Product Reps – A Worthy Rant

Be warned, this is going to be somewhat of a rant and likely not for those whose sensibilities are easily offended.  I am a little disheartened that, in this day and age, I would even feel the need to write this.  Honestly though, after 30 years, it feels good to unload some of these frustrations. 

I need to preface this blog with the fact that I have come to know many amazing product reps since I joined CSI.  For those amazing Reps, this blog is NOT for or about you. 

This blog is about what I will call “The Others.”  Some of this blog is about how “The Others” interact with women in the AEC industry.

While it is not particularly important for the purpose of this writing but, in the interest of full disclosure, I am the Standards Coordinator at a fairly large Engineering Firm that does work all over the world.  I am not an Engineer or an Architect.  I am the keeper and guardian of our Master Specs, run our QA/QC program and perform various other duties associated with having quality documents and consistent standards throughout all of our offices.  I have 30 years of experience in AEC.

Because we have multiple disciplines and I am not an Engineer (most of my career was spent in architecture) I do not typically make final product decisions.  That is left to the engineers.  I am the central information point for feedback and information on our engineers experience with particular products.

One side piece to my job is supervising two of our general office staff.  It is the responsibility of our administrative assistant (newly hired to replace the last one who was promoted) to set up lunch and learns.  I have not yet trained her to do this.  I have performed this task since the promotion of our last administrative assistant because I find that having a direct line to our product reps helps me do my job better.  We have far too many lunch & learns in our office for it to be feasible for me to attend every single one.  Performing this task gives me an opportunity to speak with every product rep whether I can attend their event or not.  It also helps me get specific information that I need and get to know them.

In addition to my work, I have become heavily involved in CSI and have attended the last two CONSTRUCT Shows as well as our Chapter’s last three Industry Forums which both have a product show component.

And that is where my rant begins.  For “The Others” I have a few words of advice.  I hope you will take this advice in the spirit in which it is given.  Some of you are so insulting that your behavior is shared far beyond that initial phone call that you make.  That behavior does not go over well with the folks you are trying to reach so please, take heed of some words to live by:

  1. DO NOT assume that just because a woman is scheduling your lunch & learn, that she does not know what she is doing.  Likely I could teach you more than a thing or two.
  2. DO NOT ask me to order your lunches or go around and take individual orders for lunches.  We have as many as 6 lunch & learns a week sometimes.  I am pretty sure my rather large company did not factor into our operating budget doing your job for you.  We give you full instructions as soon as you schedule. Please read them.
  3. DO NOT leave your mess behind for someone here to clean up.
  4. DO NOT call me demanding that your Product needs to be immediately inserted in our specs because you talked to a Principal about it.  Name dropping one of my bosses is not going to get you into our Masters any faster.  We have procedures here and that boss will let me know when he wants your product incorporated into our specs.  If you are not in yet, there is a reason for it and I likely know that reason.  For example, maybe another Principal with whom you did not meet had a disaster on their project due to your product.
  5. DO NOT send me 30 pages of poorly written manufacturers specs and expect it is getting into my Master anytime soon.  Your company clearly has not taken the time to be a member of CSI or to learn the spec writing principles and language that is essential to specifications in the project delivery process.  I have spent as much as three days rewriting a manufacturer spec to make it usable in our CONTRACT documents.  If you want your products put in my master quickly, learn how to give me the specs the way I need them.
  6. When you come to visit, DO NOT talk to me like I am some kind of moron because you assume I am a flunky.  I don’t care if it is me, my Administrative Assistant or the janitor, I will not tolerate it.
  7. Manufacturers, at product shows, LOSE the slick used car salesmen in the 3-piece suits.  I can spot them a mile away and avoid them like the plague.  I want someone authentic and engaging who knows their stuff and will give it to me straight.  If your product is not for me, that is what I want to hear.  Be real and do not be pushy.
  8. At product shows, give me the information I asked you for.  DO NOT try to keep me at your booth for 4 hours telling me about every single product under the sun that you offer.  I have a lot of people to see.  It leaves a bad taste in my mouth when you try to corner me and I probably won’t stop by again.  If I ask you for additional information and to follow up after the show, you should probably do that.  Not one of you did from the last show I attended.
  9. At product shows, DO NOT assume that I am not worth your time because my badge says engineering and you rep architectural products.  Not only is most of my history in architecture and, for all you know, I may end up back there but I am also a leader in my very large CSI Chapter counting many of our local architects as friends.  My good opinion of you and your products, whether I spec them or not, might just carry some weight somewhere.
  10. Honey (I assume if you call me that, it is OK to call you that), my eyes are up here, in the middle of my face.  Please talk to those eyes, there are some brains behind them.

