eNews                              October 2010
Providing Solutions & Support in Your Engineering Ecosystem
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Dissecting the Roles of the Electronics Industy's Sales Force

by John Rowe

So who are all of these sales people calling on me?  Confused about the difference between a Manufacturer's representative, a Distributor representative, and a Direct sales person?  It's not the kind of thing taught in engineering classes, is it? 


The Manufacturer's rep (I'll refer to them as a Rep), Distributor rep, and the Direct rep are all part of a multi-layer sales force used by most electronic component manufacturers.  Product flows from the manufacturer through the distributor to the customer (some exceptions include Rad Hard parts, ASICs, and Foundry Services) though there may be more than one of the three types of sales people calling on the customer. The three types of reps work together as a team.


The Direct rep's role is the easiest to understand: The Direct rep only sells for one company, the one who employs him.  Think of your TI rep.  He works for TI and only sells TI products though they're moved through Distribution.  Very rarely will a manufacturer have both a Direct sales force and a Manufacturer's rep sales team though it does happen.


A Manufacturer's Rep is a contractor; the manufacturer employs them to be their field sales force.  This is a replacement for the Direct sales guy except Reps usually sell for more than one manufacturer.  A key distinction: Direct sales people and Manufacturer's reps are the customer's direct link to the manufacturer.


Most manufacturers employ reps to cover different geographic markets around the country which are fairly well defined in the electronics industry. The difference between the Direct guy and the Manufacturer's rep is that the Manufacturer's Rep doesn't get paid unless he sells something.  That means the cost to the manufacturer is typically a (very) small percentage of the price of the service or product sold.   The Direct sales guy runs up overhead and payroll costs whether he's sold anything or not.  Most manufacturers employ Reps for this reason more than any other. 


One other distinction: Manufacturer's reps are exclusive; they can only carry one brand (line) of any type of thing on their line card (processor, programmable logic, etc) though they may have many lines. For instance, you'd never see Lattice and Xilinx on the same line card for any Rep firm.  And the Manufacturer's Rep is the company's advocate, an important factor in the relationship between Manufacturer's reps and Distributor reps.  


A Distributor rep's firm actually moves the product from the manufacturer to the customer.  Think of Arrow, Avnet, TTI, Future, etc.  These firms have warehouses and inventory, and they provide that very key financial piece of the sales channel; a line of credit for customers. Distributors work through Reps to link to the manufacturers.


In contrast to Rep firms, Distributors frequently carry lines that are competitors (Lattice and Xilinx are on Avnet's line card, for instance) since the distributor doesn't care as much about which manufacturer you buy a part from (as long as it's one he carries) but he carries a great deal that you buy it from him.  Distributors employ sales people who call on customers to compete with other distributors who may carry the same lines or a competing technology (Xilinx vx Altera, for instance, or AVX vs Kemet).  


You can see why a Direct rep or Manufacturer's rep will want to work with a Distributor: to make sure it's his line that the distributor sells and not a competitor's.  That's the advocacy part of the Rep's job.  Think of it this way; Reps and distributors have a mesh relationship.  Reps have lines sold by more than one Distributor and Distributors have more than one kind of product represented by multiple reps.  This means Distributors compete with other distributors and Reps compete with other Reps.


To recap: Direct or Rep, they work for the manufacturer and are your link to the factory for any issues involving technical support, problems with parts, expedites, etc.  The distributor works with the Direct or Rep sales team to help sell products and they also provide a key financial piece of the sales process; the line of credit. Employ all of them to your advantage and let them find the part that best suits your application.  


And they're good for a free lunch every once in a while!


About The Author

John Rowe is a manufacturer's rep at Genesis MidAtlantic, serving Maryland, DC, and Virginia.  His career path has wandered through a succession of jobs from design engineer to distributor rep, then a direct rep. He's enjoyed being a manufacturer's rep for the last 12 years.  John brings a broad but thin smattering of knowledge to the table in spite of his education and experience.  For product support on any of Genesis' lines, contact John at: 


For more information about Genesis, visit

I don't know about you, but after the torrid summer we had, I was ready for the cooler temperatures we've been enjoying this fall.  In step with one of fall's traditions, this issue of in-ventus will have a back-to-school theme.  UVA third year, Suengbum Cho, tells us what he did this summer - as a Neoventus intern.  John Rowe, one of our favorite manufacturer's reps, educates us on the various roles of the electronics industry's sales force.  Also, we shed some light on a service you may not have known we offer, field support.

We know there's some good stuff in here, but are always looking for your feedback on how we can improve as well as what really hits home. We also welcome ideas on topics or guest features. Looking for a soapbox for your technical narratives? - look no further!
Roles in the Industry's Sales Force
Neoventus Offers Field Support Services
Recapping Our Summer Internship
What's Next ...

