Innovative sales management is critical to becoming and remaining strong as an organization. As a sales manager, you have to design your sales network to yield the greatest possible coverage for each segment of the market within tight budget constraints. At the same time, the network must be flexible enough to be redesigned and redirected as priorities and opportunities change.
One strategy that will help you achieve this balance is the use of independent sales representatives as part of your network. Independent sales reps complement your internal sales team and allow your company to cover specialized or smaller segments of the market at a lower cost.
Lack of motivation means a loss of sales. You generally don’t have to worry about motivating independent sales reps to sell. They already have that going; otherwise they wouldn’t have a business you want to be associated with. You do, however, want to motivate the independent sales rep to work your product line with attention and consistency.
Financial incentives are certainly as effective with independent reps as they are with your internal team. Keep in mind that, like all employees, independent reps do their jobs for reasons that extend beyond money. They clearly have a lower need for company-based affiliation than internal reps.
Nevertheless, since they are working for your company, they likely would welcome some actions that make them feel included. Pleasant working conditions, power and authority, security, and the opportunity to excel motivates them. Here are some ways you can address those needs when working with external reps.
Give them leads. Don’t hold out just because they may—and probably will—develop those leads for your company and others. Provide back-up support. Have your inside salespeople prequalify leads without cutting the rep’s commissions. Set up some secretarial support in-house to help with the paperwork. The sales team’s secretary or the company production shop could also help external reps prepare reports or get them produced.
Respect their time and independence. Have a set schedule for status meetings by phone; don’t call simply when you want to know what’s going on. If you are going to spend a few days with a rep, schedule the time well in advance. Don’t tell reps who to see or set up appointments for them. Independent reps make their own schedules to maximize the time they spend in each part of their territory.
Respond promptly to their customers. Independent reps protect their relationships with "their" customers. A customer who is unhappy over a problem with your product takes it out on the rep. So, if you can’t deliver or support a product to meet the customer’s expectations, the rep will not sell your line.
Honor their territory. Don’t allow your internal salespeople or another of your independent reps to infringe on the territory assigned to a rep.
The management skills and techniques you have learned to use with your own salespeople will apply to independent reps. Keep in mind; however, the nature of their relationship with your company is such that they retain far more autonomy, accountability and authority than your internal sales team. You need to provide a point of leadership for your external representatives, without applying control.