Product or Relationship, Chicken or Egg, Which Comes First?

chicken or the egg

It’s been a while since I’ve brought it up, but I still often think about the line from the film “Jerry Maguire” (1995) when his mentor, veteran sports agent Dicky Fox says, “The key to this business is personal relationships!”

Back at the end of 2019, which feels like a lifetime ago now, we made a deal to do Canadian distribution for a specialty brand that services a vertical that we weren’t in yet. It was a bit of a risk. In the verticals we service, we’re an incumbent. There are dealers we’ve been working with for 30 years. Personally, I have dealers that I’ve been working with for more than a decade.

Breaking into a new vertical, you’re not the incumbent. You’re not a well-known name; you’re just some guy. And you’re trying to gain market share against incumbents that those dealers have been buying from for years, decades even. We even had a lead list of dealers in that vertical to approach. It’s not hard these days to Google and find contact info for prospective customers. It was a pretty long list and a good start. So I did my job: I started at the top of the lead list and worked my way down it, calling, emailing and showing up in person to cold call these leads. I did that for three months. Want to know how many new dealers I signed up?


Not my greatest triumph, that’s for sure.

I dislike being reductivist, and there are plenty of potential reasons why things turn out the way they do, but being a new entrant to a market definitely didn’t make things any easier. Anyway, right after that, COVID-19 hit, and you all know how that went. The push into a new vertical went on the back burner since we all had our hands full keeping the lights on and trying to look after our dealers who were still open for business.
Back burner or not, I did keep at it and kept working my way up and down that lead list. Eventually, over about 18 months, I actually signed up two new dealers in that vertical and then a couple more in the year after that. They were ordering from us, which was great.

Fast-forward to now. Having those small successes under my belt has made it easier to approach other dealers in that vertical. I can point to their peers that I’m working with and the success they’re having, which thaws out the reception I get from them and makes them less skeptical of listening to “some guy.” But I’m getting ahead of myself. Do you want to know who was buying this new brand during that time period, even while dealers in that vertical weren’t signing up? Existing dealers in the existing verticals I already serve.

Let me explain. Partly because of the restrictions COVID lockdowns put them under, dealers were eager to try new things to grow their revenue. The other part was because they know us: the distributor I work for, and they know me, and they trust both of us. Let me reiterate: They know us and trust us, so they were willing to try something new. There’s a certain irony in the fact that for a time, I had more success with that new brand among my existing customers than I did with the new customers I was trying to win.

That just underlines how important trust and relationships are.