November/December 2017


…And a Prosperous New Year: Business Planning for Reps and Manufacturers

By Tom Jedlowski, Associate Executive Director

As we creep into the end of the year, I thought it apt to reflect on some of the ways reps and manufacturers can plan for a prosperous new year. 

We all know setting clear and measurable expectations are paramount. Exceeding these expectations are ideal, and failing to meet them sow those dreaded seeds of discontent, and may ultimately lead to an outright dissolution.

Obviously, communication is an ongoing process, and not something reserved for special times or specific instances. You review performance metrics quarterly, or meet monthly to discuss ongoing sales opportunities. But, there are certain times in the business cycle where a more formal process of communicating and clarifying expectations are essential to a healthy and continuous relationship.

Think of it as planning at the 30,000-foot view.

At the beginning of each business cycle (probably, annually) certain questions need to be asked, and certain issues need to be addressed openly and honestly between reps and manufacturers. These issues go above and beyond your standard reporting, and/or sales opportunities conversations.

What follows is a suggested list of areas that reps and manufacturers should discuss as they look to the new year. But, keep in mind, these are not mutually exclusive areas of discussion. Each area needs to be, and should be, addressed.

The critical issue at the beginning of each business cycle is the fact that the relationship is being renewed. The expectations are reset and defined, and a path is made for mutual agreement.

Like all long-term relationships, you need to check in once in a while. Once the checklist of goals is established, they can be revisited periodically to keep the relationship on track, healthy, and most of all, profitable.

Obviously, there’s a lot of ways to handle high-level planning, and what follows is merely a guideline. Every relationship is unique, and might require other areas of discussion, or the deletion of some of those that are suggested here.

1. Goals and Objectives

A clear, concise summation of the goals and objectives for the upcoming year.

Suggested topics:

  • Increase/decrease for agency/manufacturer vs. prior year
  • Review quota spread
  • Key product line emphasis points
  • Possible key account targets
  • What are the trends/history (2-3 years) in this market?

2. Planning

"Who's on first," "who's on second,” etc. and are there any changes that should be discussed?

Suggested topics:

  • People assignments
  • Ownership/succession plan
  • Personnel changes/assignments
  • Key contacts at agency/manufacturer
  • Policy changes
  • Future markets
  • Strategic direction

3. Distribution

After discussing mutual goals in regard to distribution, consider covering the following points: 

Suggested topics:

  • Planned additions (who, when, what product)
  • Planned deletions (who, reasons, when)
  • Critical strategic distribution moves (chain, buying group, target market, niche/specialty markets, etc.)
  • Channel focus

4. Compensation

A key element always to be reviewed so as to prevent any misunderstanding.

Suggested topics: 

  • Commission plan by product
  • Any incentive plans in place
  • Other (warehouse allowance, specification work, co-op programs. etc.)
  • Are the compensation plans for manufacturer and rep personnel structured to accomplish the market objectives?

5. Promotion

To assist both the rep and manufacturer in their planning. At minimum, a skeleton of promotion plans and expectations should be reviewed.

Suggested topics: 

  • Available and planned promotions (local/national)
  • Collateral (brochures, catalogs, sell sheets, etc.)
  • Advertising schedule, if applicable
  • Review for local effectiveness
  • Trade shows
  • Promotional target audience (distributor, end user, specifier, etc.)
  • Electronic media (Website, social media, etc.) 

6. New Products

It is important to establish the timing, expectations, and rationale in upcoming new product introductions.

Suggested topics:

  • Planned introductions/training
  • Sales goals/competition
  • Rational/application
  • Field input on potential products and results

7. Training

What will be the key objective in the coming year for the rep to distribution and/or end users? Likewise, is there planned training for the rep and/or manufacturer?

Suggested topics:

  • Rep - product/skills
  • Distributor sessions
  • End user and/or consulting engineer
  • Frequency
  • Other
  • Other

8. Reporting

Any expectations should be discussed and agreed upon.

Suggested topics:

  • Format
  • Prepared to discuss the seven points above (Goals and Objectives, Planning, Distribution, Compensation, etc.)
  • Any other agreed upon criteria - Example: 2x per year competitive overview 

9. Factory Visits

What factory visits are planned? What is the rep's role? What is the manufacturer’s role? What will be accomplished with the visits? How will costs be handled?

Suggested topics:

  • Who (rep, distributor, specifiers, end-users)
  • Frequency Planning
  • Objectives of visits

10. Specific Objectives/ Action Plan

The final step is to summarize the results and create a written document that can provide a guide and a benchmark for progress throughout the business year. The objective is to be very clear about the expectations and to remove any assumptions. Think of this as reference you can refer back to as you navigate the upcoming year.

Suggested topics:

  • Reemphasize mutually agreed upon goals
  • List what and who
  • Rep responsibilities

This list may seem exhausting. And maybe it is.

But, was anything ever built without hard work? 

I hope this article was helpful. 

Be sure to visit our Guidelines & Resources Library for a multitude of documents to help further the rep-manufacturer method. 


Tom Jedlowski, Associate Executive Director

Tom is responsible for galvanizing member benefits, while strategizing new initiatives to further the association’s brand as a thought-leader within the commercial foodservice equipment industry. After serving for almost two years on our PR and Marketing Committee, Tom has long been a staunch advocate both for MAFSI, and for the rep-manufacturer method of marketing. He brings over a decade of marketing, public relations, and branding expertise to the MAFSI team.  Tom can be reached at [email protected] or at (615) 540-0734.

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