The importance of using independent representatives

June 1, 2009
Working as an independent representative is a bit like walking across a 100-foot-high tightrope without a net.

Written by a team of independent reps

Working as an independent representative is a bit like walking across a 100-foot-high tightrope without a net. Those that make it have an incredible work ethic, strong interpersonal skills, solid dealer contacts, and an above average knowledge of the dental industry. We have only our reputations to back us up so we must have ethics and integrity as well as excellent product knowledge.

There are many reasons to use independent salespeople in the field.

Cost: Independent reps pay all of their own expenses, which include: all automobile expenses (gasoline, car, car repairs, and insurance), phone, dealer open houses and customer appreciation shows, and lunches for dealer reps. In addition, we pay our own medical insurance, retirement plans, and taxes.

Advantages: Good independent reps have excellent dealer contacts and are able to work with the most experienced dealer reps. The experienced independents know how to treat rookie dealer reps and help them transition into quality dealer reps. We can assist our dealers by educating their rookies in several areas such as product knowledge, work ethic, and an overall understanding of the dental industry. The most successful independent reps look for manufacturer partners so we can communicate the idiosyncrasies of our individual markets. We are not employees but rather associates who bring experience and perspective to our manufacturers. The best agents are team players who feel great loyalty to our long-term manufacturers and are always looking for ways to improve their market positions. We are strong communicators and share information about superior products as well as product problems.

Independent representatives do not wish to be promoted. We are doing exactly what we wish to do and the good ones will continue doing it until retirement. I am not suggesting that all independent reps are solid. They are not. However, the quality, experienced independent rep has a great deal to offer any manufacturer.

Manufacturer attitudes about full-time representatives: What do manufacturers give up when they hire an independent rep? They lose the ability to tell the rep what to do on a daily basis. They cannot expect paperwork and business cards as proof a rep is working. They lose control and cannot dictate what is to be sold. Manufacturers must hire levels of management to assure they are getting the growth they expect from very inexperienced young people. However, independent reps work on straight commission so they are motivated to sell what generates the greatest commissions. Therefore, if the manufacturer has structured their business correctly, it is a win/win for everyone. Providing good commissions, promotions, and incentives for quality independent reps is all that is needed for success. In order for a full-time rep to succeed, he or she must be promoted to a management position or move on to another company that is willing to pay them more. This leads to a lack of continuity in the territory for many manufacturers. It is like a revolving door with full-time reps moving in and out of positions, which is tough on retail reps and their doctor customers.

Challenges for independent reps: To provide quality representation for our manufacturers is a difficult job. We are constantly being asked to contribute funds for “Lunch and Learn” programs, dealer “Open Houses,” or “Customer Appreciation” programs while our expenses for gasoline and lunches continue to rise. In some instances, we are even asked for funds just to be in a sales meeting to explain products to our dealer representatives. At the same time, some manufacturers have lowered our commissions in order to save money at their end. Nevertheless, independent representation can provide excellent territory coverage with benefits to all involved.

So what is the answer? We, as independent reps need the support of retail reps and dealer management. We need is more interaction between our dealer friends and manufacturers, extolling our virtues so more manufacturers will give us a closer look!

Conclusion: Good independent representatives provide an excellent way to market products. Manufacturers gain perspective, input, hard work, and eventually incredible loyalty from their independent reps. However, independent reps are under fire. There is a perception that inexperienced, young, inexpensive factory reps trump experience and longevity. The irony is that it is actually less expensive to hire an independent rep than a factory rep. The factory rep requires a company car, company expense account, health insurance, supervision from management, and training. The tightrope we walk is ours by choice and we love it. Look upward and you will see success.

Mary Fadhl (20 years), Leon Rapport (25 years), Drew Brown (26 years), Jack Clark (23 years), Gordon Jennings (18 years), Paul Rouillard (17 years), Michelle Coe-Holden (14 years), and Lynne Glauber (23 years).
Total years in business of authors – 166 years