Getting Independent Reps and the Manufacturer on the Same Team

“The people we sell to don’t buy our product,” Avi Barr, national sales manager at ASI during his presentation at SugarCon 2017.

Getting sales reps on board with standard methodologies is a challenge for any business in any industry. But for manufacturers that often work with independent sales reps, who are used to their own best practices, it can be especially difficult. Independent reps develop their own methods of building relationships, forecasting, reporting, and recording data. Any request from the manufacturing to change operating procedures will be met with resistance.  

ASI (American Specialities, Inc.), a firm that sells washroom accessories, bathroom partitions and storage solutions around the globe, wanted to bring its sales operations into the future, and bring its independent reps along for the ride. When the company hired Avi Barr as their national sales manager, he became responsible for multiple divisions and subsidiaries, which included sales reps in 30 territories – 90 percent of which were independent reps that represented multiple vendors. In one case, ASI even has two competing sub-brands in the same market.

ASI sells through distribution, which is most of the time a captured audience. Its reps spend a lot of their time with distributors. However, because the construction of a building takes a long time (ASI has sales cycles as long as three years), the company must also build relationships with what it calls “non-buying customers.” These are influencers like architects, facilities managers, and building owners.

On top of that, the company had no standard CRM platform in place when Avi joined. This led to independent reps developing their own sales culture with their own methodology. The company had no consistent story of message, and compiling reports was largely a manual process that took forever.

Avi knew designing a CRM that met the needs of all the different constituents would be a challenge. However, he also knew a CRM was a must. It would lead to a single system for all reps and a single view of all sales activity that would finally allow the company to accurately evaluate what its sales team was doing. Not that it was going to be easy, of course. Two challenges stood out:

  1. They’d be asking independent reps, who are not employees, to start using their system.
  2. They’d also be using the CRM to get sales reps to change their behavior and adapt to standard methodologies implemented by ASI.

Even before the company announced they had chosen Sugar as their new CRM, ASI found that their reps had a number of concerns:

  • Am I giving up my edge by showing everyone what makes me successful?
  • Am I being replaced by automation?
  • Is this simply extra busy work?
  • Is this “big brother” and a way to hold me accountable?

The company made their new CRM a major theme at their national sales meeting, with an announcement on the last day. They sold the concept to reps by:

  • Starting with modest goals to allow ramp-up
  • Assuring reps it would not cost them anything; ASI was providing the CRM
  • Outlining a detailed program for training and adoption
  • Showing reps how they could be more successful and make more money

Sugar works for the manufacturing industry because it is easy to integrate with an ERP and other systems. For example, ASI has now integrated Sugar with Dodge Data & Analytics, a service that has information about every construction project that’s currently taking place going on in the USA.

Sugar is also easy to customize, was a huge benefit to ASI, as they were able to change “opportunities” to “projects” to better fit their industry’s vernacular. They also used process author to create monthly reporting modules to make it easy on reps. Now, reps know exactly what is expected of them. Lastly, the team-based roles feature in Sugar is extremely helpful for ASI, because the CRM can be set up so independent reps only see what they need to see (remember the two competing sub-brands).

In spite of all this, “CRM adoption is not easy” Avi said. “You can have a great platform, but that is not enough.”

To get reps to use the system, ASI put everyone through 15 hours of training and opened up a live help desk every Friday afternoon. They also spent more time on the road with reps to model behavior. After meetings, reps would enter data before leaving the meeting. They also minimized data entry as much as possible and set up KPIs to measure reps’ success. They expected reps to do quote follow-ups, and have a key way of showing them how they are doing. They also now have a way to reward reps for establishing relationships with influencers – even though no direct revenue is involved.

By providing value through offering reps an easy-to-use tool that provides useful insights and reduced data entry, ASI was able to see strong adoption and return on investment.

Learn more about Sugar’s manufacturing solutions in the CRM Playbook for Manufacturing here.