7 Steps to Success With Independent Sales Reps—Being Rep-Ready™

Not being Rep-Ready is one of the biggest hurdles to successfully using the Independent Sales Rep channel. Ready your company to maximize your opportunity for a successful independent sales representation experience.

  1. Be Rep-Ready™ with an adequate business plan
    • Adequate capitalization—can you finance your raw materials, advertising, staff and all other expenses during your ramp up period? This also means that you have either already expended funds for the items on this page relevant to your business, or have the necessary budget for them. If you have not made this investment already or are not prepared to do so soon, you are not ready for reps.
    • Your business plan allows a "living wage" for the rep. For example, if a rep is going to spend 25% of her time on your line, then she needs to generate 25% of her income from it. According to Glassdoor, in 2023 the median independent sales rep income is $159,000. To achieve such an income level, that means the rep would need to clear $40,000 from your commissions, still assuming that will be 25% of her income and that you are targeting a “median” rep. For top performers, the numbers to up accordingly. For a detailed formula on how to compute a fair sales rep commission, please see What is a fair commission to be paid to independent sales reps?
    • Your business model is well developed. You have determined the channels through which you will sell. You have considered multiple channels, such as B2B, B2C, distribution, resellers, online, and brick and mortar.
    • Your Branding could be more important than you might think. You might think your brand consists of logos and color schemes, but in truth your brand is the entire identify of your business.
    • A compelling website today can be critical to your credibility in the marketplace, as well as an important sales channel.
    • Have marketing communications and messaging already crafted explaining the benefits and features of your products and services.
    • Have relevant promotional materials available for your independent sales reps. Due to geographical factors, there may be some products or services that your business may not make available in other parts of the country. Independent sales reps should be armed with the appropriate marketing materials that do not misrepresent or mislead their supply capabilities.
    • Have a good pricing model.
    • Have a compelling commission rate. Will you be paying commissions on existing business?
    • Establish your Sales Model and Process. The model and process includes lead generation, cold calling scripts, sales pitches, introductory emails, answers to common objections, sales presentations and follow up, etc.
    • If you intend to sell your product through "big-box" retail, then you understand that to be successful you will need to be prepared for many requirements listed on this page and that it will take time to develop or prepare them. If you don't have for example UPC codes or adequate manufacturer's liability insurance, you need to get these in place before you are ready for reps. Please review this page in detail to determine what applies to your business model.
  2. Understand the Rep Channel
    • Understand that the rep cannot guarantee sales; rather the rep should guarantee access to buyers.
    • Understand the time to order placement:
      • Even if you have the most desirable product imaginable, you don't just walk in to a buyer at Walmart and get the order next week;
      • Even if they like you, it could take six to nine months before order is in hand.
    • Understand EDI if it is a part of your business model.
    • With retail and especially with "Big Box", understand that each square inch of shelf space must achieve the retailer's revenue target; will your product do that?
    • Understand market ramp up time at retail (displays, arranging shelf-space, etc.).
    • Understand that large order size might overwhelm your ability to deliver; have a plan to handle this eventuality.
  3. Be Ready to Communicate with the Rep on the details as they fit your business
    • Current customer lists
    • Company history
    • Brand comparisons
    • Sales book – pricing and sell sheets
    • Liability Insurance
    • Terms for customer payments
    • Blank invoice for setting up accounts
    • Your contact person who handles new vendor setup forms required by customers; existing pre-prepared forms
    • Price lists
    • Volume incentives/Volume bonus programs
    • Holiday and Seasonal items
    • Product and New item information
      • Case Cube / Case Weight / Case Dimensions
      • Pallet Count / UPC / GTIN UPC / Item descriptions
      • Club Packs / Special Packs / Pallet programs / Shippers
      • Knock down (empty cartons/packaging)
    • Placement programs / slotting available
    • Private label, co-branding, branded
    • Costs delivered and FOB your plant
    • Remittance address
    • Minority-owned opportunities: WBENC.COM, etc.
    • Certifications or audits if necessary in your industry
  4. Be Ready to Recruit
    • In order to recruit and entice established independent sales reps, you need to have a sales pitch to "sell" yourself to these candidates.
    • "Closing" a rep is like closing a customer.
  5. Be Ready to Interview
    • Have the staffing in place to handle communications and meetings with candidates.
    • Have a process in place to filter out those who will not be good candidates.
  6. Be Ready to Contract
    • Establish your sales expectations and measurements. This may be defined in terms of time, potential clients visited over a defined period of time, and sales volume.
    • Have an Independent Sales Rep Contractor Agreement. Do you have such an agreement prepared? Putting together an initial contract will help settle many questions up front, spell out any complex business arrangements, and be a great way to convey your goals, objectives, and sales expectations and measurements. It will also force the issue on setting a commission structure. To get started a Letter of Intent may be sufficient. We offer three sample agreements on our Training page.
    • Have a Non-Disclosure Agreement if required.
    • Be familiar with using the IRS Form 1099 for Independent Contractors.
  7. Be Ready to Manage
    • Have a Sales Management Plan in place. A plain would include your training process, ongoing support process and, development and preparation of marketing materials.
    • Have training materials or a trainer available for independent sales reps. It is a simple truth that if the sales rep does not understand your business or products, they will not be successful in selling it. Some surveys show up to 90% of sales reps feel under-trained. Training is a company’s weakness as long as it is deemed an expense and not an investment leading toward faster sales growth.
    • Designate a reliable contact person that can provide support services to your reps. One of the biggest factors in the failure of an independent sales rep is a lack of communication, or "going dark". If it takes days or even weeks to answer questions or prepare quotations, the sales rep will put their efforts into other lines.
    • Have accounting and CRM software.
    • Have commission reporting tools and expectations in place to support the rep. A system must be set to keep track of your independent sales rep's sales, deliveries, quotations, commissions, etc. A cloud-based reporting system can allow your sales reps to seamlessly interface with your company from the office or on the road and augment scheduled meetings. Since sales reps do not punch the 9 to 5 timecard, it is important to set reasonable expectations to prevent your work force from getting burnt out.
    • Have a plan to get up and running. What will the transition be with existing customers? If you have existing business within a new independent sales rep's territory, how will you transition those accounts?

Portions used with permission from Uwe Jannsen and from Bob Cheek, Cheek Sales & Power Marketing.