What to Expect When Dealing With Independent Sales Reps

Sales Managers Expectations of Sales Reps:

hiring manufacturer repsSince your independent sales reps work for you, there are some things you as a small business owner or sales manager can reasonably expect of them.

  1. Call Reports Exemption – If you are used to working with in-house employee sales reps, you may be inclined to expect your independent reps to provide similar call reports. This is a mistake. In fact many Sales Representation Agreements are written to specifically exempt the rep from any responsibility in this area. The independent rep is a business person, and has to dedicate his resources to productive activities from his perspective, and wants to avoid anything that takes away from selling. Of course it is important to keep track of the reps results–just not his or her activities.
  2. Market Reporting – Independent reps should also notify all of their principals of market trends and competition within their territories regarding any of that principal’s lines. Sales climates can vary significantly in different parts of the country, or around the world. You need that feedback to adjust your marketing strategies accordingly for those different regions.
  3. Sales Forecasts and Budgeting – You should require your independent rep to submit sales forecasts for their territory, and to submit their expected budget. It is important to have these expectations set up in advance to prevent the sales rep from going over budget, and to ensure that they are not wasting time and money.
  4. Full Burden of Expenses – Sales reps are responsible for any direct expenses within their territory, such as travel, automotive costs, hotel visits, meals, and so on. If there are national sales meetings, or if the principal requires their services outside of the sales rep’s defined territories, then the principal may need to reimburse their sales reps for time and expense.

Customer Service Role of Sales Reps

Without a doubt it is harder to acquire new customers than it is to keep existing ones. However, to ensure that you are able to keep your customers, it is important for your sales reps to play the part of customer service for your products. This can include equipment start ups, inventory control, assistance in setting up displays, problem solving, and helping to resolve conflicts and manufacturing defects and errors. Because of it, it is crucial that all new sales reps be fully trained in dealing with your lines so they can perform this service to the best of their abilities.

In general, the more customer service responsibilities the independent sales rep takes from the principal, the greater the commission rates that are paid out to the sales rep.

What NOT to Expect of Sales Reps:

There are also several common things that you should NOT expect of your independent sales reps. These are important to be aware of, to ensure successful dealings between the principal and the independent rep.

  1. Inventory – Independent reps should not be expected to keep an inventory or take title of the line (meaning buy and resell). While some sales reps do offer these types of services, generally this type of business relationship is better left to distributors.
  2. Application Responsibility – Reps should not be expected to take application responsibility, or the financial burden to resolve warranty issues. This is the responsibility of the principal.

Contact Sales Reps Actively Seeking New Lines

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    • natalie
    • March 26, 2019

    Expecting call reports from independent sales reps is not only unreasonable, it is illegal in most states. Not submitting call reports is not an indication of a rep not doing her job. It is important to disclose information relative to the business but call reports should certainly not be required. In most states, requirement of call reports can only be made of paid employees, not those working on commission and paying all of their own expenses. The information given on your site is incorrect and misleading.

      • jas
      • March 26, 2019

      We agree with your viewpoint, and will be revising that information shortly. Thanks for your input!

        • jas
        • March 29, 2019


        We have revised the section on Call Reports, turning it into “Call Reports Exemption”. Thanks for you comment.

    • jas
    • January 24, 2015

    @80 year rep agency – you make some really good points. I do like the idea of asking for warrants.

    • 80 year rep agency
    • January 23, 2015

    As a small rep firm for 45 years b taking over another firm of 40 years I have seen much.
    At this sTage as an older rep ,many hotshot companies ask for customer lists and extensive Sales reports.
    The independent rep is not an employee of the company and He is not compensated to write reports.
    Furthermore this is proprietary information
    He is not protected Under labor laws as he would be as an employee.
    When I was younger manufactureRd wanted me to build the territory to build the line for our long term prosperit. The only prosperity I have seen is the manufacturerso when he/she sells the company built up on my concerted efforts. As an older rep with a loyal following a I have asked the A smaller companes for warrants that are stock options that can be exercised if the company is sold which is similar to the employee buy out when an acquiring company takes over. This request separates out companies ” I want to see my reps make a million dollars” In reality The company seller makes 24 and leaves his loyal factory and reps to fend for themselves.
    Now that I am older and we’ll established the goal repeated is to get copies of my sales accounts and a I have seen every angle. One company took direct shipping lists from the company I represented which was a reseller, hired direct sales representatives for several years and then dumped their direct reps when all the accounts had been switched over.
    Representative Sales reports are on accounts that need action or products that require modification to maintain market presence. If a territory is losing market share then the customers input and further written reporting may be required by the representative.

