Vendor relationships 101
Whatever the business, a predictable, honest and reliable relationship between a dealer and a vendor goes a long way toward helping both companies succeed. But what does it take to successfully establish and manage a dealer/vendor relationship? To find out, MRT talked to mobile communications dealers of varying sizes and locations. Here’s what they said:
Like a good marriage, successful dealer/vendor relationships begin by selecting the right vendor partners for your business.
So what makes a good vendor? Someone who sells reliable, rugged mobile communications equipment that your customers want at a price they can afford, according to Randy Power, president of ProComm. “I choose my suppliers based on products that my clients may want to use,” he said.
Besides making quality equipment, “Your vendor should be very knowledgeable about what’s going on in the industry and very flexible in providing what the customer needs,” said Ted Hurley, sales manager of J&K Communications. But that’s not all: Good vendors should be prepared to keep their prices competitive, to ensure their dealers remain competitive.
In order to assure this happens, “We periodically check with other vendors for current pricing on products we are purchasing, just to ensure we are paying a fair price for the product,” said Steve Keller, president of Kelrad/Radio One. “If we find that our current vendor is significantly overpriced, we always give the vendor the opportunity to lower their price and keep the business.”
Mobile communications equipment is constantly changing. Mobile communications dealers wishing to stay ahead of the curve need vendors committed to innovation — not just in the lab, but on the manufacturing floor, too. Otherwise, dealers will lose business to competitors offering more advanced technology to a knowledgeable market that knows what’s hot and what’s not, according to Hurley.
“We tell our vendors right upfront that we want to sell their products as long as the industry will allow us to,” he said. “This means that they have to stay up-to-date with what’s happening in technology.”
A tip for vendors: If you are working on the latest and greatest new product, be sure to give your dealers an early heads-up, so they can prepare the market beforehand. “I need to know what’s coming down the pipe so that we can start selling it,” Power said. “It’s useless for a vendor to surprise us at the last moment and say, ‘By the way, here’s a new product you can sell.’”
Demand that promises be kept
One of the biggest concerns for mobile communications dealers is product availability. According to Power, it is imperative that vendors have the product in stock when he places the order for it.
“In particular, it is vital to meet delivery times to government clients who are buying at the close of a fiscal year,” he said. “If you miss their deadline, you can lose the sale. That hurts everyone’s bottom line and our reputation with that client.”
To reduce the chances of a vendor letting you down, demand that they commit to on-time delivery promises in writing. To add teeth to this condition, make sure that the vendor will incur financial penalties for letting you down.
Demand excellent support
“A good vendor is easy to do business with,” Keller said of Kelrad/Radio One. “You don’t waste your time going through endless prompts and phone transfers, just to order their products.”
“When I call up a vendor with a problem, I expect them to solve it,” Hurley said. “We’re a no-nonsense company that is service-oriented, and service is what keeps our customers.”
To find this kind of support for your dealership, ask prospective vendors for a list of its dealers. Then call some of them to ask how the vendor treats them.
Make trust a priority
All successful relationships are built upon mutual trust, and dealer/vendor relationships are no exception to the rule. That’s why dealers must look for, and then partner with, vendors with good reputations that keep their word. Otherwise, it’s the dealer that could end up being burned when a vendor doesn’t deliver as promised.
“Our vendors know that J&K is a dealer that our customers can trust,” Hurley said. “In turn, we must be able to trust our vendors to deliver what they promise. After all, we are their customers.”
Establish personal relationships
“I want to deal with vendors that really appreciate our business,” Keller said. “It is so important to have vendor partners who understand that the relationship between the vendor and the dealer should be win-win for both parties.”
He suggested that dealers identify a contact person at the vendor who can be reached on an ongoing basis. “This ensures that when you have a problem, there’s a central person you can turn to for help,” he said.
Treat vendors with respect
The Golden Rule of dealer/vendor relationship is, “Treat your vendors like you want to be treated, with respect and integrity,” said Myron Polulak, president of New England Communications Systems. “Treat them like a customer, and they in turn will treat you like a customer,” he said. “That’s an approach that works for us. We’ve got pretty good relationships with our vendors.”
When in doubt, talk it out. What works for interpersonal relationships also serves as a reliable rule of thumb for fostering healthy relationships with your vendors.
“The most common error that dealers make with respect to their vendors and manufacturers is not talking to them,” said Mike Cherrington, owner of Cherrington Communications. “I cannot overstate the importance of communications in making business relationships work”
Things go wrong in life. When they go wrong in a dealer/vendor relationship, the smartest thing to do is to deal with the problem calmly and factually, in order to avoid ruining the relationship.
“The key is to manage the rough spots and try to find out what the core reasons are,” Cherrington said. “In doing so, be polite and professional. No one appreciates being yelled at, and it certainly doesn’t help a business relationship when this happens.”
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