So you've decided that it's time to grow your business and expand your reach in the Market, but recruiting permanent employed sales staff can be costly and in many cases risky too.
This article was written in collaboration with many independent sales professionals who are currently using CommissionCrowd to find exciting new product and services to add to their current line cards. It's also widely considered to be the 'Blueprint' of working with freelance sales agents.
● Why hundreds of thousands of sales professionals all over the world are leaving their jobs in favour of becoming self-employed
● The fundamental basics of what makes for an attractive commission-only sales opportunity
● The ten most important things to understand about working with independent sales reps
● How to craft the perfect sales opportunity designed to make you stand out from the competition
CommissionCrowd is on a mission to unify the market under one banner and facilitate a better process for connecting independent sales agents and companies, while making it effortless to go on and successfully manage a remote working relationship.
With higher demand for such agents, the need for would-be employers to streamline their approach is paramount. In order to drive home the importance of seeing the bigger picture, it would be beneficial if every company seeking to partner with a self-employed sales agents pictured themselves as a fisherman in a sea of plentiful fish.
Even with so many fish in the sea, the fisherman still needs to use the right bait in order to attract one of them. What many companies continue to miss is that a good bait, i.e., an attractive opportunity, is about more than just a high commission or potential earnings.
So what do you need to know?
Firstly, you need to gain an understanding of the benefits of partnering with independent sales agents.
It's important to understand that the benefits go both ways, and providing due diligence improves your chances of forming a successful relationship. In short, if you make the right moves to attract self-employed sales agents, you increase your chances of retaining their services.
Benefits of partnering with sales agents • Chapter Two
1. Sales Agents bring experience to your sales stream
Self-employed sales professionals usually have many years of experience working at the top of their field as full-time employees, and have made the decision to break away and start their own sales agency.
The biggest mistake you can make is thinking that sales agents who work for themselves are in between jobs or desperate for work. Taking this viewpoint will kill any chance you have of partnering with the top reps.
2. Sales Agents give you a third eye
In partnering with self-employed sales agents you are effectively partnering with industry experts.
Besides their obvious expertise, sales agents also bring objective insights. They are in a unique position to be able to separate themselves from the company and spot gaps, opportunities and even future competitors faster than in-house sales teams. The phrases "outside looking in" and "thinking outside of the box" are perfectly applicable to self-employed sales agents.
reelance sales agents who sell physical products, especially manufacturer's reps, will also have transferable skills such as marketing knowledge, which is particularly useful when developing new territories.
3. Sales Agents bring pre-existing sales contacts with them
The beauty of the freelance sales professional lies in his or her pre-existing sales contacts.
When a company poaches a stellar sales professional from another company it's very likely that the employee will have to leave behind the contacts who brought them so much success. This means there is still a measured risk attached. A self-employed sales agent, however, can take their sales contacts wherever they like. They don't need to build up a contact list from scratch; they can just get on with it from the get go. An agent's contacts have usually been built up over a number of years and have accrued from their time both as an employee and working independently.
Complimentary cross-selling opportunities are also a huge benefit of working with independent sales agents and manufacturer's reps. Since agents rarely work exclusively with one company – opting instead to build portfolios of multiple, complementary product and service lines – the opportunity to present your company's products or services to the agent's clients is available every day.
4. Sales Agents reduce costs and risk associated with hiring new talent
As stated earlier, there is a measured risk in hiring sales agents as company employees.
A star salesman for one company may not necessarily translate into a star salesman for another company. In some ways, it is a calculated gamble that could cost your company and hinder your sales revenues. Taking on in-house employees requires not only financial outlay – regardless of initial performance – but also the time to train agents who do not have pre-existing contacts and who may or may not turn out to be a successful addition to your team.
Partnering with a self-employed sales agent allows you to pay on performance rather than in wages, which are constant regardless of performance. With the added advantage of pre-existing links to the industry (60% of CommissionCrowd's agents have pre-existing networks of contacts) you will be making a much more assured choice that limits your risks and costs.
5. Sales agents have the same business objectives as you
What is more perfect in a partner than someone who shares the same vision?
Partnering with independent sales professionals and manufacturer's reps means it is very likely they will already have experience in your industry and know the buying processes employed by your potential clients and prospects. This means you can target specific people with objectives similar to your company's.
These benefits make the process of finding a suitable partnership much smoother and equally beneficial to both parties. It is therefore extremely important to be up-front and honest with potential reps right from the start.
Freelance Sales Agents: who are they really? • Chapter Three
In my opinion there are two choices here, work for someone else as an employee and watch the rewards go to someone else, or take the bull by its horns, take the chance and work towards both personal and financial freedom. -Rob Leslie, Self-employed sales agent.
Let's keep it simple. Self-employed sales agents do not become your employees—they become your partners. They share their imagination and vision with you in order to help you achieve your sales targets and meet theirs too.
