Fair and HonestLike any relationship, you need to meet on even terms. Even though, as the supplier, you are likely to be a larger organization (with more lawyers!) than the rep, make the contract terms mutual where possible. Provide clear rules on territories and house accounts; carve out exclusive territories or clearly-defined verticals; and include reasonable payouts for taking customers direct. The criteria for converting a rep customer to a house account should be clear and reasonable - and always discuss with the rep management before making an account direct.
Training and Sales ToolsGone are the days when you can expect all the sales reps to be in the office on Monday morning for "mandatory product training." Your knowledge base needs to be online, accessible 24/7 - whenever and wherever a rep wants to learn - and mobile-friendly. Add incentives for completing training modules or passing progress tests, and use gamification with leaderboards and head-to-head contests between offices.
Support TeamsIf you make it easy for reps to get information - technical specs, pricing, shipments - then you make it easy for them to pull in the order. Set them up with a dedicated inside sales contact, give them online access to product information and price sheets, and get your technical team to visit the territory and make joint calls.
Sales Incentives and ContestsBase the contest on products and selling behaviors that both you and the reps care about, otherwise - unless the reward is substantial - it will just become noise. Keep the rules and qualification simple, so the rep doesn't need an algorithm to know if they're winning. And use leaderboards and regular communications to show them how they're doing against other reps, and progress towards the goal.
ListeningYou can't beat traveling with the reps as a way to find out what they need. Ask them which sales tools they regularly use (yours, and from other suppliers); what's most frustrating about working with your company; and what their best supplier does for them. A Rep Council brings together a few of your reps to talk about specific topics on a regular basis. In-person is great if you can manage it, but phone-calls or virtual meetings can be effective too. Just be sure you're willing to act on their recommendations. I won't guarantee that a focus on these will make you their #1 product line - brand-value, price points and market-share all play their part. But if you become the rep's emotional favorite, you'll soon find that you get more of their time and energy than the other suppliers. Previously published on LinkedIn.
As Vice President of Travel & Engagement at Next Level Performance, Susan serves on the board of the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF), and chairs the IRF Research Committee. She has also served on the board of the Incentive Marketing Association (IMA) and is a past president of the Recognition Council, and a past member of the Performance Improvement Council and the Incentive and Engagement Solution Providers (IESP). She is interested in the strategies and benefits of employee engagement, incentive, and recognition programs. An avid traveler, she is also passionate about the art and science of incentive travel.