Like all sequels, this financial crisis will be much worse than the original, says Peter Schiff. He’s not the only one predicting doom and gloom in the economy. Nouriel Roubini believes “The economy is headed toward a hard landing in 2023” – and there are many others making similar predictions.
There are some voices of optimism around as well. Entrepreneur extraordinaire and board member with Salesagents.uk, Ryan Walmans, is one of them.
I hope he’s right, but I fear there is every reason for pessimism in the overall economy. We’ve shut down the economy for nearly two years, paying people to stay home and binge-watch their favourite shows. Where did that money come from? Since governments don’t have a stash of cash and need to tax, print, or borrow, the bill will inevitably land in the public’s lap, either through higher taxes or rising inflation (or a fun mix of both). Couple this with ongoing wars, pipelines blown to pieces, higher inflation forcing higher interest rates, and general strikes, and it doesn’t paint a pretty picture for the economy.
That’s my opinion, but honestly, you shouldn’t listen to me on these matters. I’m the opposite of a financial expert, and it gives me hope that there are much more brilliant minds out there voicing optimism.
However, one area where I can speak with authority, and where you should consider listening to me, is how you can be successful as a sales agent. I’ve been in daily communication with sales agents in all different industry sectors for the last 12 years and have observed some fail miserably and others succeed spectacularly.
If you spend the time to go through the guide below, I promise to give you my very best advice on how you can thrive as an agent even if the economy collapses.
And everything below will work also if the economy doesn’t collapse, and things turn out just fine.
Let’s get started…
Table of content
- Outcompete 99% of other agents (even if you are a beginner)
- Choosing Your Industry: Passion Meets Potential
- Build Your Personal Brand: Stand Out from the Crowd
- The 3-Step Formula to Enchanting Any Company with Your First Enquiry
- Know Your Worth
- Negotiating: Boosting that Commission Rate
- The Contract: Nailing Down the Details
- Hitting the Ground Running – Time to Show Your Mettle
- Time to Expand
Outcompete 99% of other agents (even if you are a beginner)
The title of this guide is how anybody can thrive as a sales agent in a tough economy. Anybody, you say? Even my aunt, who can’t sell a cupcake at a bake sale?
Sounds like hyperbole, but I will argue it’s not.
You don’t need any formal education or be particularly bright to make these strategies work for you. Heck, I would say that you don’t even need to have sales experience, although some sales and business experience will certainly be beneficial. You can be 18 or closing in on 80, well-educated or a proud graduate of the School of Life, with a wealth of experience or just starting your journey.
It will require a good amount of discipline and work ethic, though. I’m not claiming any of this will be easy, but I’m guaranteeing that if you have been able to read this far, becoming a top-notch sales agent is within reach for you.
In fact, you will outcompete 99% of other agents for the most attractive agency rights. I can make this claim with confidence because I monitor 50+ interactions between agents and companies every day. Even though many of the agents I see are excellent candidates, they are rarely doing an optimal job at becoming irresistible to companies.
You have every reason to be hopeful and optimistic about building a sustainable and profitable business as a sales agent.
Before getting to the meat of this guide, let’s clear up one common misunderstanding.
What is a sales agent?
You might think of the traditional traveling salesman with his worn suit and tired smile, always on the move, and always pitching his products with varying degrees of success.
They are still around, and they are awesome. But the art of selling has changed. You can sell in person, via Zoom, phone, or by email. Most companies won’t care as long as it works. Sometimes a sales agent won’t even be required to sell at all but just generate a lead. The sales agent role is therefore much broader than before.
A sales agent is an independent contractor or company promoting or selling the products of another company. It’s that simple. A sales agent can be a larger company, but in this guide, we will focus on independent sole traders and how you can thrive.
Who is this guide for?
I’ve written this guide for complete newbies with no sales agent experience. If you are working in a regular job and want to start building a side hustle or desire a more flexible working day building your own business, then this is for you.
If you lack sales skills, don’t fret – they can be learned. As a beginner in sales, you should definitely allocate 30-60 minutes daily to learning about sales techniques. Plenty of helpful videos, e-books, and courses are just an online search away. However, the real learning will come when you put that theory into practice.
By following the steps outlined, companies will prefer you over much more experienced agents who rest on their laurels. If you already are an experienced agent, you have an even better starting point if you follow the strategies below.
Let’s dive in…
Choosing Your Industry: Passion Meets Potential
If you already have experience in an industry you enjoy and feel confident in, this decision will be a piece of cake. However, if you’re new to the business world and unsure about which products or services you’d like to promote and sell, it’s wise to follow your passion.
