Representor Spring 2021 - Executive Commentary


Reps, manufacturers and distributors: Centurions at the gate

by Walter E. Tobin

T: 617-901-4088

Warm weather is slowly coming back to the “frozen tundra” of the Northeast. (Apologies to Green Bay fans!) Many of us have been hunkering down since March 2020 to avoid the pandemic all while learning new ways of doing things — ZOOM calls, networking via cell phone, staying ahead of email traffic, maintaining our health, our family, our relationships, our jobs, etc. Not an easy task for sure … and to come out of this nightmare with a sense of humor and our “book of business” intact if not a bit larger.

Today, we find ourselves in a battle of “injections versus infections.” Many states have done a relatively poor job of organizing and administering the vaccine inoculation process; trying to juggle the weekly/monthly allocation of dosages for the different vaccines versus the huge demand from the different categories of folks who become “eligible” for the vaccine per the rollout plan of each state.

As you know, the last 100 yards of many of the “online” systems often crash due to overload as thousands of folks sign on eager to get their place in line. Some locations have a vaccine, but not a corresponding number of individuals. This scenario may still be with us through June 30, until all eligible age groups get their vaccinations.

We also have many people who are nervous about getting a particular vaccine brand or just reluctant to get any vaccine due to, personal, religious, or health history reasons. Thus, we may end up with a great percentage of our population NOT vaccinated after July 1. What impact will this have on each one of us as we try to navigate through this minefield at the end of the second quarter and second half of 2021?

Others simply do not trust any vaccine. I certainly do not want to get into any discussion of the politics of the whole vaccination topic. All of us need to respect and try to understand other people’s views. However, we need to also understand that our actions affect other people’s actions and reactions. What we choose to do or not do will have an impact on our personal and business lives for the next year or so.

We will all find ourselves as Centurions: Gatekeepers so to speak … being the first point of contact as we slowly begin to open back up. We will be the first point of contact for our industry who want to return to a bit of normalcy, to get back on the road, in front of the customer, or to what we do best — “Open Doors and Close Orders.”

However, here is what I predict ALL of us will experience over the next 90 – 180 days:

1. As a REP, the VP of Sales or Regional Sales Manager will want to “get back on the road” and visit their rep territory. Perhaps do a QBR, visit customers and the different channel partners. When you approach the customer, the first questions you will be asked are:

• What is the SPECIFIC reason for the visit?
• Can we have this meeting on a ZOOM call versus in-person?
• Have YOU and the person you are bringing in been vaccinated? If so, what proof can you show me so I can see if I can allow you access to my company?

2. If your principal insists on coming in AND he/she has not been vaccinated, do YOU want to pick him/her up at the airport and spend two to three days in a car with this person?

• What if YOU are not vaccinated but the principal is? Will he/she want to spend time in a car with YOU?
• If/when your customer says NO to an in-person visit, what sort of jeopardy does this put you in with your principal?
• If you or your principal have been vaccinated but do not want to have to show proof of your vaccination status, and your visit gets denied, are YOU blamed by your principal?

3. As a DISTRIBUTOR, your local rep wants to come in and do training on some new products that they represent. They have not yet been vaccinated and/or do not want to get vaccinated. Your company policy dictates that only vaccinated personnel can visit your facility. You push back. The rep then says that he will be forced to omit your branch and give training to your competitors, perhaps putting you at a competitive disadvantage. What are you to do? What is your company policy?

4. As a MANUFACTURER, your company has decided to “ground you” on all travel through December 2021 out of safety for the sales team and to save T&E monies.

Once you get vaccinated, you still find yourself unable to travel, thus losing mind share with your reps and channel partners, and in the end, the end-customer. You are even willing to show proof of your vaccination status, but your corporate policy remains firm.

All of us find ourselves like sentries at the gate trying to decide on the best course of action in many of these difficult discussions. We are in customer-facing positions and our customers are relying on all of us to keep them updated on all things electronic. But we need to do it safely.

We will find ourselves either being TOLD NO or in us having to SAY NO. We may have all of the best intentions in mind to say YES or NO at the gate, but even then, whatever decision we make will cause friction and/or conflict with our partners and customers.

We need to be prepared to craft a professional response NOW to not jeopardize the relationship we have with our principals, our reps, our channel partners and with each other. Many will remember how we reacted at the gate when we either welcome them through or declined entry.

Plan NOW with your partners and customers to get ahead of this. Get definition NOW on each of the above scenarios. It will hopefully reduce or eliminate difficult decisions and discussions later on in the year.