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Get the most from your sales reps.

Twenty years ago, a sale rep's job was pretty clear cut: stop at a gun shop, show the dealer what's new, write the order and move on to the next store. Today's sales rep is a different breed, because the market has changed.

"With the evolution of business, and with the growing trend of the big boxes, independent dealers need products that will help them compete. So, sales reps have a challenge to become business partners with independent dealers and help them with product selection and ways to market those products," said Milt Pittman. Inland Region director of sales for Henry's, a Big Rock Sports company.

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These changes have forced sales reps to alter the way they interact with independent retailers.

"Changes started taking place more than five years ago," said Paul Pluff, Smith & Wesson's sales manager. "The old days, with the old 'push' mentality, are gone. These days, the consumer is a lot more savvy and does a lot more research on products before he goes in to buy. And consumers have a lot more to choose from."

As a result, Pluff says, the industry has developed a "pull-through" approach to sales.

"Instead of trying to force the product out, our sales guys are trying to create demand from the consumer," Pluff said. "Sales reps have become less sales individuals and more marketing individuals."

Laurie Aronson, Lipsey's president, says the role of today's sales rep is about developing relationships.

"A retailer is only going to buy from someone he trusts," Aronson said. "Price doesn't matter as much when you've developed trust and you know the person and the company you're buying from, and you know what kind of service and value you're going to receive. We train reps on how to sell and on how to develop relationships with our customers. Product training is always a good refresher course."

That kind of training makes sales reps enthusiastic, Aronson says, and allows them to pass hands-on knowledge to retailers. In addition, sales reps are an excellent source of printed materials, including product flyers, safety posters, information about how to run a business, upcoming promotions, co-op advertising--just about anything to help a dealer stay in business and make more money.

Help Your Sales Rep Help You

"Today, the sales rep's role is to help the dealer create more opportunities," Pittman said. "Our salesmen have the capability of providing a year-to-date purchase history, or the last 12 months, or the last two years. Dealers can use that information in deciding what to order for the season."

The job of today's sales rep doesn't end with promotional events and inventory management. Many sales reps become deeply involved in helping retailers with other marketing and advertising projects.

"Our sales reps help dealers put together ad campaigns and weekend promotions," Pluff said. "Because most consumer events run on weekends, our sales reps get very few weekends off."

How can you get the most from your sells rep? Assuming the rep has done his homework--set an appointment and made sure you have catalogs ahead of time--you have a responsibility to the rep and your store to be ready when he arrives.

Review the company's catalogs and any suggestions the rep sent you about what you might want to purchase.

Review your inventory and order history. If you can, pull an inventory report and other information from your database that will indicate what you need to reorder, or ask your sales rep to either send you one ahead of time or bring it with him.

Look at your order history in terms of seasonal business.

"Have a calendar of when different seasons open in your area," Aronson said. "This will help the sales rep determine the best time for promotions."

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Then determine your priorities. When you understand your priorities and communicate them to your rep, he can find ways to help you work on those priorities.

"The retailer needs to have some idea of what he wants to do so the sales rep can help him make the most use out of his space," Aronson said. "This helps your rep understand what categories you need to purchase, the volume, and what and when promotions would be effective."

When Reps Don't Visit

Sales reps don't visit every store. If you don't interact with sales reps on a regular basis, what do you do? First, try to arrange a sales reps visit.

"If you need a particular line of products and the sales rep doesn't call on you, call the rep first," said Ray Oeltjen, of High Sierra Consulting. "If that doesn't work, contact the principal of the independent rep group or the sales manager of the product and ask to have the rep come see you."

If you can't get a sales rep to visit you from a specific manufacturer or distributor, ask if there's an inside sales or telemarketing department.

Some companies produce online training materials for retailers and have excellent catalog and marketing materials that are available via the Web.

"The Internet is a wealth of information," Oeltjen said. "It shouldn't replace the interpersonal relationship that you can develop with a rep, but it should be another element of your educational process."

Business Consultants

Will these kinds of changes for sales reps continue? Absolutely, Pluff says.

"As we go forward, we're going to see even more focus on consumers and dealers," Pluff said. "Maintaining or growing market share really depends on us creating a pull-through from consumers."

View your sales reps as consultants to your business, and use them as training partners to help you make your business better.
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Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Outdoor Marketplace
Author:Boyles, Carolee Anita
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:Oct 1, 2004
Words:937
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