These are experienced sales professionals who have broken away from the constraints of employment to run their own business and build portfolios of products and services that can be promoted and sold into their networks. Their drive, ambition and focus give them a strong footing to push forward with their goals, and whoever is in partnership with them will benefit from this.
Their sales experience and existing contact databases – spanning years in some cases – make them viable assets that extend beyond the hiring of an employee from sales job agencies. There is little need for training of self-employed sales agents beyond familiarisation of your company procedures and processes.
Like anyone in business, freelance sales agents desire to build a portfolio of companies they work with. Rarely will a freelance sales agent work exclusively with one company at a time. Their goal is to build portfolios of products and services that they can offer to their existing and new networks.
Providing the best possible service to the best possible company is what professional sales agents care about. They are not low-level workers, but exceptionally efficient workers offering their time and skills to the right kind of companies.
The key term to remember when seeking out a self-employed sales agent is partnership. By seeking out these agents, you are not looking for an employee or a freelancer for hire – you are looking for a partner on your business journey.
Current Industry Challenges • Chapter Four
So far we've been concentrating on understanding who and what self-employed sales agents are, and what the benefits are to working with them. Now it's time to look at the obstacles.
What motivates CommissionCrowd is the understanding that the industry is currently failing not only self-employed sales agents but also the companies that could partner with them.
Connecting with freelance sales reps
The first step of any partnership is contact. In its current state, the industry has been caught in limbo by the influx of self-employed sales agents who trade under different titles and companies who are not clear on what they are looking for. This creates a debilitating lack of understanding for both parties. It's also why the industry is so fragmented.
If you've been hiring sales agents for a while you will have experienced the frustration of coming across many agents with lots of experience in sales but little or no experience in your industry. This has a negative impact on time and costs, which also leads to another issue that gets in the way of making connections: unverifiable agent track records and the often long winded process of agents vetting companies or having to do lengthy due-dilligence. Our long term goal at CommissionCrowd is to help both companies and sales agents to be able to assess each other better and faster than ever before. We will be using real time sales data to help you understand agent track records over time and implementing functionality for you to rate agents and for them to rate you. Agents are as keen to know about your likelihood of paying on time and the quality of your training materials and support as you are to know what kind of deals they are capable of closing.
For companies and self-employed sales agents alike, the systems in place to help manage business relationships are not working to the standards required to solidify these relationships.
For starters, many technologies are becoming obsolete and not applicable to the modern tech-savvy sales agent. Current systems are unable to adapt to the complexity of remote working relationships and few systems complement or interact with each other adequately.
Other vital aspects of the sales process are lost due to lack of structured oversight. Elements such as sales schedules, activity and training programmes are not easily accessible due to a lack of dedicated platforms that cater to the needs of the modern-day sales professional.
With poor relationship management, the dissemination of company information to sales agents is drastically slower. Ultimately this impacts the productivity of the agent and the reputation of the company in the eyes of other agents.
The difficulty in sharing recently learned information including feedback from customers and administrative issues like control over access permissions for shared documents can eventually impact the trust between company and sales agents when it's done in a piecemeal or scattered way across various systems and processes.
All of the above issues lead to one major issue: friction. Removing friction means having a significantly better chance at increasing your sales and working smarter with your sales partners.
The factors that impact the ability to increase sales are:
● Multiple reports in various formats – Imagine how hard a sales agent has to work and how much time is wasted entering data into multiple diverse CRMs, sales pipeline software and other tools when representing more than one company.
Productivity is key here, and in order to be at their most productive, freelance sales agents don't have time to manually enter data and monitor multiple systems.
CommissionCrowd eliminates the need for multiple systems by providing both sales agents and companies everything they need to connect and manage your relationship in one place. The more sales agents you manage the more valuable the functionality becomes and the more time you will save.
● Bad first impressions due to lack of organisation – this is pretty much what it says on the tin. Companies end up looking disorganised due to a lack of a cohesive reporting structure that follows a chain of command.
● Slow sales due to other tasks/reporting taking precedence,.e.g. reporting – agents need a simple, easy to use system that ensures they can maximise their time selling.
The industry has been lacking in innovative systems that incorporate the needs of both business owners and self-employed sales agents. This has affected everyone's ability to collaborate, communicate, and increase sales.
In short, your bottom line is being affected by unnecessary friction in your business relationships.
Ten Factors That Would Make A Self-Employed Sales Agent Choose Your Company • Chapter Five
If you've made it this far you must really want to know how to attract the best of the best self-employed sales agents. Understanding these ten factors will help you position yourself at the front of the queue.
In order to collate this list, CommissionCrowd surveyed a number of professional self-employed sales agents on our database and asked them to rank the factors they consider most important when deciding to work with a company or not.
These are the 10 factors:
1. Honesty & Integrity
3. Management Attitude
5. Commission Structure & Offering
6. Attitude Towards Sales Reps
7. Marketing & Samples
Honesty & Integrity
Good business is about honesty. Great business is a combination of honesty, integrity, trust and profitability. If your business is approaching a sales agent it's imperative that you are 100% honest about your products/services, how much business you have, and your closing ratios. Being dishonest about your business is akin to hiring a war veteran to lead your army but not telling him the truth about the current state of your army. Give all sales agents the lay of the land – this will create a starting point for questions and opportunities.
