Like Dickey Fox said in Jerry Maguire, “The key to this business is *claps hands* personal relationships!”
Regardless of how fantastic their products are, vendor sales reps need to understand that the personal relationship they build with their dealers can be the make or break factor in how much business they get, or if they get any at all. Dealers typically have a high expectation of service from the reps who service their account, and rightly so.
Yet, vendor reps come in many varieties, not all of them good. Get a few dealers together at a banquet table during an industry function, and you’ll hear some funny, cringe-inducing stories about the less-than-professional reps they have had to deal with.
Way back in the day, my old boss agreed with me that we needed to beef up our offerings in one category. We narrowed it down to two brands; both of them more or less evenly matched technically. One was represented by a distributor we already had a great relationship with, who had a long history of going the extra mile for his dealers, while the other was represented in our territory by someone none of us liked, and who had a history of dropping the ball with one of his other brands. You can probably guess who got the business.
So, if you’re a rep, what can you do to better service your dealers? Many dealers would say, “Bring donuts and coffee on your visits!” While I’m not saying that’s wrong, there are other strategies you should also employ.
The most important is timely follow-up. When I think of the best reps I’ve ever dealt with, every one of them almost always picked up their cellphone on the first ring or replied to an email virtually instantly. Even if they didn’t have an answer to my question on hand, they kept the communication open and let me know that they’ve passed my query on to someone who can help. And when there’s a warranty issue, the best reps clearly communicated how they handle returns and service issues. There’s nothing worse than long delays waiting to hear back on a warranty.
On a related note, timely communications are also crucial. Believe it or not, but not every rep is punctual when it comes to communicating price changes and marketing initiatives. It’s a tough marketplace and being a week behind the market on price changes makes you look like an idiot to potential customers.
Last, but certainly not least, is that respecting your dealers’ time goes a long way. Time is money, and there’s never enough of it for anyone. That’s why it’s usually best to call in advance and schedule a day and time for meetings. Dropping in without any notice is seldom appreciated, unless you’re going to buy your dealers lunch, but I digress.
I know that when I read back over this, I feel mild feelings of guilt over any instance I can think of where I haven’t been as on-the-ball as I feel ought to be. Perhaps some of you feel the same way.
That’s okay, though. Aim for progress, rather than perfection. Make every effort to do your best. Believe me, your dealers will notice.