A Swedish Perspective on Sales Agents

Rikard Persson is one of Scandinavia’s most experienced recruiters of independent sales agents. He started the company Anglo Trade Consulting in 1982 and has since worked full time to help companies find skilled agents, distributors, and other external sales channels.

He has worked with sales agents in many parts of Europe and has been responsible for finding agents for approximately 1600 companies.

We persuaded him recently to share some of their experiences with our followers on Salesagents.uk.

How common are independent sales agents in Sweden?

It is not particularly common to have independent agents in Sweden compared to many countries on the continent such as Germany and Holland. In Sweden, companies normally use salaried sellers instead of independent agents. This is probably because they believe that their own sales force are easier to keep track of than agents that are not so closely tied to company.

Based on your experience - Which companies succeed best with sales agents?

The follow-up of agents is absolutely the most important factor! The companies that sign an agreement with the agent, give them some demonstration products, and then just sit and wait for orders coming in rarely succeed particularly well. Those, however, that take the time to go along with the agent to the first customer visits, meet the agent regularly, invite them to events the company organizes, and helps the agent with information and tips from other agents and sales employees, etc have a much better chance of succeeding.

It’s okay that the principal request updates and reports from the agent, but they should also be generous with help and support given to the agents in return.

What are some of the common mistakes principals make when searching for agents?

Swedish companies put a lot of emphasis on the agents having their own website which many agents do not have since they typically refer to the principal’s website. This seem to be especially true for Swedish companies and they lose otherwise good agents because of their over emphasis on the agent having a website.
It is also very common to find agents through pure coincidence. Maybe they have met someone on a plane, in a hotel bar, etc. It is often very casual and not as systematic and thorough a process that they use when searching for regular employees.

It is actually quite strange that companies put much more effort into other “ordinary” positions than they do for such a crucial function as sales agents.

If you were considering a sales agent opportunity what is the first question you would ask the principal?

I would ask for a list of names and telephone numbers of the company’s other existing agents so that I could talk to them directly to get a picture of how the company works and how they treat their agents.

When you represent your clients looking for agents - which qualities are you looking for in the agents you're considering?

I’m looking for openness and a strong belief in the products of the principals. You must like what you sell! Then it is important to look at which customers the agent already has. You cannot sell the world’s best products with the best agent in the luxury market if it is a low cost product you’re selling and vice versa.
I do not think it is so important if you sell similar products today because one can always learn about new products but if you do not have the right customers, it can be more difficult and be quite a long “take off”.

As a principal it is also important, if possible, that you get to talk to other principals that the agent is already working for.