Of course, it’s important to balance your passion with market potential. Some interests might be challenging to monetize or find relevant agency opportunities within. So, while enthusiasm is a great starting point, make sure to carefully consider the realistic prospects for success in your chosen industry. This way, you’ll be setting yourself up for a rewarding and profitable career as a sales agent.
To become the preferred sales partner in your chosen industry, it’s crucial to stay abreast of industry trends, maintain a strong network, and approach your work with curiosity and a willingness to learn. Once you’ve settled on your industry, set up relevant Google News alerts, make a habit of checking industry-specific news pages, and ensure you’re always up to date with developments in your field of expertise.
Build Your Personal Brand: Stand Out from the Crowd
Most companies will decide if they want to spend time moving forward with you based on a quick glance at your profile.
We see many agents fail on Salesagents.uk because they are unable to excite the companies they contact with their initial correspondence.
The steps below will take anywhere from 8 to 20 hours and will set you back around £100-£200, but they will yield much higher dividends in more lucrative opportunities going forward.
Make a Proper LinkedIn Profile
- Best practices for using taglines – Focus on the problems you solve, not your title – because actions speak louder than words
- If you don’t have a good headshot, get one taken
- A well-crafted introduction text describing your industry experience
There’s plenty of great free advice on how to create an attractive LinkedIn profile available online, so I won’t bore you with it. The point is, spend a couple of hours on this and make it as good as possible, as companies are guaranteed to search your name on LinkedIn after you’ve contacted them.
Get a Good Domain Name and Set Up an Email Address
Don’t use your Gmail or Hotmail like most agents do. Having a professional business email address immediately sets you apart.
Purchasing a domain name with email will cost around £20. Congratulations, you’re already looking more professional.
Can’t think of any creative domain names? You don’t need to. Take your surname or your initials, and add a relevant word to it (consulting, sales, etc.). An inquiry from firstname.lastname@example.org will look better than one from email@example.com.
Set Up a Website
You’ve already got the domain name. Now, find an affordable hosting package and set up your own website. A cheap hosting package for around £50 annually will be more than enough.
Don’t think you can create a simple and attractive website? You’re wrong. If you can manage to use Word or Excel, you’ll be able to do this in a few hours.
Here’s a YouTube tutorial on how to set up a simple website with Elementor. Elementor is incredibly easy to use, but there are many other beginner-friendly page builders as well.
A simple one-page website will suffice and set you apart from 90%+ of agents who don’t showcase their agency at all.
What content should you put on the site, you might ask?
Just keep it simple, clean, and professional. You can include:
- A short description of the industry you work in and the area you cover.
- A brief introduction about yourself, your work ethic, and what companies can expect from you.
- An FAQ section, perhaps? Examples of FAQs:
o Can you represent our company nationwide? (Entirely depends on the industry you work in, how much travel is required, and the role you want to have.)
o Do you require a retainer? (I would recommend answering “in some cases” – depending on the product/how developed the market is.)
o Do you demand exclusivity? (Up to you, but I would recommend leaving this up for discussion.)
o Can you help with market research? (If this is something you have experience with, you can offer it as an add-on service – if not, find a partner and earn commission on any leads you receive)
- Make it easy to contact you by including a contact form, your email, and phone number.
- Add an image of yourself and some industry-specific stock photos to complete the look.
No need for any tracking, analytics, or digital wizardry. Just a clean, professional-looking one-pager will put you far above most other agents
Depending on how quickly you grasp the process, setting up a website can take anywhere from a few hours to maybe 10-12 hours.
Great job! You’ve put in a lot of effort to set your personal brand apart from competing agents. Now you’re ready to start reaching out to some companies.
The 3-Step Formula to Enchanting Any Company with Your First Enquiry
You wouldn’t believe how many otherwise great agents fumble their first enquiry to a company. It’s sometimes painful to watch as they hastily send messages just asking for more information. If they only spent one more minute on it and followed the 3-step formula below, they would have intrigued the company and gotten a callback faster than a caffeinated cheetah.
Showcase Your Experience
Make sure to highlight your industry experience and the fantastic network you’ve built. Companies love working with industry experts. So, while introducing yourself, let them know how many years of experience you have in their market – and if you have any specific references or results you’ve achieved, even better.
Don’t have any industry experience? Don’t worry, just by following the next two pieces of advice, you’ll still likely grab their attention.
Flatter Them and Demonstrate Product Knowledge
Take the time to visit their website and understand the main selling proposition of their products or services. In your initial enquiry, repeat these points in your own words. I assume you like their products since you want to sell them – so tell the company why their products stand out to you. This will flatter them and simultaneously demonstrate that you’ve done your research. They’ll feel obliged to return the favour by giving you a positive response.
