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Challenges, problems, and triumphs -- from a manufacturer's perspective.

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What Makes a Great Sales Rep?

Colleagues and customers remember the late Bob Watkins.

by "C" Boyd , Charlie Shaffer, and Jim Bremer (July 20, 2005)

(Note: Most vendors have employed manufacturers' sales reps, and it's easy to hear positive and negative comments about their value. So what qualities separate the great ones from the others? Over the years we heard nothing but positive comments about Bob Watkins a rep on the West Coast who passed away late last year, so we asked people who knew him well to comment.)

Comments from Bob's partner, "C" Boyd.

How do you find enough space to say "Bob Watkins was a great rep?" Mike, when you asked me to do this, I thought it would be easy because I have nothing but great memories of Bob.

I thought that I was a pretty god rep until I worked with him. I still remember the first time I went out with him on a call. We went to this large store that employed about 50 or 60 people and half of them said, "Hey, Bob’s here" or "Mr. Delta’s here."

It was an experience. They were so happy to see him. That’s the way he was. He knew his stores, his people, his management. These were "his stores." He cared for them as if he owned them – and it showed.

Have you ever seen 60 feet of one brand of paint with a sign and story boards that covered the entire wall? Have you ever seen 40 feet of one brand of brushes? It was amazing. I had always concentrated on promotions to large chains. Being in a craft store such as this was a new experience. His volume per store matched his enthusiasm.

This doesn’t really matter as much as the way he related to his customers and his factories. He was family to both. If he said it, you could count on it. He made deals that would last because he knew the parties involved. He knew what they wanted now, why, and he knew what they wanted long term. When he spoke, they listened.

Comments from a colleague, sales rep Charlie Shaffer.

Bob Watkins was from the beginning a joy to know. He was one of the most generous people, giving his time and words of encouragement at each conversation, as well as working overtime to supply all you might need to get your job done. He went out of his way with acts of kindness for everyone he knew. He had many friends because as soon as you met him, he counted you as his friend. He called to see how things were going for you and you had to pry his own personal challenges out of him. He gave and gave and gave of his time and energy and resources to help however he could to make your experience better.

He loved to cook for people and bring customers special goodies he knew they enjoyed, because he’d brought them to them the last time he came. He had such a good relationship with his customers that they trusted his suggestions regarding the new trends and items he sold them. He was always honest and was completely trusted by all the people that dealt with him because he never gave anyone any reason to think otherwise. He presented himself with a smile that lit his eyes and the rest of his face and you just couldn’t help but love the guy. He found out when one of his customer’s birthday was, and always remembered to send him a cheesecake on his birthday.

He had stores that he called on regularly and was given an employee name tag because he worked so hard getting the displays just right and helping customers and writing the orders correctly to meet the needs of the store. It was such a pleasure to get his late night telephone calls and emails with his sometimes corny and humorous jokes, putting a light in your day before you turned in for the night.

He never complained, even though he was suffering great discomfort; instead, he concentrated on finding out how you were and how you were doing, and offered his care for you each time he called. He stayed up into the late hours entering program data to make our sales easier.

We miss Bob, but his memory always lightens the heart. He inspires each of us to give and care, like he did.

(Note: Charlie has his own repping company in Northern California.)

Comments from a retailer/customer, Jim Bremer.

Some things are just difficult and we delay out of how to do it correctly. That is the case with me and notifying you about the loss of Bob Watkins back in late November. Bob was to us the best rep in our business. He was more than a business associate, he was a friend and an example of how to treat others as we live our lives.

For Tall Mouse, Bob was the first rep – he used to deliver Delta paint in the back of his car from Wally R's; the paint came in baby food jars. This was back in the late 1960's before there was really a "craft industry."

Bob, to me, represented the industry in the best ways. He was interested in the stores and the people who worked and shopped there. He was willing to educate, to show, and to guide. You could count on Bob and were never mislead.

Bob was known for his humanity. He always remembered special events in peoples lives and had a positive story to share. We lost not only the best rep – we lost a wonderful example and a good friend.

(Note: To read previous "Vinny" columns, click on the titles in the right-hand column. To comment on sales reps or any industry issue, email CLN at mike@clnonline.com.)



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