Managing an indirect sales team is a common model for many companies. Using an indirect sales team is done either in place of or in conjunction with having an in-house sales team of employees. It’s more common than you might think.
AMCI Sales Director Bob Alesio says, “Contracting independent manufacturer’s reps allows us to manage our salesforce costs in relationship to growth vs. significant upfront costs associated with employed sales representatives.”
The latest episode of the Field Sales Leadership Guide podcast by Map My Customers covers this topic, among others. Brian Schauer, head of product design and business development at medical device company Novastep sits down to discuss his background, Novastep’s sales process, and more. Give it a listen and see what you can glean and apply to your own sales team. But here we’ll discuss and expound upon what Schauer has to say on the matter of partnering with independent sales reps. Novastep does it, Schauer has experienced the pros and cons, and he has pointers for how to lead an independent team and experience success.
The Pros of Working with an Indirect Sales Team
One of the most often-cited benefits of working with independent, or 1099 reps, or freelance sales agents, as you may also see them called, is that you usually only pay them when they make a sale. They have very little fixed costs associated, so there’s not much risk involved, making this kind of sales process easily scalable.
Hiring out your sales process to independent reps across the country, or world, makes it possible for your company to cover large geographic territories without employing a large direct sales team. These independent reps can be more boots-on-the-ground, and more local to their territories than you might be able to be, giving them key insights and an inside edge when pitching your solution. Schauer says Novastep has 40-50 reps in every state, making their reach and their ability to sell into their local geographic area a huge benefit.
Another pro is that these reps are very often seasoned, bringing experience that is second to none. Perhaps inherent in the fact that they have a desire and the ability to work for themselves as independent sales reps rather than employees of a company is the fact that they have amassed so many contacts and have such sharp sales skills that they no longer need to work for someone else. This kind of experience can be a huge asset to your company.
If they are tenured and bring to the table experience and contacts within your industry, when they begin working with your company, they can tap into their existing network of contacts, which could fast track your product getting to market.
The Cons of Working with an Indirect Sales Team
That same pro of these reps being so skilled that they can be independent can be a double-edged sword. Freelance sales agents are not your employees. There’s only so much supervising you can do. You have little to no control over their hours, work environment, and production. They may even work for several different companies. They may sell different products within your industry in addition to yours so that they have different options to present to their customers.
You have less control generally over an indirect sales team’s messaging and execution. It can be difficult to keep everyone trained, and sales reporting can be challenging to get from independent reps.
Top Tips for Leading an Indirect Sales Team
In the episode, Brian Schauer is asked how he makes sure independent reps will push Novastep when meeting with prospective clients rather than a competitor’s product. Schauer says his philosophy in general when working with an indirect sales team is to consider them to be one of your most important customers. When you’re working with an indirect sales team, your focus becomes not selling directly to your consumer, but selling to authorized third parties who then work on your behalf to sell to your consumer. They are their own business owners, Schauer says, so they’re going to want to do what’s best for them and most successful for their business.
“Think about it from that perspective,” he says. “What advantages or resources can I provide that business to be successful in their own space? If I have the best widget in town but poor customer service and poor resources, it doesn’t matter that I have the best widget in town.”
He emphasizes keeping the lines of communication open. He says he touches base with his independent sales reps once a week. If he doesn’t hear from them, he says he assumes that either all is well and they don’t need anything from him, or “they’re not that into what they’re doing.” He encourages his independent reps to not stay away if they need help.
“You’re not managing sales agents; you’re partnering with them,” he says. He sees it as a trickle-down effect that starts with him—taking good care of his distributors (the indirect reps) and making sure they understand his product line, which helps them take good care of the medical providers they pitch to, which helps the medical providers take care of their patients.
Be easy to work with. Set up regular calls. Be responsive to your independent reps’ messages, questions, and calls. Make their lives easier with sales tools that make it easy to sell the product. Maybe even be in the field with them regularly. Make their lives easier with sales tools that make it easy for them to sell your product. Map My Customers is a good tool for your outside sales team of any kind to plot their calls. It integrates with Salesforce, HubSpot, Zoho, and Microsoft Dynamics.
Check out the episode and get the scoop on indirect sales teams and how to work with them in a way that’s mutually beneficial.