complementary lines. For example, if you have a new style of backpack for camping, you want the rep to have other outdoor product lines for the same market.
Driven to Succeed
You want a hungry rep. Selling new products can be hard, so you want a rep that is ready to go out and give it his or her all. The best reps are ones that worked for another rep agency and then started his or her own agency and is anxious to build up sales.
Successful Track Record
Check that the rep has taken on other new lines successfully over the last two years.
Impact of Your Product
The rep needs to believe he or she can make at least $10,000 or $15,000 with your product. If they can't make that much, it is unlikely they will support it for long.
The rep has to have the technical knowledge to properly represent your product. This doesn't apply to all products, just ones that have a technical or scientific nature. For instance, if you have a chemical product, you need reps that can intelligently and understandably talk about how your product works and answer questions possibly of a technical nature. They don't need to be chemists, but at least have a basic understanding.
Related: Sales Training Courses
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