The bottom line here, you don’t really know who you are talking to, who they might know or where they may be going in their career.  It is in your best interest to leave behind a favorable impression with EVERY SINGLE person you meet.

And, to those amazing product reps I do know, Thank You! 

Thank you for:

–          Knowing your stuff

–          Trusting that I know mine

–          Giving me the information I need in the format that I need it so I can run with it

–          Not being condescending or disrespectful

–          Not being dismissive because it does not appear that I can immediately help you

–          Being that trusted advisor that I can always count on and respect.

You are the ones that set the standard for all of the rest of them!

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8 comments

  1. Excellent post. As a young professional rep this is the sort of thing we need to hear more often. It is amazing how essentially you are just telling people to have the most basic of manners, professionalism, and respect for others time. People should learn most of this in grammer school.

    I always wonder about lunch and learns. As a policy we do not do them. We pay for all marketing costs out of our pocket (no manufacturer help) and we have found we rarely get decision makers at such events. We recently did 6 CSI product shows over the last 3 years in key under performing areas. We tracked projects that resulted from firms from those shows and had less than a 10% return on those show costs (let alone a profit). So we are pulling out of those also. For us they are just too expensive. >$2000 per show times 5 shows per year in our territory. Just too much given the economic crisis in California.

    I would love a ‘do’ list. Not just how to do our jobs correctly, but how to do our jobs better. How ‘do’ we get the right data on projects (stage and details) when reed and dodge continue to provide poor data.

    I’ve got one that we ‘do’ that I think many product reps don’t do…. Do only give what you take. An architectural library is crowded, there isn’t a finishes library that has ‘extra’ space. So, when reps deliver a product, don’t sample bomb. If you’ve been given space for two binders, you may replace up to two binders not place 7. If you are in a meeting the designer will say ‘I want this, I do not want that’ and that is the ONLY way you should be adding to their limited space.

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    1. Evan,
      Thank you for your comments. I don’t think any of our jobs are any easier these days in light of current difficult economic times. I will say, as far as this blog goes, I find less of this behavior in the younger reps and far more in the older reps (although not all by any means). Unfortunately, it is often the older more experienced reps that the manufacturers will put in front of the customer, especially at trade shows. I am not sure what to advise as far as getting accurate data from the reporting services since that is just not much of an area of expertise for me. I have a friend who works for McGraw-Hill Dodge and I know that it can be very difficult for them to get accurate information as well. All that said, I firmly believe in the building of personal relationships. If I was a rep, I would focus more on one-on-one lunches with decision makers rather than lunch & learns. My favorite lunch & learns are the ones that actually teach me something rather than pitching a product. I recently learned more about Boilers that I ever thought I would know from a Rep in a Boilers 101 class with only a short product pitch. Not only was this valuable, but he gave me the detailed PowerPoint that I then shared with all of the staff who could not attend and it has been a continued point of reference. As far as binders, we tossed all of ours. I ask our Reps for a flash drive with their information which I put in an online library for staff to be able to access from our desk. The ones that bring a binder anyway do not get the benefit of this and nobody sees that binder.

      My best advice: really stay involved in CSI, build those friendships and relationships, become the go-to person with those connections and be that trusted advisor. If your product is already good, that will be what counts in the long run and will eventually pay off. I will call a rep I like and trust much faster than I will call one that I do not.

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  2. Don’t raise the Kraken’s Ire!!!
    Cherise, send them all to the Academies in San Francisco. We will get them straightened out!

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  3. Cherise,

    Excellent advice for man, not just reps, of the importance of respect and dignity in the workplace. It is also an excellent reminder to even the most season reps.

    Good job,

    Georgia

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  4. love this post! i’m not a rep, but work with many of them (i work for a manufacturer), and i don’t think our guys are like this (not our direct hires at least!), but it’d still be a great reminder for them. i plan on posting this on our inside sales site!! (i also posted as @ecoreacoustics on twitter)

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    1. Sharon, as a former ecore rep, “(not our direct hires at least!)” is illustrative of the change that happened 4 years ago. But ilI guess that is why im still in contact with paul downey and never talked with you. I know a lot of the independent reps (not direct hires), who I’m still friends with, would also also find the inference being made telling.

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