    • jas
    • July 7, 2013

    There is a great discussion of reporting requirements for independent sales reps on Linkedin. You might have to be a Linkedin member to view it, but why would you not want to be?

    • Don
    • January 23, 2013

    How about this?

    a) Principal and rep reaches an agreement on paper work
    b) Principal would compensate a very productive rep for his/her contribution of paper work.

    From principal point of view, paper work could help with data analysis while it would take up time for the rep…
    at the end of day we want both parties happy with each other, and of course customers too.

    • Bill
    • September 29, 2012

    I am commission only sales rep for a manufacturer. I contact those people that can retail sell and promote to retail sales people of our one product. The manufacturer’s marketing dept wants me to email all that is on the business card of the peron/s , plus the answers to 4 questions. This is a sgnificant amount of typing for a non employed person.

    Please provide your full opinion of my situation.

      • jas
      • September 30, 2012

      @Bill: In general when you are representing a manufacturer, you enter into a written Sales Representation Agreement. Or you should! That agreement covers all of the terms that set out your relationship with your principal. So if you have in your agreement such terms, you have to perform accordingly.

      Regarding what should be in those terms and what is reasonable regarding paperwork done by the rep: it really varies from rep to rep as to just how much paperwork they are willing to do. On the one hand, many feel that it is not their responsibility; on the other hand, if it leads to more sales for you, then you have an interest in helping out.

      I might suggest an alternative: make copies of the business cards and fax or mail them in. Let them do the typing.

      • jas
      • October 1, 2012

      From Matt:

      If you understand the reasoning for the manufacturers request then you have to decide for yourself if you believe this is a service that you want to perform. It seems like a reasonable request to me, albeit not knowing the details. If you don’t understand their reasoning, you should ask the manufacturer for supported reasoning. If you value the line, it seems you should understand their reasoning and then take the appropriate action.

    • Joe
    • June 22, 2012

    Independent Reps, Not accountable for a territory and what is going on in it. If you believe that your a dinosaur standing next to a tar pit. Your day’s are numbered.

      • jas
      • June 25, 2012

      From Matt:

      If you are indicating that “independent reps” are a dying breed, you might be right. However, with the death of every rep brings more opportunity for those that survive. Stay strong and you will persevere!

    • Andrew
    • February 1, 2012

    If the rep is only compensated for signed contracts, I fail to see why the rep would agree to providing trip reports and other valuable information(ie free services). I would agree with the retainer comment or if the rep is being paid separately for market reports. Otherwise, if a rep has any leverage at all and is any good they won’t spend time on things they aren’t compensated for.

    • Steve
    • July 31, 2011

    If you want all that paperwork bite the bullet and hire an in-house rep.

  1. Reply


    We have conducted a survey of a number of our reps, as well as starting a discussion on LinkedIn in the Manufacturer’s Rep group.

    Rather than repost all the detail, you can see the LinkedIn discussion.

    I believe that if you are not a LinkedIn member, you will have to create a profile, and perhaps even join the Manufacturer Reps group, to see the discussion. Not a bad idea to join this group in any case.

    In short, there are variations. Many situations exist where reps do no paperwork, but there are exceptions. Here is a summary of the cases:

    1. Some principals simply don’t require paperwork.
    2. Some reps simply won’t do sales reports.
    3. Some rep groups do provide reporting which gives them a “value add”, and thus helps them serve their principals better.
    4. One commented that if the rep is on retainer, then expect to do reports. Otherwise, not.
    5. Another commented that it is negotiated.

    Because of the greater variation than was stated in our original post, we will be posting an enhanced version, along with putting the enhanced explanation in our training documents.

    Many thanks for your contribution!

    • Barry Lacasse
    • August 23, 2010

    As an independent sales rep I believe you have one of your sales rep
    responsibilities confused. I work on commission only and do not fill out
    any sales reports for any of my 18 companies. That requirement is not
    part of any straight commission sales rep I know. I have been a successful rep for 18+ years and one of the reason I went independent
    is to eliminate that paper work.

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