Vol. XXV

Dear Manager,

What more can any manager ask than to have the most up-to-date, field-tested information at their fingertips? How do we create systems and develop the resources to ensure the flow of accurate and timely information, allowing us to make informed decisions critical to our organizations? How do we supply information to individuals “in the trenches” that will assist in our mutual success? From my experience, management receives less than 50% of the information most critical in making decisions. Over the years I have seen effective programs to enhance this flow of information to the benefit of manufacturers, sales agencies, field associates and their customers. TIMELINESS is essential in a fast-paced market; we make decisions using the information we currently have. Is it enough?


Manufacturers have some of the greatest need to gain timely, market-driven information yet, without a proactive role, have the least opportunity. Their offices are often geographically detached from the day-to-day reality and consumer-driven aspects of their products on a national basis. Certainly, sales information is tabulated as consumers send in their votes in the form of orders. Sales figures can easily be misinterpreted, however, as they do not address the reasons behind a product’s success (or lack of it). Why is this product selling? Are there areas of the market where it isn’t selling? What changes would make the product appealing to more consumers? Decisions are being made without all the knowledge needed to make an effective judgment!

On a quarterly basis, knowledge-based management needs to develop systems to insure the information they are reacting to is the closest possible to market reality. When effectively approached, I sincerely believe this information is easily attained; someone is simply waiting to be asked. In varying degrees, some information does get through the pipeline. When was the last time you took an aggressive approach to maximize this resource?

All managers need to acknowledge human nature’s role in the communication process. These principles include:
• Field representatives are often reluctant to share what may be perceived as a negative perspective. It is much safer to tell the manager what they believe the manager wants to hear.

• Field representatives are independent by nature. When properly asked (and often compensated), they are much more likely to assist and participate.

• Time for a field sales representative is always at a premium. Requests for long, drawn-out meetings or detailed, time-consuming reports will not be favorably received.

With these thoughts in mind, there are some very effective forms of communication that are well received and incredibly valuable in benefiting all parties. I have found the most useful tool to be a questionnaire.


Begin by developing a format and establishing a time frame for distributing your questionnaire, i.e., once per quarter. Secondly, emphasize your desire to gain the valuable input of your sales people regarding their market perceptions and field knowledge. Thirdly, emphasize your need for candid feedback, explaining that anything less is of no advantage to anyone. Finally, attach a $20 bill to each questionnaire as a gesture of your understanding of their time and value to this project (a touch of guilt never hurts in encouraging participation, either!).

Your questionnaire should be no more than three to four pages in length. Your questions should be direct with limited space to respond; three or four lines are normally adequate. I suggest that, for the most part, completion of the questionnaire should take half an hour or less. I would encourage, but not require, participants to include their name at the end of the questionnaire. This will assist in developing a core group to call upon in the future. A self-addressed stamped envelope for its return is also a nice touch.

Once you have received this information, ask your marketing, product and creative team to analyze the results. I absolutely believe you will be both very pleased and much better informed for having done this. If you receive responses from 100 field associates, this insightful, manufacturer-specific, field-tested information was provided to you for $2000.00. By all accounts, this is a very cheap thrill!

In addition, you have drawn your organization together as a whole; everyone now feels much closer to the process for having participated. Be sure to share highlights of the questionnaire with the participants, as well as a few of your plans to react to the opportunities and concerns that were addressed.

Over the duration of your quarterly questionnaires you will begin to develop an awareness of those individuals with a high degree of natural insight, an ability to candidly and eloquently voice their thoughts, and a strong willingness to participate in this process. These individuals should make up your core group. If you find their information to be consistently useful, develop a second-generation vehicle to reward these participants and gain further insight into your business. Conduct a three or four day President’s Council in your offices or, if you are looking for a bit of flair, a warm resort would certainly reward these participants.

I also strongly suggest that participants be compensated financially for their involvement. It would not be equitable to reward your most talented advisors with a loss of field income, while those whose input had less impact are not only home earning an income but will eventually gain benefit from their peers’ participation. We have a tendency to take advantage of (and take for granted) those individuals who are the most gracious with their time and most capable of assisting in our needs.


There are other ways to gain and share information that are convenient and effective for manufacturers. I believe the most effective use of voice messaging is to develop a blind box, with a toll free number, to promote the sharing of suggestions, quick thoughts and timely issues. This should be made available to all interested parties including sales representatives, field sales managers, customers and, in certain instances, consumers.

When a sales associate comes to me with a terrific suggestion, my first question is always, “Have you passed this on to the manufacturer?” Very often, they have not. In most cases, a call to the factory means a commitment to a twenty-minute conversation they are unable to take time for. With a blind box it becomes a three-minute commitment and is now worthwhile.

Proper emphasis on this type of field input can be a wonderful source in this age of information. Can you imagine the response if every twentieth call to the blind box was somehow rewarded? The flow of information would be ongoing and tremendously effective in taking the pulse of the marketplace.

A second use of voice messaging is the establishment of a rep-accessible message box with recorded information regarding the best-selling products, product outages and new product information. The manufacturer’s message can be updated on a weekly basis and is an excellent way to promote communication through short, focused topics applicable to field representatives.

I have seen the implementation of these concepts succeed, yet am at a loss to explain why more factories do not establish these and other types of information channels. In all honesty, it is very rare. Could it be that owners and managers do not generally accept suggestions well? Can professional managers make critical product and marketing decisions without an information system that lends itself to a comprehensive view of their products and market?

While it is our desire to stay in touch, in reality it simply does not happen. By creating additional means to communicate, we establish a new emphasis and commitment to gaining critical information to insure greater success and stronger decisions for our organizations. The failure to use these systems is the failure to take full advantage of one of your greatest resources.

Personal Regards,


INTERPERSONAL© is published by INTERPERSONALBIZ.COM, Keenan Longcor, Editor, ©2008. Duplication of this publication is permitted for both personal and business use. Excerpts may only be quoted with acknowledgment of INTERPERSONAL/INTERPERSONALBIZ.ORG as the source. For re-publication rights, please contact the editor at KEENAN@INTERPERSONALBIZ.COM