One of the best ways to grow sales is by working with an independent manufacturers’ representative (IMR). Outsourcing sales can reduce your overhead while also giving you the benefits of your IMR’s long-standing distributor and end-user relationships. When done right, outsourcing your sales can lead to a great return on investment for your organization.
But if you’ve never worked with an IMR before, you may not be sure what that relationship should look like. For example, how can you manage your outsourced sales team to ensure your products get enough time and attention?
Communicate Regularly with Your IMR
In any relationship, communication is key. That’s just as true for your outsourced sales team as it is for any other part of your business. While every manufacturer has their own objectives and work style, we’ve noticed the most successful ones stick to a few common principles when it comes to communication:
- Create a Regular Cadence for Meetings
It’s in everyone’s interest to know what to expect. Whether you want to meet once a month or once a quarter, work with your IMR to establish a regular schedule that works for everyone. This helps set expectations and keeps the lines of communication open.
- Know What You Want to Accomplish
Free-for-all meetings usually aren’t productive. More productive meetings are deliberately organized around what you need to accomplish with your outsourced sales team. Create an agenda with your IMR, set your objectives, and share it with your IMR beforehand.
- Offer Your Expertise
You’re the expert on your products, go-to-market strategy, and organizational objectives. When your IMR has questions about this valuable information, provide as much detail as possible to help them sell more of what you manufacture.
Clear, consistent communication is one of the best management tools you have. Be sure to use it early and often.
Listen to your IMR in the Goal-Setting Process
You’re the expert on your products, strategy, and objectives. Your IMR brings their own expertise to the table as well. Their immersion in the marketplace means they see trends you may not be privy to, and they have a finger on the pulse of what distributors and end users want.
If you’re managing an outsourced sales team, it’s critical that you get all that expertise in one room when you’re setting your goals. Together with your IMR, you can set ambitious, yet realistic goals designed to help your organization thrive while staying in tune with what the marketplace wants.
This also circles back to the importance of good communication. For instance, your goals may reflect an effort to make up for some lost piece of business. When you share that information with your IMR and provide them with the variance reports showing how sales have shifted and changed over time, you’re providing critical information that helps shape how your sales team sells.
Managing a sales team well isn’t just about setting sales goals. It’s also about sharing the data that makes it possible for your IMR to do their very best work.
Give Your IMR the Right Selling Tools
Variance reports aren’t the only thing you should share with your IMR. It’s equally important that you give them the right tools to sell your products. That means providing them with a comprehensive onboarding process to set expectations and educate them on your business and products.
It’s also important that you provide your IMR with all marketing materials you’ve developed so far. That can include buyer personas, sales and marketing collateral, and your go-to-market strategy. Providing this information helps your IMR see how you’re positioned in the marketplace and build on that foundation.
All of this goes a long way toward building your relationships with the outsourced sales team you’re managing. When you provide your IMR with the selling tools they need, they can be more effective on your behalf.
Bring Your Sales Teams Together
Sometimes, manufacturers turn to outsourced sales teams to help supplement their own internal team. That’s a great tactic, but a disconnect can arise when these teams are treated as two entirely separate arms of the company.
A better management strategy is to bring these two teams together in order to align them around common goals. After all, it doesn’t serve your business very well if you have two different sales teams competing in the same territory (or even for the very same account!). That’s a waste of valuable time and resources that could be better spent expanding your reach.
This can only be accomplished when you bring these two teams together. Hold common meetings, set your goals, and encourage the teams to work together to figure out the best way to operate. Creating hybrid teams like this can be an incredibly effective way to compete in the market — but only when properly coordinated.
Trust Your Outsourced Sales Team, and Take a Step Back
You don’t really want to micromanage your sales team. It’s inefficient, it’s frustrating, and it makes it difficult for you to get anything else done. Yet it can also be hard to take a step back when you’re working with an outsourced sales team. Your instinct is to stay close to the work and make sure they’re relentlessly selling.
It’s understandable — you want to make sure your sales team, whether outsourced or not, is committed to helping your business grow. When the marketplace takes a downturn or there are ominous headlines in the news about the economy, it’s only natural to want to shine a magnifying glass on your sales team to monitor progress.
That’s why we’ve emphasized communication so heavily in this blog. Don’t forget the subtle side of communication: listening, trusting, and supporting. Recognizing when it’s time to step back and let your salespeople go sell can be game changing. Believe me I know that listening instead of talking is uncomfortable, but sometimes it is the best way to see big results.