Flipping the Script: What Do Sales Reps Want From Us?

by Brian Dobak
December 28, 2009

There is no question that our relationships with sales representatives are vital to the success of the golf shop, no matter how aggressive we might believe they are. How we utilize our relationships with them has the potential to dictate the success of our golf shop. Sales reps are the middle men between us and the manufacturer and they give the company a face and a personality. They want our business and we want their product, so there must be a positive relationship to make it work. As golf professionals we tend to always think, "What do I need from my rep?", "What can my rep do for me?” In an effort to establish and nurture mutually beneficial relationships, we think it is necessary for golf professionals to flip the script and ask, "What can I do for my rep?", "What does my rep need from me?" We asked various sales representatives around the country this very question and we got some very insightful answers that we hope will be helpful to you.

I think what you are asking about is the core values of a sales rep/golf professional relationship. It is based on trust and respect for one another. The days of a rep coming in, loading you up, and never seeing the guy has been for the most part over for about 10 years. It doesn't work long term. My feeling is that a golf professional needs to be committed to the products that he brings in and try to be an expert on those products, even if he is not on staff with that company. Every company makes good product now. They cannot afford to be anything less than that. My suggestion, depending on the size of your shop, is to COMMIT to the brands that you bring in. Sales reps will work with you if they see that there is some sort of sell through in their product.

I always believed it was my job to "earn your business and respect" so that we could have a positive business relationship. I used a consultative approach with my customers so that we could maintain a long term relationship. Aside from that I did not have any expectations from a golf professional or buyer. Other than honest feed back and what I could do to improve our business in your shop.

I guess the only thing that I ask is honesty. Aside from buying everything in sight. Whenever I was in a shop, I just ask that you be honest about the products I was presenting and if you weren't buying why? What could I do to get them in your shop? Is it price? Is it the product? That's all I normally want. Also, phone calls back. If we call to try to get an appointment, a call back would be nice. I know there are times when you are trying to avoid us because you don't want to say no, but we would rather have a call back and a "no" than no call.

If I am a "new" sales rep I would appreciate your time, however brief, to introduce myself and my product line(s). In addition to a return phone call. (This sounds simple but many times it is a struggle just to get in front of a golf professional). I value your time, and would hope that you value mine. If I am an existing rep: communication on sell through of both my product lines and others, including any "voids" in the marketplace. Feedback on "corporate" issues such as shipping, invoicing, etc. Clear cut guidelines on what you as a golf professional expect from a sales rep (including but not limited to: what time of year you prefer to view lines, whether or not you are willing to view off site, what you expect from us in between sales calls, type of communication, etc). In other words, how can I best do my job to maximize profitability (for you and/or your shop, and myself).

What is most helpful to us reps is knowing the details. This is a most overlooked aspect of a Club Professional's business. Like knowing the question you are posing is to the "Nike" Sales Rep and not the Cutter & Buck! But in all seriousness, knowing total revenue, how many shirts, how many hats, how many bottoms, how many ladies shirts and bottoms, etc is the biggest help. As many Pros either don't know or don't care to find out these crucial stats makes our job more difficult and ultimately unsatisfying to the end user. Like if we say, "Let's bring in 48 hats for spring..." Well, you might sell 600 hats in a season and since our hats have been selling the best 48 won't be enough. But if you don't really know you sell 600 hats in a season and you just say "Well, I sell A LOT of hats..." We can easily miss the mark for both of us. You see my point? In general, preparedness by the Pro and an awareness of the real numbers by category would be something that is welcomed by all reps and not just me.

We're not looking just for the sale. When I sell something to one of my accounts, I hope they not only buy the product, but buy into the product! In my current territory, I have over 300 accounts. I can only be so many places in one day. Therefore, I try my best to make my accounts my own micro sales and marketing team. My product (once purchased) doesn't do either of us good if it sits there. So, I hope the account and golf professional takes the initiative to merchandise and promote it once it's in the shop. In effect, it's my hope that my accounts become brand ambassadors. With that being said, sometimes I wish my golf professionals would ask me more of what I see out in the field and what's working from that standpoint. While I do my best to "suggest," I don't want to feel as though I'm the know-it-all and imposing my will. Since we cover so much ground and see so many different strategies (both good and bad), don't hesitate to ask us what we see and what's working. I once had an account in N. Cal that always asked me about sales strategies and ideas for merchandising, sales ideas, etc. It's not that' I'm full of a billion ideas, but I'm simply using his fellow golf professionals ideas to help him! So, with that said, don't hesitate to ask US questions about that sort of thing. As we all know in our industry right now, it's no longer business as usual and we all need to keep changing and improving to stay ahead.

Listen. Give us a little bit of your time. Give us a chance, even if it’s in the smallest of quantities, and if a small amount of product is successful, build on it. Manufacturers obviously want to be successful and increase their market share, but we can’t do it without the help of club professionals. The club professional wants to be successful with his or her merchandising operation and it can’t be done with the outside sales rep who gives the personal, face-to-face service.