All thriving relationships have a strong foundation in communication. Sales agents need much more from their partners than training materials and sales support. They also need help in understanding the lifeblood of the business through your support channels. This helps their sales, so it is a truly two-way relationship. Be there for them and they will be there for you.
How you view the sales agents you partner with will shape your attitude and in turn your management style. So it's vital to take in the following points :
● Understand how to differentiate your relationships between employees and self-employed sales agents.
● Differentiating the relationships shapes how you resolve differences and issues.
● The setting and managing of expectations should be handled in conjunction with your partners, not presented to them as a fait accomplice.
● Good management is anticipation of the needs of your employees and the same courtesy should be extended to your self-employed sales agents
● Understand the obstacles your sales agents face and also try to find harmony with how they do business.
● Respect their time and the value they bring to your business.
● Respect their reputation by treating the clients they bring you with exceptional service.
● Constructive feedback and criticism is two-way and vital.
● Most importantly, encourage, train and empower them to be better for both themselves and for you.
Everyone wants to be associated with something that has a good reputation. This isn't something you can give yourself. The measure of your work will attest to your reputation and attract quality sales agents. Showcase your reputation by letting sales agents see your :
● Client testimonials
● Social media sentiment
● Other successful sales agents
Commission (Earning Potential)
If you want quality sales agents you need to be prepared to offer high yielding commissions. Remember, you are paying for more than time and are benefiting hugely from their experience in the industry and the doors they can open for your business to reach new markets.
A quality sales agent with 20+ years of industry experience will not partner with a company offering peanuts. As a self-employed sales agent, the question going through their mind will be "can I make a decent living out of this?" If the answer is "no" there will be no partnership. Here are a few tips to help when determining commission rates:
● Freelance sales agents expect to be paid residual commissions and should rightly earn a recurring commission payment on repeat orders or future business placed by the clients they bring you.
● Give as much as you can whilst still making a profit – it will keep your sales agents committed.
● Show both conservative and advanced earning potential.
● Incentive for hitting targets – be creative, its not all about money, it's the little thoughtful things that count!
Offer compensation for New business :
a. Repeat Orders
b. Existing customer upsells
Attitude determines altitude – keep that in mind. If you wish for a partnership to soar you need to adopt an attitude that will allow it to do just that. A positive attitude will prevent you from making the wrong decisions regarding sales agents such as:
● Believing your agents are looking for short term solutions rather than long term partnerships.
● Not being willing to accept the level of information they are willing to share.
● Being tempted to let a sales agent go for being too successful and earning very high levels of commission.
Your attitude must reflect what you want out of the partnership therefore the attitude must reflect mutual benefit.
Marketing materials & Samples
If you wouldn't send a soldier into war without a weapon, you wouldn't send a sales agent to potential clients without the right materials. It's imperative that your sales agents know that the materials they have at their disposal will help them do their job effectively. Up-to-date websites, material and product samples are a must.
Creating good relationships are important but not at the expense of your professionalism.
● Create good dialogue and relationships but don't get friendly too soon. It could undermine the relationships.
● Keep your word – your professionalism and reputation are tied to these three words
● Put your best foot forward always – give your best and show your agents that you are all in with them the whole way through the partnership.
● Act professionally – kind of self-explanatory is it not?.
● Be Knowledgeable – be a fountain of knowledge for your agents. If there are new developments in your product line/services let your agents know as soon as possible so they can be prepared to adapt to the changes.
Agents like to mix it up – not all agents will look for short sales cycles and short pay periods. Some like a mix of short and long sales cycles in their pipeline. Be open and transparent about pay terms and stick to them – agents understand there may be delays in receiving commissions but will never accept not being paid. Communicate any issues or delays immediately.
Customer service affects both your clients and your sale agents. Remember your sales agents represent you and in securing a client's business they have attested to your reputation. This means that every time an agent goes out to attract a client on your behalf they are putting their own reputation on the line. So it's important to remember:
● A sales agent's main priority is keeping their clients paying and recommending your services so they can earn more. Lose their business and lose your sales agents with them.
● Agents need to know that you can service your customers in a timely and efficient manner.
● Agents need to know what kind of support is available, how you resolve issues and generally how reliable it is.
● Let them know the level of support available and how happy your existing customers are too.
There you have it: the mind of the self-employed sales agent. Not too complicated and not too simple. With these tools you should be able to position yourself to cast your line and catch the right people for your business.
CommissionCrowd helps companies achieve all of this on our industry-changing global platform. We connect companies who need sales agents to sales agents with the experience and know-how to boost their sales pipeline.
Unifying the industry is our goal, one business owner and one sales agent at a time.
Your sales pipeline just got more interesting.