If you want to go the extra mile, check out some of their main competitors and find out how they can be outperformed. This demonstrates market knowledge that will come across as impressive.
Show Willingness to Move Forward
Lastly, in the final few sentences, knock their socks off by showing that you’re a person of action. Find out what their target market is and do 10 minutes of research on specific businesses in that target market (this gets faster with experience). Let’s say they want to sell to local pubs – do a search of pubs in your area and come up with a number.
Then, end your message to the company with something along the lines of: “I know of 24 pubs (or any number) in this area that I think could be a good match for your products. If we reach an agreement, I would aim to contact all of them within the first month after the contract has been signed.”
Boom. Press send, and just wait for the response. You won’t have to wait long – your phone will ring faster than you can say “enchantment.”
Punctuality: A Timely Topic
Let’s take a moment to discuss punctuality, a seemingly simple concept that far too many people manage to fumble. The number one complaint from both companies and agents is “I didn’t hear anything back.” It’s like a well-cooked meal gone cold – all that effort just wasted away.
Even if you’ve enchanted a company with your initial inquiry, failing to respond promptly could quickly turn your dazzling first impression into a disappointing aftertaste.
The solution is simple yet surprisingly elusive for many: Be trustworthy and professional by following up. Just by being punctual, you’ll already be ahead of the pack. Remember, when it comes to communication, it’s better fashionably early than fashionably late!
Know Your Worth
Now that you know how to captivate any company and soar past competing agents when it comes to securing agency rights for the products you want to work with, it’s time to focus on evaluating different opportunities. You see, not all companies are created equal, and some are best avoided. Let’s discuss how to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Evaluating Opportunities: A Two-Step Tango
While there’s a long list of factors to consider when evaluating an opportunity, such as the quality of their website, financials, social media activity, and commission rates, these factors aren’t the be-all and end-all. Instead, I propose a simpler two-step approach as a starting point:
1 – Ask yourself the crucial questions:
Do you believe you can successfully sell their product? How much time would it take, and what’s the income potential based on that time spent? How would you approach the sales process? Who would you sell to? What kind of support would you need from the company to be successful?
If, after pondering these questions, you see good potential and don’t know of any other immediate opportunities with better potential, go ahead and reach out to them using the strategy outlined in the previous section.
2 – Gauge the initial dialogue:
This is extraordinarily important and should give you a gut feeling quickly when speaking with them. Treat their attitude and treatment of you as more important than factors like company size, website appearance, or financials.
Below, I’ve listed some common scenarios you might encounter during initial contact with a company. I’ve categorized them as “Very Positive” and “Very Negative”:
- They respond quickly and promptly, taking the initiative to get the process started.
- They’re impressed with your inquiry and ask how they can help you be successful.
- They emphasize the importance of having a written contract and focus on ensuring your earnings.
- They’re slow to respond and don’t get back to you in a timely manner.
- They claim their product is super easy to sell and that you’re lucky to be allowed to sell for them. If you don’t manage to sell their product, they imply that you’re simply bad at sales. Beware of the classic example: a small company claiming they could easily sell loads but just don’t have the time. If you hear this, they’re lying. If they could sell in droves and earn a truckload of money, they would’ve already done it.
- They show no interest in offering support to make your job easier.
- They suggest you should start selling without a written contract.
Keep these factors in mind as you navigate the world of sales agent opportunities, and you’ll be one step closer to finding the perfect match for your skills and goals.
Negotiating: Boosting that Commission Rate
When companies inquire about the ideal commission rate, they often expect a specific figure as a response. However, it’s nearly impossible to provide a one-size-fits-all rate, as numerous factors influence the commission, and it can vary greatly between industries and products/services.
I generally offer two pieces of advice to companies:
- If you, as a company owner, feel uncomfortable about the commission rate, you’re probably on the right track. If you feel comfortable, it’s likely too low. A commission opportunity should always provide a significant upside for sales agents compared to a standard sales rep position. Therefore, push the commission rate up until it makes your stomach churn, realizing that a skilled agent could potentially be among the highest-paid in the company.
- Keep the commission model as simple and understandable as possible. Sales agents should always know their earnings on a sale.
While most companies heed the second piece of advice, I suspect that many new to the sales agent model don’t follow the first. There will be companies already working with established agents who obviously don’t want to offer different terms between agents. However, if a company is entirely new to the sales agent model, you can try negotiating the commission upwards.
Be tactful when negotiating. The world is full of braggarts who are all talk and no action, and you don’t want to come across as one of them. Avoid appearing dismissive of their commission rate or implying that you know better. Instead, try an approach like, “I believe I can sell well for you, but I don’t think the commission offered is sufficient. Would you agree to increase the commission rate to X percent if I manage to close Y sale(s) within Z weeks?”
