Sales Answer Man: How to Motivate Independent Salespeople

Q: How do I best motivate and manage an independent representative sales force and keep them focused on my product line?

A: Working for a company that primarily sells through independent sales representatives is a fairly common dilemma. These reps typically not only represent your company, but other companies’ products and services.

The advantages of using independent sales reps are:

  • They have current relationships with multiple clients (end users).
  • They live in the territories where you want to grow your business.
  • Your product/service allows your independent representatives to expand their relationship with their clients.

The disadvantages of using independent sales reps are:

  • You are “one removed” from the ultimate client (end user).
  • They are typically not local (to you) and tend to be “lone rangers” in many cases working out of their homes.
  • Sometimes they are not personally interested in your product/service, so they won’t talk to their clients about it.

In terms of motivating them to do more with you, I suggest finding the ones who are motivated in general first, and then help them discover how your product/service can get them more of what they want. This will allow you to manage the many relationships you have. 

In essence, focus on the 80/20 rule: 20% of the independent representatives who will provide 80% of your business.

Once you’ve identified the highly motivated (20%), some of them may not understand or see how your product or service helps them be successful. Let’s start with the goal in mind. As it relates to your independent representatives, what are the gaps between where they are and where they want to be?

Adding new clients:

  • What gap in income is there between what they are making and what they believe they can make? 
  • What segment of their business do they want to grow? 
  • What type of client do they want or how would they like to elevate the size of client? 

Current clients:

  • Who are they most concerned about losing? 
  • Where is their competition improving or slacking? 
  • What products or services do they need more in-depth knowledge of or what new offering do they need to keep up with their clients who are growing?

Once you help the independent representatives understand what’s in it for them to sell more of your product line, now we may need to coach them. Since they are between you and the end user, in some cases you are only as good as they are.

Sometimes your highly motivated independent representatives have been successful despite themselves. In other words, they work hard, but not necessarily smart. If they don’t get or keep the business, you lose as well.

One of the first questions to ask when an independent representative brings you a new opportunity: Is the new opportunity a client or prospect of the rep? Spend more time with a current client of theirs than a prospect if your time is limited.

Lastly, coach your independent reps to ask the questions above to new opportunity end users. This will allow you to be a trusted advisor rather than just a vendor to your independent representative, and they to their end users.

Dan Stalp is president of Sandler Training, a sales and professional development firm. He works with CEOs, presidents, business owners who sell, and peak performers who are tired of walking by their salespeople’s offices to see them on their computers instead of on their phones — and sick of having a superior product and losing out on price. • (913) 451-1760 •