Dealer Locators: What Are They Good For?

cedia-dealer-0816I think we can all agree that, in principle, it’s a great idea for vendors and manufacturers to maintain a “FIND A DEALER” database on their website. It’s a splendid idea — in principle. It will pre-qualify interested prospective customers who’ve been doing their research and funnel them towards resellers or installing dealers in their geographical area. Alas, as with many things, there is often a gulf between principle and practice.

It’s a reality that in really large companies the right hand often doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. And I know from experience that when it comes to keeping websites up to date, new products and pricing get priority for timely execution and accuracy (as they should), but other information can slip through the cracks.

At one of my old employers, I would regularly get phone calls from people who’d gotten our number from the website of a TV manufacturer that had us listed as a dealer, yet we hadn’t sold their brand in ten years.

Ironically, during the same period that I was there, one of our key vendors failed to list us on their site as their exclusive Edmonton dealer for a couple of years, which was a huge bone of contention every time their poor sales rep paid us a visit.

I’ll admit that at my job now I get grief from my dealers on a regular basis about our own dealer locator on our website. Not because they’re missing, typically, but because when you do a search for their city, they’re not as highly ranked as they think they should be.

Believe me when I say that it’s a high-wire-balancing act to explain diplomatically to one of your dealers that their rivals who rank higher on the page also sell five to six times more of our products than they do.

What goes around comes around, too. One of our vendors keeps referring end users to us, as their national distributor. Which would be great, except we distribute only one of their many categories, and they keep sending people our way for categories that aren’t part of our business.

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Bad databases aren’t a problem that’s unique to our industry. Awhile back my Ryobi weed trimmer died. Since it was still under warranty, I went to the website, which directed me to a list of factory-authorized small engine repair shops that do warranty work.

That’s great and, even better; the owner of the first place I called was friendly and helpful. So helpful in fact that he asked, “What address did the website give you?” It turns out that the address Ryobi lists for the local shop was five years old, and his shop is now on the other side of town. Despite repeatedly communicating his address change to Ryobi, they haven’t updated their website.

Common problems, as you can see.

Obsolete databases aren’t just a modern problem, either. My good friend Reg Bergmann was our regional Yamaha rep for over thirty years, and he told me about how when he first took over his territory in the 1970s, many of the dealers listed in the big three-ring binders his boss gave him were out of business, sometimes for years.

Reg tried for awhile to get these phantom dealers off his books, but eventually gave up and would only bring it up at national sales meetings when one of his bosses would say, “What about these guys? They’re not doing anything with us! What can you do to drive business in their store?” That’s when he’d laugh and say, “How about we hold a séance?”

Back to the present day: It’s important for companies to understand that consumers turn to the Internet to inform their purchasing decisions. In order to get the business, it’s not only important to answer the What, Why, and How questions, but also the Where and the Who.

And, of course, to make sure that those answers are correct.