By linking the increased commission rate to specific results within a set timeframe, you display a high level of confidence – and it will be challenging for them to resist giving you a chance.
The Contract: Nailing Down the Details
The next step is to secure a clear contract, leaving no room for misunderstandings. I’ve heard of several instances where agents began selling without a written agreement, only to find themselves shortchanged on the commission they were verbally promised.
Ensure that the contract is crystal clear on the following points:
- Commission rate
- Definition of a sale (Is it based on a signed contract? Delivered order? Completed payment?)
- Commission payment schedule
- Reporting/Transparency – The company’s obligation to provide updates on sales/payments from your clients
- Your right to compensation if the company breaches the contract
I recommend familiarizing yourself with agency law and reviewing a few contract templates to get a sense of the standard terms. This way, you’ll be well-prepared to negotiate and secure a solid agreement that works in your favour.
Final Thoughts on Finding Opportunities
Here are a few additional insights that didn’t quite fit into the previous sections:
- Keep in mind that if you follow the advice in this article, companies should consider themselves fortunate to have found you. It’s not easy to come across skilled, professional sales agents like yourself, so if they’re not responsive or interested, it’s their loss.
- For opportunities with long sales cycles, it’s only fair to negotiate a retainer or reach an agreement in which the company pays something for your efforts in building up the sales pipeline.
- If you’re browsing opportunities on Salesagents.uk, never copy and paste the same application into multiple listings. This approach yields poor results, makes you appear desperate, and may even lead to a ban from the site. Stick to the strategies outlined earlier for optimal success.
- Don’t forget to explore industry-specific opportunities available on our site by checking out this link: salesagents.uk/uk-business-opportunities
- An investment in a membership at Salesagents.uk is likely to give a good roi.
Hitting the Ground Running – Time to Show Your Mettle
You’ve now secured an agency agreement, and it’s time to prove your worth as a sales agent. This will require discipline, focus, and sales skills.
Here are some vital tips for starting out. Don’t dismiss these as mere common sense – it’s not as common as you might think, and many people fail to follow this advice.
Avoiding the “Grass is Always Greener” Trap
Once you’ve signed a new agency agreement, resist the urge to keep looking for new opportunities. Focus on the agreement you’ve just entered and strive for a strong start. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by the allure of other opportunities.
There will be a time for expanding with additional agencies, but now isn’t that time. Your focus should be on generating results for the company you’ve just started working with.
Steer clear of the Salesagents.uk opportunities page for a while. We know we’ll try to tempt you with shiny new opportunities, but remember, you’re in this for the long haul. It’s essential to build a solid reputation and establish yourself as a rainmaker with impressive references.
Set Activity Goals and Stick to Them: No Excuses Allowed!
This piece of advice falls into the category of “common sense that isn’t commonly practiced.” Following through on this will put you leaps and bounds ahead of less disciplined agents.
Plan your day and set goals for your activity. If you want to take it up a notch, do a search for “SMART goals” and follow the guidelines. The point is, you need to dive into sales activities quickly, and no excuses are welcome here. You’ll leave a lasting impression on the company you’ve just started working with if you hit the ground running and promptly initiate sales dialogues.
You should already have some prospects from your initial research. Have you contacted them yet? If not, now’s the time to start.
Additionally, be sure to continuously evaluate the sales calls you make. What objections did you encounter? Which questions left you stumped? Take notes, strive for improvement, and seek feedback and support from the principal (that’s the professional term for the company you work with in the sales agent world). Keep fine-tuning your approach, and you’ll soon become the sales maestro you’re destined to be.
Build Your Black Book and Nurture Your New Connections
One of the fantastic perks of being a sales agent, as opposed to a hired sales rep, is the freedom it grants you. You’re building an agency business, becoming an industry specialist, and can work with several companies simultaneously.
Of course, your primary goal is to sell for your current principal, but a vital secondary goal is building a valuable network of industry connections.
As a sales rep, if your company’s product isn’t a good fit for a prospect, you usually move on to the next one. However, as a sales agent, this dynamic changes. Even if a prospect isn’t a good fit for your current offering, your expanding product portfolio will likely include complementary products soon.
That’s why it’s wise to let prospects know you’re an agent representing the crème de la crème of products in your industry. You’re the go-to person, someone they’d love to have in their network. Even if your current product isn’t their cup of tea, who’s to say the next product you choose to represent won’t be a perfect match?
