If you think that using an independent sales rep or group is a great way to cover territory quickly with little expense, think again.
Whether you are considering outsourcing your sales because you worry you won't be able to build a quality sales team in-house, you want to avoid managing your own sales team, or you just think it will be cheaper, I believe you'll find outsourcing your sales efforts is the worst choice you can make for your small business.
Here's my advice:
Your product deserves the spotlight.
As a business owner, you want your product to get the attention it deserves. Think about it this way: If you could have a choice of press written about your product, which would be more beneficial to you--a small mention in an article about new items in your industry, or a full-page feature article on your product alone? Undoubtedly, the spotlight article, because it would present your product in the best possible light, including details about how it works and why someone should want to buy it. Entrusting your sales to an independent rep essentially means allowing your product to be presented as one product among many. An independent sales rep rarely carries a single line of products. Every time he calls on a customer, he will focus his sales pitch on the line that is the easiest for him to make money on-;and it may not be yours.
Your product has many ins-and-outs--and a correct way to articulate them.
Going with an independent rep also risks leaving product questions unanswered. Imagine the following: the independent rep is on the phone with a potential customer, who is interested in your product but needs to know if it can be used in a certain way. Most outside reps learn enough about your product to speak to it in the same way a catalogue is able to--major talking points, price, and a way to order--but that's about it. As a business owner, I see a salesperson as the final link between what my marketing materials describe and the way a potential customer understands my product. The salesperson is an interpreter, a guide, and problem-solver--not just a talking representation of product literature. This means the salesperson must have the same understanding of my product that I do. He must be able to explain the way it is constructed and the things it can do. Most importantly, he must be able to troubleshoot any uncertainties that create buying obstacles for the customer. This kind of knowledge comes from living and breathing the product every day. An outside rep never has that level of commitment because he can always get another product to sell or another line to rep if yours doesn't work out.
Your product needs a reliable brand ambassador.
Selling is never just about the transaction. It is also about your brand image, which is either nourished or denigrated in the sales process. Using an independent rep means renouncing control over how your product gets sold, and by extension, the image that is built around your product and your company. Consider this scenario: An outside rep makes hundreds of calls to customers and promises to send a catalogue, but does not follow through. With an in-house rep, you will likely find this out quickly because a customer will call to complain or ask where the catalogue is. If, on the other hand, an outside rep is the only contact a customer has with your company, that safety net is no longer there. Instead the customer automatically assumes that this is the way your company does business or that he has no recourse beyond the independent rep, and will likely take his business elsewhere. An outside rep, even unwittingly, can do substantial damage to your brand before you even realize what's happening.
Independent reps may at first seem like a less expensive shortcut to an in-house sales team, but true cost should not just be measured in terms of dollars and cents. In-house sales reps are a valuable investment for your long-term business strategy. They sell only your product--so they sell deeply, as well as broadly. They can be trained and monitored to be sure they are accurately conveying product knowledge to your customers. And they speak the language you teach them to speak, so they inspire the conversation you want customers to have about your product.