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Supporting independent sales reps

The privilege of the nimble coatings manufacturer

From the desk of Mike Reed, General Manager at US Coatings

I’ve talked before about the importance of independent sales reps to our operation. I’ve argued that coatings sales reps have entered an age of under appreciation at large coatings companies. They’re often micromanaged, not allowed to unleash the full potential of their professional networks and their compensation often doesn’t represent the true value they bring to their companies.

Higher commissions are one way that coatings manufacturers can address this issue. But that’s not the only strategy, and perhaps not even the most important one when it comes to assisting independent sales reps to be effective salespeople. After all, commissions occur less and less frequently the tougher it is to make the sale. First and foremost, coatings companies need to focus on supporting their reps however they can.

Taking sales support company-wide

Selling industrial coatings is a job that’s easier with a committed support team behind you. At US Coatings, we like to say that everyone in the company fills a sales support function. Sales, along with the quality of our products, are what keep us in business after all. So for us, it only makes sense to throw all of our resources behind the talented people that make sales happen.

Another thing that makes selling easier? Having exactly what the customer wants. That’s simply beyond the capabilities of some massive coatings manufacturers. They have poured time and resources into getting juggernaut product lines moving full steam ahead, and tweaking them to meet a single customer’s needs is the equivalent of turning a freighter around at sea to recover a crewmember’s lost hat. It simply can’t be justified from the standpoint of time and revenue.

More nimble coatings companies can still manage this, though. Custom coatings formulations are still a possibility for customers that would be forced to settle for an off-the-shelf solution with a global coatings giant. Take a customer that requires samples before making a bulk purchase, for example. Those might take a large manufacturer months to ship, if they’re willing to customize a product at all. But a coatings manufacturer who has a designated, small-batch specialist that’s used to working with a sales rep to address unique customer needs, these small orders can be churned out within a matter of days. This leads to happier customers that are more ready to make deals.

When the sales and manufacturing arms of a company are collaborating to isolate product performance factors important to a buyer, to efficiently deliver on customer needs, and to do so quickly and reliably, then sales representatives are empowered by the full weight of the operation they belong to.

Management, it goes without saying, is also a critical source of support. Sales reps need to feel that it’s okay to take their skills to the markets they’re most familiar with and to leverage the contacts they’ve generated over years of experience in sales. Too often, management assigns sales reps to arbitrary territories or product categories that don’t reflect their skills and experience.

This is the level of support that independent coatings sales reps should expect from their organizations. It’s the best way to maximize both sales and the talents that each individual brings to his or her job. Unfortunately, it’s becoming more and more of a rarity for global coatings giants to provide it. And that may just end up benefiting the rest of us.

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