In the dance business we used to have a saying: “What’s her X-Factor?” No, not like the Simon Cowell train wreck that produced Susan Boyle; in our terms, the “X-Factor” was what motivated a student to walk into the dance studio, her “WHY”. It was slightly different for everyone, and it was rarely as simple as “I want to learn how to dance.” Sometimes it was loneliness, or some other social frustration. Oftentimes it was a desire to fit in with a particular social group. The need to appear more polished at work functions was a big one – sometimes it was to make a specific person jealous. Ocassionally it was a form of physical therapy; sometimes it was a form of grief counseling. It was always something different, but the one thread that strung all these X-Factors together was that they very rarely had anything to do with actually learning how to dance.
X-Factor: The Not-So-Hidden Agenda
Cue the beneficent sales rep who is going to helpfully assist you in pricing your line for sale. What is their X-Factor? Why are they helping you? Why are they suggesting the prices they are suggesting, the strategy they are steering you towards? Some intense scrutiny is in order.
Let me start off by saying that I’ve got nothing against sales reps. I’ve had some great ones and lord, I’ve had a few I wouldn’t give you two cents for. I had one I had to chew my arm off to get away from. A great sales rep is worth his/her weight in diamonds; a bad one will drag you down faster than you can flush a toilet. In short, they’re just like all of us – full of personality flaws, good days and bad days. Find a good one and never let go. But it pays to examine their X-Factor.
A sales rep’s job is to sell. Usually not just your line, but many lines. Their livelihood is a numbers game, their income is based on Getting The Sale. The number at the bottom of the order page is everything to the sales rep, and that’s as it should be, that’s their cog in the machine. So when they make suggestions about how you should price your line, you have to keep that in mind. Just because the number they suggest might be one that is easier to sell, or easier to get lots of orders for doesn’t mean it’s a number that can sustain your business – Only you can know that.
Only YOU know what it takes to bring your product to market
A sales rep also doesn’t always understand what it takes to get your product TO market. Selling and Creating are two different critters, and understanding the anatomy of one doesn’t mean you understand the anatomy of the other. Sales reps are by nature generally a bit more self-assured and yes, even pushy than makers, and it’s easy to get bowled over by that self-assurance. “If she’s so sure, she must be right… after all, she’s a professional and I’m so new”. Don’t. Just – Don’t.
You know your numbers. (You’d BETTER know your numbers. You DO know your numbers… DON’T you??? We’ll talk.) You know your numbers. Your rep has no clue about your COGs, or your margins, or your overhead. She may think she does, but she doesn’t. She can only guess. In a contest of Ouija Board vs Spreadsheet, Spreadsheet wins every time.
Now what your rep CAN do is say, “I can really sell such-and-so product at this price. Can you make me something?” I had a rep once who said she could sell a ton of earrings in the $12-$18 range in “collegiate colors”, and asked if I could do that. Well, I could have, but that wasn’t what we wanted to do, and I told her so. I didn’t want to compete in that end of the market. She got pouty, and stopped writing orders. I fired her. I wasn’t going to allow her to drag my company into a market segment I didn’t want to be in. It also told me that she wasn’t selling to the stores I wanted to be in, not if $12 earrings were in hot demand in her neck of the woods. She did me a huge favor by telling me who she was, and I did myself the favor of believing her.
Conversely, I also had a rep once who said she had clientele who wanted hoops. We didn’t have any hoops at the time, so we added some. She sold them like crazy. She didn’t try to cheapen us from where we already were. That’s feedback that made sense.
Your rep is going to get her check whether you make money or not
Bottom line: You know your product and your pricing. Never shave a price to make your rep happy. She’s going to get her check even if you’re suddenly losing money. Her X-Factor is to get the order, not to make it profitable for you. Remember, you can’t count on anyone else to have your interests at heart. When someone offers to help you, ask yourself, “Whats their X-Factor?”