So, when facing rejection, end the conversation by emphasizing your role as an agency representing top-notch products and solutions in your industry. Mention that, now that you have a better understanding of their business needs, you hope to stay in touch and inform them about any new products that might suit their requirements. Most will find this offer quite appealing.
Build long-term relationships with prospects, whether they’re interested in your current product or not. Add them to your “black book” of contacts—or, for a more modern approach, your CRM. Several affordable and user-friendly CRM systems are available, and as a Salesagents.uk member, you’ll find discount codes for CRM systems tailored to sales agents.
Naturally, some principals will require you to log your activities in their CRM. In that case, comply, but maintain your own system as well. There might be a cross-selling clause in your contract, but this generally won’t be an issue with rejected proposals.
The key takeaway is to build a valuable network of contacts that will prove incredibly useful when expanding your agency business to include other products and companies.
Reporting and Facing Obstacles: Embracing the Ups and Downs
Make it a habit to provide regular updates to your principal(s), keeping them in the loop on your activities—even if it’s not mandatory.
When results are good, this task is a breeze. It happens naturally, and of course, you report on sales with a spring in your step.
However, when results are less than stellar, reporting can feel like pulling teeth. This is where you can truly stand out by continuing to update your principal(s) on your sales activity, even when sales are scarce.
The biggest mistake you can make when facing a dry spell is going radio silent. Obstacles and challenges are inevitable, so keep your principal(s) informed while maintaining an optimistic outlook. You’ll often receive a positive response, and don’t be surprised if they come back with suggestions on how they can help you improve results and fatten your wallet.
Invoicing: The Art of Prompt Payments
Let’s wrap up the “getting started” portion of this guide with a reminder to be diligent about invoicing principals. Typically, you’ll send an invoice at the beginning of each month for the previous month’s results. Even if it’s just a small amount, invoice promptly and expect speedy payment. After all, principals should prioritize keeping their sales agents’ pockets lined.
If your principal is slow to pay your invoices, consider it a big red flag.
You are well on your way for sales agent success. Let’s end by looking at some ideas for you can take your sales agents business even further.
Time to Expand
You’ve done a fantastic job so far, but now it’s time to spread your wings and expand your business. Remember, you’re not just a hired sales rep – you’re a top-notch sales agent with the freedom and flexibility to grow the value of your business.
Let’s explore some ideas on how to do so, shall we?
Finding Complementary Products
The most obvious strategy is to find complementary products that you can offer to your existing customers and contacts. This is one of the greatest perks of the sales agent model: you can represent different companies in your industry and earn commission from all of them. If you manage to assemble an impressive portfolio of products, it could become a veritable gold mine. You’ll be able to optimize your time by selling various products to the very same customers – talk about hitting multiple targets with one arrow!
Earlier in this guide, I emphasized the importance of keeping your focus and not getting distracted by new opportunities when you’re starting to work with a new principal. This advice still holds true, but it begins to lose its grip as soon as you start delivering results for them and establishing routines. Once you reach that point, you’re ready to expand and can start scouting for those alluring complementary products.
Raise Your Worth Further
You’re building a reputation as a top sales agent in your industry. Soon, you’ll have the luxury of selecting the best principals to work with and may even turn down some decent opportunities. Why not monetize your operations further by offering services that principals often need? This may include:
- Recruitment services to find sales agents in areas you don’t cover – or for principals you can’t work for
- Sales and marketing services – writing a custom sales playbook and pitch deck
- Market research and consulting services
You don’t need to do any of this yourself. Simply find some reliable partners who can handle these tasks and outsource the work to them. Salesagents.uk might be interested in partnering with you on the first two examples, but there are plenty of others open for extra business as well.
Secure a simple affiliate agreement, where you get a commission on leads that convert. You won’t commit to any time spent; you’ll simply monetize services related to your sales agent business. It’s a win-win situation, and who doesn’t love a bit of extra cash in their pocket?
Taking New Steps
The focus of this guide has been on building your sales agent business as an independent sole-trader. However, there’s nothing stopping you from transforming your business into a full-fledged company. I’ve seen 500-employee companies working as sales agents! Remember, a sales agent is essentially one business entity selling for another business entity.
If you’re ready to take on more responsibility, you can expand by:
- Finding your own sub-agents or hiring your own sales reps
- Building your online presence with a newsletter, blog, and social media profile
- Hosting webinars or physical meet-ups in your industry
You are a business owner, sales expert, and industry specialist. You have the freedom and opportunity to be creative and expand your business in whatever direction you desire. So, go forth, conquer new heights, and make your mark in the world of sales.
The very best of luck to you!
Written by Lars Hellestrae. He has been working with independent sales agents and principals for over a decade and is one of the directors at Sales Agents Ltd. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can find him on Linkedin here.