14 Feb 2014

Bad Reps. Pick the ‘A’ team!

Every February the CX team tour Australia and meet a lot of industry types, covering all corners of our exciting niche industry. Plus we get to travel with up to 70 product specialists. Some of them are ‘product reps’.

Not sure why, but of late the discussion has centred on just how good most of them are. These are the ‘A’ team – knowledgeable, diligent, disciplined, and performance driven. But also inclined to the long view – establishing and managing relationships for the future, not just the day after tomorrow.

On our tours, we meet all the A team, since Roadshow is the place to be in February. We also meet some ‘B’ team, who aspire to improve their craft, or who simply fill the gaps in any distributors roster.


But sometimes we meet a flag carrying member of the ‘C’ team, a man (they are all men) who simply Should Not be There. Someone who has blundered into, or been promoted wrongly, and find themselves representing a national company.

I can’t be too specific as it would be unfair to both the poor klutz’s in the C team and also their hapless employers. But some general traits and specific previous sins tend to define the model.

Years ago we all nudged each other when The Bonehead walked in. Assuming somehow his ever changing career dance card was due to his ascending brilliance, this sump-head had almost no technical knowledge and a sense of entitlement that matched his dull suits. Sure enough, he fell foul of his own colleagues on April fools day when they wound him up about a revolutionary product that defied the laws of physics, and sent him out to win orders. The customers got the joke, and he came to the sales meeting with a gleeful fistful of ‘orders’.


Not too long later we all got to know the Cat. As in, the Cheshire Cat, big dopey grin designed to defuse the need for intelligent thought. His product knowledge was based on asking the client what they thought the device did, which was kind of funny the first time but a dead give away the next. He could not control his mouth, nor what he put into it, and had the occasional accident in his pants at industry events after 30 beers.

Along the way, the crude and the crass stand out, where derogatory comments towards women, minorities and gays along with leering looks quickly turn away the quiet majority. One lamp salesman, many years ago, turned to me when his assistant left the room, and announced she was amazingly stacked – with hand gestures, in case I was deaf.

Another guy suggested we go to a red light area after the event we were at, to ‘get our dicks wet’. I was flabbergasted. Likewise the American reps (most often) who think nothing of inviting you to a ‘titty bar’ to carry on the discussion.

I’m not prude or conservative, but I don’t respect that, or anything on the moral fringes, including allusions to drug availability. The procuring and supply of prostitutes at events in Asia is beyond the pale.

One famous Australian ‘C’ team player burned his employer very badly when approached at an ENTECH not too long ago by a couple of guys from a major church. ‘Where are you from?’ he asked. When told, he said ‘that’s not a church’. They nodded and walked away. His firm are conspicuous by the absence of their brands in that and many affiliated churches in the years since. I think the guy cost them as much as 5 million dollars in lost business. They still don’t get it.

From the CX vantage point, we categorize ‘C’ team players when they are late or don’t turn up, when they don’t bring everything needed, and when they fail to collect the gear. That’s just when we are doing product reviews. Imagine what’s going on in their weekly sales activities?

While most equipment distributors are well organised and scrutinize their reps, we do wonder what’s going on when we still have expensive products sitting in our HQ weeks after we’ve reviewed them, often without paperwork.

Those firms are usually the ones where the reps learn that they can sell on consignment, by leaving gear ‘on demo’ with clients, in the hope they will buy it later. After an uncomfortable negotiation.

It’s hard to find smart, emphatic, presentable, diligent and technically brilliant product reps. Guys or girls (where are they) who promptly follow up, return calls and emails, and get answers. It’s even harder to find one that can actually sell and close a deal.



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