A Three-Step Process to Successful Dealer Sales

Many companies that sell to dealers as part of their distribution channel take a shortsighted approach. While most have a Unique Selling Proposition, the reality is most products are very similar.

Dealers can include a lumber dealer; anyone who has a showroom, like a kitchen and bath dealer; or even some in-home selling companies.

This focus on a USP causes most companies to lose sight of the bigger, more strategic picture. They are focused on selling to the dealer, rather than through the dealer. Consumer packaged goods companies learned this years ago, and it’s time the building material industry caught up. They call it shopper marketing, and it receives as much attention and budget as their national television ad campaigns.

The Three Steps

  1. Sell the dealer. If you’re not on the shelf or in the store, you won’t get sold.
  2. Make the dealer and his employees prefer your product.
  3. Help the dealer sell more because he buys from you.

1. Sell the Dealer

This one you’re familiar with: Convince the dealer to carry your product. You could focus on product features, price, terms and the customer demand created by your brand and big ad campaign. But in today’s world, it’s a short-sighted approach. It keeps you at odds with the dealer, since you’re both focused on who can get the best deal.

One of the biggest problems dealers face today is channel conflict, where big box stores can easily out-price and out-advertise them with your same products. Most manufacturers attempt to ignore this discussion unless the dealer brings it up. And then they have a lame answer like, “If you could purchase in their volume, we could offer you the same deal.”

A better way to sell dealers is to do a little homework before the sales call. Clear your mind of everything you thought you knew about dealers and this dealer in particular. Become an anthropologist. Look at them as if you just discovered an unknown tribe in the jungle. How do they communicate? What dangerous beasts or other tribes are a threat to them? What is their average day like? Sit at their location and watch who shops there. What do they talk about with each other and with customers?

Now that you have a more accurate and timely picture of their situation, take a fresh look at how buying from you can make the dealer more successful. Beyond your product, price and terms, what else can you do for them? How can you be their partner in your mutual growth and success? Now you’re ready to sell into the dealer successfully.

2. Become the Dealer’s Preferred Brand

Simply selling the dealer isn’t enough. If you don’t pay attention to this next step, you won’t reach your full potential volume and may even lose all the business if your initial order doesn’t sell well.

You need to understand their sales process and discover who the gatekeeper is. Who can best sway the purchase decision? It may be the designer, as with a kitchen and bath dealer; a counter person or outside sales person for a lumberyard; or the in-home sales person for a siding or remodeling business.

Ask why they prefer a particular product or brand. Is it easier to sell? Is the quality and delivery better? Do customers request it? Are there more callbacks or installation issues? What bad experiences have they had in the past? This last point is extremely important, because people will do more to avoid a bad experience than to benefit from a good one. Have they had a bad encounter with your company or product? If you don’t overcome the root problem, you won’t succeed.

Have a sales training meeting with the gatekeepers. Ideally, their boss will tell them enthusiastically why he’s made the change to your brand and doesn’t just say it’s just to make more money. It needs to be reasons like meeting customer needs better. When you make the effort to hold this meeting, you go above and beyond many others, which shows the dealer your commitment to his success.

If there are any real or perceived negative issues with your product or company, deal with them in a straightforward manner. Walk them through the features and benefits and any consumer sales tips you have. Review the support tools and answer any questions.

Put on your creative hat, and have fun with the meeting. Perhaps have a theme like your company name followed by the suffix “PALOOZA.” For example, why not PellaPalooza!

Finally, check in a few weeks later with the dealer and gatekeepers to see how it’s going. This is where many transitions fall on their face. Any time there is something new, there will be problems as people learn how to deal with a new supplier or product.

3. Grow the Dealer

The final step is helping the dealer do more business than those who don’t sell your products. You need to go beyond your normal co-op program and be creative.

Ask the dealer how he advertises and promotes his business. How does he get more customers or leads? Most dealers are stuck in the past using the same old tools, whether it’s an ad or a mailer, for example.

Develop new dealer support programs that go beyond ad slicks and into all the new media, such as social media, pay per click advertising, blogs, word of mouth programs and events. Dealers are just like most other businesses; they are too busy to think, so they continue with what they’ve done before or what a media salesperson sells them. The only way they are driven to change is when a competitor does something new and they react to it. As in, “They have a new website; we need a new website.” Instead, you can help them become the innovator that forces their competition to react.

If you do this right, you can literally make your competition irrelevant and become more successful with dealers.

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