Ask not what you can do for a manufacturer’s rep firm, but what a manufacturer’s rep firm can do for you. Competition among integrators is tougher than ever; but building relationships with manufacturer’s representatives could help you win bids and bring in more business.

According to D.J. Atkins, president of the Atkins Group, the basic role of a rep firm is to act as sales staff for a manufacturer. The actual work a rep firm does involves quite a bit more and differs significantly from that of manufacturers who use dedicated sales people to sell their products directly. The primary difference for integrators in working with rep firms is that a single rep firm may represent more than one product line. Atkins comments that having the ability to offer full solutions allows rep firms to be in constant (monthly and often weekly) communication with the integrators they work with, whereas a specific manufacturer’s sales staff may have the opportunity to be in contact a few times a year.

Rep firms typically work with dealers, integrators and distributors with varying degrees of focus on each group. Firms like the Atkins Group work mostly with integrators on large-scale projects. These types of projects, Atkins notes, require extensive interaction with end users as well as integrators. “I’m working with consultants to get products specified so that the integrators who carry my products are able to work on these bids,” Atkins describes.

An advantage of establishing relationships with rep firms is their concentrated expertise. Rep firms represent smaller numbers of products than large distributors, but in turn may have more extensive training and familiarity with a particular line. A rep firm can be a resource for integrators to learn about products that are in the marketplace and become more educated about available options.

Atkins believes, “It’s very easy for a rep firm to get a product to represent. But it’s very difficult to get a good product.” Another facet of a rep firm’s job is to take the time to research the market, investigate products and make sure they are working with reputable companies. It’s the rep firm’s responsibility, Atkins says, to make sure it’s representing a good product to bring to integrators.

Additionally, spending time working with integrators on a continual basis allows rep firms to get to know their business and provide more focused guidance. While there are staple products that are more easily handled through distribution, Atkins says, working relationships with integrators allows his company to identify whether an integrator has a deeper focus on IP over analog and vice versa, for example.

Interestingly, Atkins says his best sellers aren’t necessarily big-ticket items, but rather products that get integrators “through sticky situations.” In particular, he cites inexpensive products to help through the difficulties of going from an analog to an IP solution.