We've had some really great experiences with fabulous reps as well as some beyond horrible experiences.
I always threaten to write a book but then I would have to name names and that's against my religion. My philosophy is if you can't say something good about someone, just don't say anything.
Of course not naming names doesn't prevent me from sharing some stories. To be fair, some of the disasters HairBoutique.com encountered were partially my fault because I was naive about how some parts of the business worked. Imagine my shock when I found out the super beauty supply stores, much like grocery stores, require various forms of "slotting" fees or pre-paid advertisement fees.
HairBoutique.com was a different business animal back in the "old days". We never required any sort of payment from our vendors for being in our e-store. Nor did we charge them any sort of advertising for featuring them in our newsletters or on the front page of our store or our website.
In just about all cases, in the early days, we were just happy to be able to sell products we loved to our customers.
After ten years I am a much older, much wiser business person and I have learned the ropes to be able to take care of our interests in an appropriate and competitive manner. As I grew up in the Web Business world, we started working with a different breed of company who had very professional product reps.
Right now I have a handful of reps that are amazing and no matter what the HairBoutique.com team is doing we make time to meet with them, listen to their latest product offerings, take their phone calls. We also have some reps we never take calls from, never call back and avoid like the plague.
Are you the great rep who always gets your customer's attention or do your calls, emails and text messages get consistently ignored?
What makes a great hair product or beauty product rep? Of course I can only speak for HairBoutique.com but here is what the HairBoutique.com buying team loves:
A great hair product sales representative
1. Understands our business model. They never try to sell us products that would never fly on the Web, sitting on our warehouse shelves gathering dust.2. Knows who our competitors are and nudges us in the right directions to help us remain competitive without giving away any business secrets - ours or theirs. If a rep gossips about our competitors it makes me think they are also talking about HairBoutique.com and I don't trust them.
3. Processes our POs immediately and doesn't wait days or even weeks without acknowledging our orders (yes that happens - even on huge orders but I won't name company names).4. Keeps track of SKUs and other product items we sell well and then advises us about SKUs or items in similar categories, lines or with similar value propositions. The rep tries to understand why our best sellers are selling and help us sell even more. Afterall, the more we sell, the more we buy from them.
5. Makes sure we have all the latest product literature - product and promotional images, brochures, catalogs, monthly deals, specials, latest products introduced or about to be introduced.6. Only calls when they have something important to talk about but makes sure to show an interest in how we are doing with all their products - especially newly introduced ones. They are also willing to swap out items that are dogs for fast movers.
7. Offers our company exclusives to help us promote our brand, works with us on special promotional deals we are pitching, makes general co-branding suggestions, funnels appropriate media nods our way and works with us to develop better media relationships regarding their brand. Buys advertising in our newsletter when its related to their product line. We even have had some reps buy out several newsletters just because we mentioned a percentage of their products. How impressive is that?8. Calls me or the team immediately when we leave a message of a problem which has occurred, regardless of the size of the problem - small or large.
My all time favorite rep - Bobby - even calls me on evenings and weekends. He knows I am always working, am on Twitter, or am text messaging (even late at night). He gets right back to me and tells me to call him at home if there are any problems. No matter what. I swear I would buy skunk oil from Bobby if he told me that it was the latest hair conditioning treatment and would be a big mover. I trust him completely and my staff adores him.
Bobby recently told me he was #1 in his territory and his sales were up over 300% for 2008. Well DUH! The man is a sales genius.
He avoids all the bad hair product rep behaviors which include:
1. Trying to sell me or my team something that is completely alien to my business model. I have one hair accessory wholesaler who has tried to sell me shoes, silk scarves from Italy, no name hairspray and men's underwear. Seriously. This guy does NOT get me, my company or my sales model. I still only buy the hair accessories I want from him but he keeps trying. No, I never answer his emails, phone calls or faxes. In fact, I have one of my buyers deal with him because the mere mention of his name and my eyes start rolling around in my head, which also starts twitching. I am shuddering just thinking about him.2. Dropping by just to chat. Yes, I have one of those Willie Lohman (Death Of A Salesman) guys too. The first two times we were very polite to him although we didn't really know why he was there. He really didn't have much to say but tried to sell me all kinds of stuff that I couldn't have given away. Even worse, he promised lots of marketing images, sales info and never delivered any of it. Not only do we avoid him completely, even worse, we now fax our orders to the manufacturer directly. Once we discovered he would get credit for our account (we try and play fair) we bypassed him completely faxing our orders directly to the manufacturer.
3. Making big promises and then not standing behind the product line. I had a rep swear a product would sell like hotcakes. To get me to try it he insisted he would trade out whatever wasn't selling after 30 days. Wrong. Not only did he not return my calls to try and arrange a swap for the dead-as-a-doorknob hair products, he wouldn't return emails either. When he called with his next "hot seller" we never called him back. That was over one year ago and countless calls from him have been instantly deleted. It will be a cold day in Hell before we'll be buying from him again. Ever!4. One of our reps gave my name to several of his "friends' who sell "stuff". None of it hair and beauty but I was receiving calls to sell me everything from diapers to discontinued Goody hair accessories. Sheesh. I don't sell Goody before it's discontinued, why would I sell it after? You guessed, it we didn't call the original rep or any of his "friends" back. This guy better hope he never sees me in a dark parking lot.
5. Not providing new product information. You have no idea how many times I see new products from some of our best selling lines in magazines featured at our competitor websites. I will have one of the HB buyers call and ask about the product and the rep will say....oh yeah...been meaning to let you know. Huh? Either it's a deliberate attempt to give our competitor extra market entry time or they just don't service their accounts. I have no idea what the truth is but I lose instant respect for reps like that. One of the lines we have had for over eight years won't even tell us about "package" deals unless we constantly ask. What's up with that?6. Breaking promises including delivery schedules. That sentence says it all. We have customers who ask us when we will be receiving new products or restock shipments and when our reps mislead us we ultimately look bad to our end customers. We have learned which reps will be honest and which ones won't.
7. Asking me or the HB Team for "free products". Yes, it's happened. The first time my mouth was hanging open. The drop-in-to-say-hi guy (#2 above) asked me for shampoo for his "fine hair". I gave him a list of recommendations and then he asked me to give him "freebies". Even I buy (use my credit card) on all my hair products from the HairBoutique.com store and I own the company. The HB Team members also pay for their orders as well.8. Apply excessive pressure. Trust me, when we need stuff, our reps are the first to know. We are not shy in any way. Trying to get us to buy more when we don't need it only encourages hostility on our part and an avoidance reaction. Don't waste our time but be there when we want to buy from you.
Other Bad Hair Product Rep Sins
Other Bad Rep sins include lying, regardless the topic, excessive drama, having temper tantrums (yes that has happened when we said no to a rep) or expecting us to buy new products without providing samples to test the product.
Also, don't call to tell us about your hot new product that you just spent many thousands of dollars advertising on our competitor's website. Why didn't they buy the hot product and only accept paid advertising? Double DUH.
Bottom line? A great rep learns everything they can about their customer without be intrusive or a pest. They are there when the client needs them, responds quickly to requests and treats their end customers like a valued partner keeping them in the loop about new products, deals, samples, advertising and media opportunities.
A great rep knows how to be assertive without pushing, helpful without cloying and respectful without gushing.
If I ever decide to hang up my CEO hat and stop writing I am definitely going to go into product repping since I will avoid all the mistake our worst reps make and adopt all that Bobby and my other great reps display consistently.What do you think? Have you had a horrible product rep? Or do you love your reps like we love some of ours? Please share with me.
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