The links to all the entries in this series appear at close.
It’s funny to see the range of opinion when it comes to sales reps. Honestly, when I read Zoe’s post and the comments that followed, I was cheering. And when I read Miracle’s post, I was cheering too. From here, they’re both right. For example, when Miracle said
As retailers, we care about what sells because we (honestly) don’t (usually) have the time to discuss your brand history and direction with the customer and if your line doesn’t sell it doesn’t matter…Where I will agree is that history and direction are important in regards to consistency and longevity. The retailer may be interested to know that you can perform or will continue to. But the school you went to and where you interned before you went out on your own– doesn’t matter. That you were inspired by your recent trip to the beaches of Bali, that’s for your publicist… Part of the disconnect is that DEs get married to their ideas and concept and figure that other people should be emotionally invested. Honestly, this all comes down to transactions, dollars exchanging hands.
This is so true. Like your sales rep, I don’t care either. Please, I love you but don’t waste my time with your vision or artist’s statement. So many of them seem neurotic or TMI . I don’t need that information to do my job for you. It’s extraneous and frustrating. I only think in pictures, emotions don’t make pictures in my head so making me sit through your whole vision spiel is worse than teaching a pig to sing. Besides, it seems the more blah blah blah, the less significant the line. Less is more and more is less. I’m pretty cynical these days but it so often seems that I’ll get this big long, song and dance and when I finally click through, it’s just ink on a rectangle. It’s no big deal.
Make interesting products and I’ll pretend to listen to your vision stuff while I look at the line sheets (I’m assuming there won’t be a quiz later). I’ll pass on the marketing stuff, tell me what I need to know. Toward that end, Miracle said:
And if you’re going to feel that your rep should give a **** about learning something, it needs to be something that will help them make transactions, not get touchy feely and friendly with your company. Otherwise, you could end up in the common situation of having a rep who absolutely adores, loves and admires your line, knows everything about it, but it’s not selling.
When Miracle says to give your reps something that will help them make transactions, I don’t know what that is. But then I remember when I interviewed that guy Pete, you know, the one who managed the feed store for my book? That was an interesting interview. Pete said that the clothing sales reps never helped them out with information that would help move the product. No training at all. I was trying to figure out what I could possibly teach a retailer myself (other than what I did in the book). Pete says that sales reps from the animal feed and care supply houses will provide lots of training opportunities, giving seminars to staff before opening hours but that the clothing people never do (see pgs 95-98).
I also understand Zoe’s take on sales reps. Zoe says
Question: do all sales reps think they should design? All the sales guys I’ve ever worked with are constantly telling us to design this and do this color and whatnot. This is not to be confused with letting us know the pieces that are garnering the most attention and dollars. If I hear one of my sales guys harping on doing red leather jackets one more time, I’m gonna lose it. He keeps telling me that he sees it everywhere, but I don’t. I try to be polite, saying the labels he’s citing is not in line with our customer base and brand. He apparently doesn’t want to hear it.
It didn’t occur to me that a designer would be offended with input from the sales reps regarding style direction. I mean, I get similar sorts of “advice” and listen with the assumption that 99% of it will be garbage -like the red leather jackets- but I’m always on the look out for the 1% that is inordinately useful. I’ve worked quite extensively with designers that I know did not mind style direction from me (although I always tread lightly) but it could be Zoe’s market. She does more fashion forward stuff. A bridge line so I can see that style can be a highly proprietary area in a company like that but I don’t think it’s as significant in other businesses. I think a lot of businesses appreciate the input from the field -assuming it’s a good rep with a good eye- because they’re in the market shopping all day so I think they see more than most of us. Still, I think everyone would agree that the duties of a sales rep are as Zoe describes them:
In my own (perhaps naive) mind, the sales guys do the selling and customer service. They set up meetings, collect orders, explain to them the terms of sale, do the necessary follow-up. The apparel manufacturer creates and supplies the necessary tools to sell-samples, lookbooks, line sheets, order forms, organization of trade shows. We get copies of the orders, we fulfill them. Next round. Right? No?
We only disagree why they fail to do those duties and how we can turn them around to do that or how to find reps who will. Loosely summarized, Zoe and others say reps are lazy. I agree. Miracle says reps need to be motivated by the money. I agree with that to some extent as well. I still think that as people, sales reps are as resistant to change as anyone else and it’s hard to make an effort on a new product. It’s an investment. I can imagine it’s putting some of yourself into it with no guarantee of return for your efforts. It has got to get old putting yourself on the line all the time. I certainly wouldn’t want to do it. Still, I’ve known a lot of lazy reps. And not just lazy ones, but quite a few not very bright ones.
For the most part, there is no love lost between sales reps and most manufacturers. Basically, we endure them. We need them but personality-wise, we tend to be two entirely different kinds of people. Like oil and water, definitely with the back of the house. Entirely different value systems. Sales reps tend to focus more on externals, social signaling -that’s their business. Manufacturers tend to be more akin to makers and worker bees, having to balance the weights and limitations of function and foundation over externals . In a work situation, the only beef I’ve had with reps -other than one spilling a cup of coffee all over a newly completed pattern that I then had to recut; no liquid was allowed on my table for a reason– is that they don’t volunteer enough information via written reporting. For example, if there’s a problem with the fit of a given style or a portion of the collection and it’s going to be re-run next season, they should write the fitting stuff down. Verbal isn’t good enough because designers don’t always remember to convey that information to a pattern maker or whoever is entrusted to fix the thing and of course rarely do the sales rep and pattern maker get a chance to chat face to face. Lamentably, few companies have created the kind of infrastructure to support and facilitate this kind of knowledge transfer. But then again, if you’re just out of the chute and gotten lucky enough to hire your first rep, you can hesitate to demand this of your new rep so I understand that too. I don’t know how I’d do that but I’d know I’d want it. Suggestions? Ideas?