Many of the dealers that have made it through the recession successfully have their relationships to thank. It’s the relationships you build with your customers, distributors and financial partners that keep you strong when times are tough. Knowing the importance of these relationships, and how to build them, can help you stabilize your business.
Consumer confidence and spending in recent years has made business challenging for dealers. Many prospective customers reassessed their needs and held back on purchases. In tough times like these, working with your existing customer base, distributors and bankers can help a dealer stay profitable.
The Dealer-Distributor Partnership
Distributors play an integral part in the dealer’s achievements. An open line of communication with your territory manager is the first step to a successful partnership. Keeping them involved in changes in the business and challenges you are facing is the only way they can see the big picture and assist you.
Open communication with your distributor is important, but communication shouldn’t stop with your territory manager. It should reach beyond to sales managers and marketing managers. Occasionally inviting management beyond the territory manager to your store can deepen the business partnership.
You also want to show your distributor that you support them by participating in any meetings and roundtables they host and assisting other dealers in their network with any transitions in their business.
Strengthening the relationship could mean a better response time to any issues that arise. It’s always easier to do business with someone you have met and know than it is with someone that you talk to on the phone once in a great while.
The Dealer-Customer Partnership
The same way we distributors build relationships with our dealers, it is important that dealers build relationships with their customers. The most effective thing you can do is to provide them with first-rate customer service.
First-rate service means being more targeted with your product and service offering. Pick up the phone and give customers a call to see how they are doing, or send them an email to let them know you’re thinking of them and their needs. This gives you the opportunity to alert them of service due, upcoming sales or new products offered.
Keep in mind you are in the business of selling solutions to customers’ problems. Keep track of each individual customer’s needs and product line preferences, and, when a new product comes in from a line they use, contact them directly rather than in a mass mailing.
The whole benefit of choosing a dealer over a big box store is that the dealer is the expert in the field. Customers are attracted to the fact that you can service and set up all of the products you sell. Going beyond that and helping customers understand their equipment and being willing to take the time to sit down with a customer and chat about specifications on their level can go a long way in building those relationships.
You will have customers for life if you can build these relationships. The word-of-mouth advertising that comes along with a satisfied customer is very strong. It’s much easier to keep a customer than it is to obtain a new one. The hardest part is getting them in the door; once they are there, you need to build the bond.
Many times, loyal customers who know you and know your business are more understanding than the brand new customer off the street. If they happen to come in on a day that you are slammed looking for a part or repair, they will be more understanding of a longer turnover time.
Support of Financial Institutions
Many dealers handle their business with large regional banks. You may be surprised to know that the locally owned, small-town banks are an option that should be explored.
Often times, it is easier to build relationships with these smaller banks whose owners and presidents often welcome a direct call or private lunch meeting. They fall into the same niche as many dealers, providing services and help to small to midsize family-owned businesses.
Contact your local bank and try to start a relationship with them if you are in need of some financial assistance or a revolving line of credit. You can start the relationship off on a good foot by getting an introduction from your suppliers or the local trade organization. Having their reference helps when starting a rapport with the banks.
To keep that relationship going, invite bank officials to any events or open houses you are hosting. It’s important to keep them involved in your business, not just when financial situations arise. They feel more invested in the success of your business if they are a part of the journey.
Taking the time and making an effort to build relationships with your suppliers, customers and financial partners can go a long way in building the staying power of your business. It is these relationships that will support you—not just when times are good.