Summary

Manufacturer’s reps continue to be a major sales channel for electronics manufacturers by:

  • providing local, focused sales resources that prove to be valuable resource-sharing opportunities for vendors AND by
  • being knowledgeable salespeople that customers can depend on to find the best supplier match for system programs covering a broad range of technologies and products.
Succeeding as a Manufacturer’s Rep in the Age of the Cloud

Reps must deal with two complicated interfaces to close business and build market share for their suppliers. They strive to offer a suite of products that fit many customer needs so they can build business with many sockets in each program.

In today’s marketplace, customers are far more informed about products, prices, specs and competitors than ever before – before they even talk to a supplier or the rep. Reps build a business by offering product solutions to customers’ programs and by adding value through engaging in the design process early enough to steer the customer toward solutions that meet their needs, offer a competitive advantage, and keep program risk at a minimum. Customer management requires experience and systems that identify customer needs, help manage people engagement discussions and capture the program needs in a way that they can help offer products they have in their portfolio to provide a solution that meets the system requirements while providing a competitive advantage for their supplier.

Managing the Customer

Customer management takes on many different roles as the program moves through the design process and into the commercialization process. In the design process, activities revolve around identifying functional needs, mapping them to products that they can supply and working with design teams to provide technical information, samples, specifications, applications information, and design assistance to solve design problems. This all happens in a competitive environment where other suppliers are trying to get their products into the system, and where problems, program scope changes, and time lines are all placing demands on the rep to get designed in and capture the socket before someone else wins.

Often the first discussions are for one or more specific products that clearly meet a core need of the system. While working to capture this core product, reps try to identify all the other functional blocks in the system that they have a potential product for that could meet the system needs.

In this sales environment, what should a world class sales management solution provide for a manufacturer’s rep in the electronics market to help them negotiate the sales process with their customers and maximize the results possible for their suppliers?

  • Account information capturing not just the local account information but also mapping their extended organization including design centers, contract manufacturers, and other support organizations, such as purchasing or IT that may not be locally managed.

    • Ideal solutions would also provide market information automatically captured that provides market summaries, consultant documents, financial information, competitor information, and market trends for the primary customer target markets.
  • Contact information with comprehensive communications records of all discussion that have taken place not only with the rep sales person but also captured from suppliers records including other sales people, FAEs, or customer service people.
  • Document libraries of vendor specs, customer specs, and industry standards that apply to the systems being developed. These records span the range from simple documents for consumer products all the way through to space level mil spec documentation.
  • Business records showing historical shipment information, invoices, past quotes, RMAs, current backlog, shipment commitments and forecasts.
  • Customer support records showing complete tracking of RMAs from start to closure, sample requests from request to shipment and follow up, lead times, delivery commitments and change management, accounts receivables, and order/shipment records.
  • Customer engagement records to provide management for marketing campaigns, new product introductions, product change notices, obsolescence notices,
  • Provide up selling and complementary product sales guidance to the sales person so they can maximize usage of as many products as possible from their entire line card.
  • Provide a good way to visualize where things stand for a suppliers business and for the key programs being worked on by the rep sales team.
  • Last but most importantly – Program design in management information that identifies customer opportunities and captures:

    • Program information such as key descriptions, timing, potential product sockets, supplier solutions, probability of winning, competitive situation, and key people involved in the program up through the final decision makers and support people.
    • Design in road maps that identify what the rep and supplier need to do to win the business, define competitive advantages, and provide a game plan to win each socket opportunity in the system.
    • Design in discussion records to capture all key discussions that take place over the course of the design process to engage, build confidence, solve problems and address competitive issues.
    • Program design in records for all customer contacts involved in the program. The rep also needs to track what happens when the actual customer team that needs to do the design work is not in the reps territory. This involves design registration, and capturing activities that may be in other parts of the world or through distribution organizations.
    • All the steps to win the business for the initial product and all of the peripheral products that the rep could provide from all his suppliers.
    • Activity management capability that lets the rep define an activity that needs to get done to provide design in support for the program and get it communicated to the key person at the vendor, clearly defined, time bound and committed by the person with follow up tracking and notices.

Managing the Suppliers

For the rep to effectively manage the interface to his suppliers there is another level of complexity that is added on top of trying to close business and manage temperamental customers. Reps need to feed the vendor’s data system to provide customer information in the supplier’s sales management system. They need to show that they are finding business for their suppliers and winning available sockets in their customers regardless of whether the supplier offers competitive solutions or support and pricing.

Suppliers tend to depend on the data that gets put into their CRM systems to show what the potential is. They often stage Quarterly Business Reviews (QBR) to review what the rep is doing and try to motivate them to do more with less. These reviews often take significant time to prepare and result in taking time away from the actual sales process.

A world-class sales management solution should:

  • help reps navigate the supplier interface AND
  • maximize the support the supplier gives to help close business AND
  • minimize the amount of sales time it takes provide all the information the suppliers need

Such a sales management solution would ideally have the following characteristics:

  • Automated or semi-automated conversion of customer program information between the reps sales support solution and whatever CRM and ERP system the supplier has
  • Automatic QBR preparation with key dashboards and supporting information structured in formats compatible with the supplier’s needs
  • Critical-issue and outstanding-action summaries that can be shared with key supplier management people to gain support and prioritization for solving the customer’s need quickly
  • Full forecast support to always have an accurate forecast outlook for all of the supplier’s products
  • Commission planning and control to keep real-time status of commission for rep sales people fully integrated with design registration programs and POS sales reports from distributors
  • Issue management and escalation support to get problems managed quickly and accurately

In summary, a system that gets the rep ahead of the demand by providing full accountability in a transparent way while making needs, issues, and time lines very clear to keeps the pressure on the supplier to maximize customer support at all times.

Today’s REP CRM system from NEHANET provides the system solution needed by reps to meet all the needs above. By building a cooperative relationship between a rep and his key suppliers, the NEHANET solution can be extended to provide the full suite of a complete solution.

Effective sales management for reps is a complex issue that demands a solution which deals with both sides of the problem — closing business with customers and managing the interface to suppliers – without being overly time-consuming for the salespeople and without making them do duplicate work in incompatible systems.

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