Neoventus Offers Field Support Services


When we say Neoventus provides solutions and support in your engineering ecosystem, we don't just mean designing boards and developing embedded firmware.  One of the fastest growing parts of our business is providing field support for customers experiencing issues with deployed equipment.  Even if Neoventus was not involved with the development of any components that make up a system, our years of embedded systems design experience can be leveraged to help isolate and solve field issues.


Field issues can be subtle or intermittent rendering the detection of a root cause very difficult.  No matter how much testing is done to qualify a product, all environments and system configurations may not be covered, so it is not unusual that a field issue will have to be addressed sooner or later.  Environmental conditions, including temperature and humidity levels, are perceived common causes of field issues and a logical place to begin troubleshooting.  When environmental conditions are eliminated as the culprit, field engineers must then look at each system component and their interaction with one another.  No part of the system can be assumed to be problem free and black boxes sometimes must be opened.


Neoventus engineers recently worked on a field problem involving multiple devices from separate vendors. Interconnected within a single cabinet, one of the devices - a radio - would fail to respond and could only be restored to operation by cycling power. On any given system this condition occurred extremely rarely - maybe once or twice a year - but given a large installed base and the remote location of the systems this issue became a huge nuisance. Exacerbating the debug of this problem was the lack of long-term AC power for instrumentation. The systems are solar / battery powered and located remotely from the power grid.


Debugging an issue that cannot be easily reproduced requires a methodical approach - theorizing possible causes and then prioritizing the likelihood of those theories (or combination of theories). Working with our client's team of engineers, brainstorming sessions produced a list of items to test. These tests typically involve "amplifying" the conditions within a lab environment in an attempt to increase the rate of failure, looking for a cause-effect relationship.


Through this series of tests, the unit at fault was ultimately identified and is currently being evaluated for a fix at its parent company. In the interim, Neoventus quickly created a small PCB capable of power cycling the unit when a fault occurs, saving a time consuming and costly drive by a technician out to the site.


Solutions for field issues can be as simple as improving a grounding scheme, as involved as redesigning a board, or somewhere in between such as adding a new piece to the puzzle.  Neoventus has helped its customers with many field issues and can help with yours, too.

Suengbum Cho's Summer Intern Experience

Suengbum Cho

We were pleased to be able to offer our first internship position this summer. Being in Charlottesville Neoventus has a wealth of candidates nearby with the University of Virginia and its Engineering Program.

Seungbom Cho, rising 3rd year Electrical Engineering student, joined us in June and provided Neoventus with support on several projects. At the same time he had the opportunity to learn about the electronics industry outside of the academic environment. "Not only did I gain valuable working experience from interning at the Neoventus Design Group, but also retained flexible scheduling throughout the summer since I was taking two summer session classes at the same time" Seungbum told me as he heading back to school for the fall semester.

Seungbum wrote several VHDL modules for use in an IRIG demodulator / receiver. This code was ultimately integrated into a Xilinx Virtex-5 FPGA System-on-a-Chip (SoC) implementation, "I spent the first couple weeks studying a new hardware language, VHDL. Since I never had a chance to learn it, it took me a while to fully understand the basic concept. When I had some questions, Mike was always available to answer them with patience.  After I had enough time studying the VHDL, I started to do the real VHDL coding job. Mike assigned me lots of practice coding problems, so that I can have more hands on experience. I always enjoyed working on this type of coding, since the concept and core study which I came across at work was directly connected to what I learned at my university".

We were also able to use Seungbum's help in the lab with some very "hands on" experience soldering printed circuit assemblies. "When all other co-workers were busy, I sometimes took the responsibility of doing some real work. Mike once let me do some soldering which was one of the most exciting parts of the internship experience. Although I had some experience on soldering before, it was a great chance to learn about the proper soldering technique without leaving any "cold" joints".

The internship experience is a win-win situation. Seungbum gained valuable experience as well as new contacts and colleagues in our industry. And everyone at Neoventus had the opportunity to brush up on our mentoring skills and remember our long ago (especially for Mike) beginnings in creating embedded systems.

In Our Next Issue ...

... Getting Started with Flex Circuit Development

Give me a call and lets explore how we can help you with novel or even remedial design problems, or just provide additional resource to your over-extended team. Even better, stop by and visit our state of the art facility in Charlottesville, Virginia - we're always happy to see you.



Mike Koch, VP / COO
Neoventus Design Group

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About Neoventus
Neoventus Design Group is a leading provider of solutions and support in your engineering ecosystem. Offering a full range of engineering design services, Neoventus supports the embedded systems development community in all phases of a project life cycle. With core competencies in FPGA development, PCB hardware, embedded firmware, and algorithm development, Neoventus provides service at any level required by its clients, from full turn-key solutions, to supplemental project support where additional resources are needed.