Yes, in common with most of Western Europe, the sales agent is time-honoured professional in many industries and fields. This role offers great flexibility to both the principal and the agent. Approaching the market in this way implies many advantages for the overseas exporter: first is, of course, upfront investment is kept to a minimum and time for market-entry is relatively speedy when entrusted to a person with a ready-made customer base and established reputation in the market.
France is a law unto itself when it comes to dividing “agents” into subcategories:
- Independent Sales Agent
- VRP (Visiteur/Voyageur Représentant Placier). Normally represents several firms (Multicartes).
- VRP Exclusif
It is essential to get to know your candidate and make sure his profile fits with your plans. Although there are many agents, they are very difficult to coax out of the woodwork. They do not often have websites and locating them is precisely where our know-how comes into play. Another factor that makes recruitment more difficult is that with every passing year more and more SMEs are vying for their services. Another factor that has a negative effect on the supply is that it is no longer as attractive a career choice as it used to be. This makes it crucial to make sure your offer is as eye-catching and competitive from the agent’s point of view.
2. What industries are most prone to employing sales agents in France?
The sales agent is most effective in those industries that do not require technical or after-sales service. Typical examples are: fashion; furniture and lighting; construction and services like printing and graphic arts.
We often find sales agents in manufacturing industries that require non-standard parts and those that are made to order, such as transmission and gears, machined or pressed parts or, even, circuit boards.
3. What are the salient factors to be considered when recruiting an agent?
There are, above all, two points that must be taken into consideration. The first would be that the candidate has a portfolio of products that are complimentary to ours and, secondly, that his customer base is in line with our target market. Although it may appear to be a minor question, the “feeling” between the two parts is a great importance. You’ll be working with them on a daily basis for years. Your French agent will facilitate entry into the market far more efficiently than can be done from afar. We all want to start selling NOW! An experienced agent with the market knowledge we need is a way to do it.
4. What are the key factors in recruiting an agent who will be with us for years?
Be strict from the start! When commencing the recruitment process, it is essential to make sure you have all the information you need to make an informed decision and to ascertain whether the candidate fits with our criteria and needs. Right from the outset, the agent must be confident of the support he receives from the principal. This backing should include initial product training, swift replies to questions and requests for prices, samples sent promptly. Another vital part of this support is to be in regular contact with the agent and visit clients with him. This is not only reassuring for the agent, but also demonstrates to the client that he has the effective backing of the company behind the product or service.
5. Would you recommend signing a contract?
Not only is it recommendable, an agency agreement is signed in the vast majority of cases in France. French commercial law is very strict as and legislation is very favourable from the agents’ point of view. From the very beginning, this contract should establish that the agreement should respect the interests of both parties and the clauses worked out together.