How you can make my job easier is by being honest which most pros are and courteous. If a rep calls you even if you don't need his or her product, call them back or talk to them. This goes a long way from the professionalism side. The two of you could be in different positions later and that does happen. Also, if you have ideas that might help you and or any other shops let the reps know that idea. Most great products derive from this type situation as you may know. The hardest suggestion and the hardest to actually do is to educate yourself on trends and be receptive to things that are not necessarily status quo. Some of the best product lines started out as the "What the heck is that goofy looking driver?” It is hard to take a chance on a new product line but sometimes you have to lean over the rail a bit to see the view right? If a PGA Seminar is talking about merchandising or trends, go to the meeting and participate. Get as much education as you can on that end of your position as knowledge just makes you better at your job as you know. Lastly, if you need help, ask. Reps are a wealth of knowledge and most are willing to help. Call on me or any rep at any time and I am sure you will find a willingness to seek a solution to any problem you might have. Most of us have been in the business for a long time (16 years myself) and by tripping over some things I have picked up a fair bit of "how to".

Undoubtedly this is a partnership, and with any successful partnership, there is mutual respect for the other person. There are good and bad reps just like there are good and bad golf pros - our job is to make you more successful than what you already are, period. This is what we do for a living and the good ones reps have your best interest in mind because as you prosper so do we - if you fail, we fail. As a sales rep, I want you to invest your resources with the brands/reps that offer a repeatable return, both short and longterm and be prepared when you meet with your business partner. I want golf professionals to know their open-to-buy well, and know what is important to growing your business, and stick to a game plan. The business continues to change and the old ways of doing things are no longer useful/effective. With that said, I would like to see golf professionals continue to evolve and find better ways to keep and obtain new business. Remember, you run a retail based environment - conduct yourselves accordingly and the returns will generate.

I think a greater respect for everyone's time would be the #1 priority on my list. I recently had a guy call me the day before and cancel the appointment because he had an opportunity to play golf during our scheduled appointment time. He asked me to come another day, but I was completely booked as usual. I certainly don't begrudge anyone a chance to get to play, so I understood and just had to go on about my way. Another idea, for example, is that I never leave my cell phone on during an appointment because I think that is disrespectful of my customer’s time. It would be nice to have that respect reciprocated. Also, call screening is a necessary evil with so many telemarketers calling. I think if the staff could have recognition of their familiar sales rep's names so they can get through and complete an issue would save tons of time. I always say my name and company before I request to speak with someone, in an effort to take the pressure off and help me get through, which usually works. The only other thing I can think of is numerous requests that require me to call Customer Service for the answer on behalf of my customer. Then I need to call them back with an answer, the customer is out, on and on, you know how that works. I am always happy to help with any issue, but I do think many requests could be handled in a more productive and prompt manner for all sides if those calls went to Customer Service. That is the purpose for them being stationary at a desk each day, to give accurate and prompt service to our customers. I will just say that some of these things refresh in my mind regularly just how important it is to respect other people's time.

1) Product knowledge
2) Understand our brand message
3) Give us consumer feed back on the product
4) Punctual to meeting times and dates
5) Learn the on web site tools that will assist with special orders and billing questions

Golf professionals can expect the following from an outside sales representative like my self: Create programs that enable my golf shop to make the most profit possible, Help me manage my OTB $s, Help create memorable events for my customers (tournaments). Help me merchandise the shop, Using displays, POP materials to entice action sales,Create stories that attract, engage, and connect with my customers, Create staff programs that afford my golf professional(s) the opportunity to connect with a Brand (hopefully Nike Golf) and enable them to learn sales techniques taught to them by the rep as well as understanding the importance of communicating Features, Advantages, and Benefits to the customer, Hold my assistants accountable in maintaining ROI of the dollars spent either from his Staff Budget or Program Budgets, Help move product that is not selling and replace with new product that may sell through at a minimal cost of goods. As an outside sales rep, what I want from the golf professionals would be the following: Return on investment, Time, Staff $, Service, Grow the Brand at the facility, Maintain consistent communication with regards to opportunities that increase his sell in as well as sell through, Learn sales techniques, Become the local expert on the Features, Advantages, and Benefits of his key styles within his product line, Understand that at times product won’t receive a 40-50% profit margin. Some times turning the product many times at a 25% to 30% margin is better than “not” turning the product with a 40% margin.

One thing that helps me is trying to be available for an appointment. Usually I don't have a problem. Second would be to communicate back with a phone call or e-mail when I call and leave a message or send out an e-mail. These relate to golf professionals in general.

The Golden Rule - Respect others as you would want to be respected

I think most reps would agree trading phone calls back and forth takes a tremendous amount of time that's why emails save time, they're just not as personal. Most of this chasing is usually for incomplete info such as in-hands date, color instructions, logo approvals, or maybe product substitutions, so anything you can do to respond to our inquiries is greatly appreciated. Another thing is I believe some pros can't say no in person to an order so they say I'll get back to you. If you really know you don't want what the rep has to offer just tell him no and maybe here is why, that saves everybody a ton of time and is good feed back to the Companies as to why you didn't like a specific item. Those are just a couple of items but in the big picture I'm the salesman and you are the buyer. It is my job to figure out your needs and try and fill them with what I have to offer so that you and I can both be profitable and successful. For me this consumes 100% of my time, but for you it may only be 25% of your time as you wear so many hats and and have so many other items to address. I understand that and appreciate the value of your time so any thing I can do to shorten that period of time for you is a win-win for both of us.