Creating better dealer-customer relationships

This article was originally published in April’s edition of Dealer Support.

As e-commerce increases in popularity there is a concern that close dealer-customer relationships will suffer for it. For the majority of dealers still relying heavily on telesales, however, there are a multitude of ways to ensure their clients stay loyal. 

The value of dealer-customer relationships cannot be understated. Selling to somebody once is easy for a good salesperson – selling to that same person a second, third or fourth time is where the challenge lies. The key is in the creation of what is often termed ‘warm calls’. While cold-calling remains an integral part of running many smaller businesses, as discussed in February’s Big ask, it’s turning this into a ‘warm call’ which can change everything and create a positive response in the customer. So how does a dealer take that concept and develop it into a fully-formed relationship?

Start with small talk. Simply remembering the names of the people you’re speaking to – including any receptionists or assistants along the chain – will help ingratiate you with them. Developing a back story for your relationship by asking about the customer’s health, hobbies and home life also creates a jumping off point for future conversations, and you will be remembered as a dealer who bothers to ask personal questions in a caring way.

Dedicate one salesperson or team to one customer. The idea of repeatedly contacting a company and having to speak to a different person with the same story every time is not an attractive one for most people. In fact, it often serves to put them off calling at all and drives people to buy their products via the internet – which can lead to mega-markets like Amazon taking more dealer business. A dealer with enough salespeople on its team would do well to ensure that each one looks after specific accounts to ensure they have the opportunity to build a relationship and are aware of the customer’s history and needs. Installing a robust CRM system will also help to keep track of all of those details, especially if one salesperson is away and another has to take on their clients.

Don’t oversell. Over-selling comes with the risk of under-delivering – and under-delivery undoubtedly leads to the loss of that customer. The desire to keep the client close may make over-selling a tempting idea, but avoid it – honesty will serve you far better. In the same vein, dealers should admit when there is something they cannot deliver and make up for it in other ways, such as excellent customer service.

Help even when there’s no monetary profit in it. If, for whatever reason, you can’t deliver something your customer needs, helping them to acquire it another way – even if that means sending them in the direction of a different dealer – shows trust in your partnership, and is appealing to the client, because it shows that your relationship is more than just mercenary.

Go the extra mile with sourcing. The former two points are unlikely to come up at all if you have the resources to put in the extra effort and ensure your customers want for nothing. A dealer offering a little bit of everything, and keeping its finger on the pulse of the industry’s changing landscape, is likely to automatically receive more customer attention, after which it’s just a matter of keeping hold of that attention.

Properly train salespeople. Whether your salespeople are trained for two weeks or six months before being given free reign of the phones, they should be properly taught how to speak to people in a way that feels more like a warm call than a cold one, including simple ways to make small talk, retaining a friendly tone and, most importantly, being aware of any information they might be asked for by a customer. It will obviously reflect badly on the business if the salesperson doesn’t know the ins and outs of the dealer they represent, whereas a knowledgeable contact will be automatically valued by the customer.

Throw in rewards. As well as running regular promotions and special offers, as most dealers do, a reward scheme for both new and long-term customers can function as a great way of achieving additional business. Even small gifts can help; these can relate to the size of the order, the amount of orders placed or simply the length of the relationship.

Create an after-sales service. It takes a matter of moments to call a customer after a delivery has been received by them to check that they’re content. Many clients won’t say a thing if they’re unhappy with a service – they will simply cut their losses and find a new dealer. Speaking to them after the sale will help you to discover what they actually think of your service, where their pain points are and, potentially, lead to the next sale.

Deal with complaints properly. No ship runs entirely smoothly 100% of the time and mistakes are inevitable. The key way for a dealer to maintain business with a customer it has let down in some manner is to own up to the error and rectify it, rather than passing the blame. This level of professionalism is likely to be appreciated and shouldn’t negatively impact a strong customer-dealer relationship, plus, it helps a business learn – the occasional failure should be seen as an opportunity to develop.

Ultimately, treating customers as business partners, and not simply sources of money, is the only way to ensure they stay with you, so take every opportunity to create a professional friendship.

Special thanks to Anthony Serlin, Tressa Whitby and Richard Price for inspiring some of this article’s content.