For B2B brands, it’s important to keep your dealers close. After all, they’re the ones representing your brand and promoting your products or services to customers. You can’t afford to have them feel ignored, preached to, or taken for granted. That’s why actively investing in your dealer relationships is so important. It’s crucial for the success of your business. And it requires an ongoing effort.

Here’s a good example. If you’re in a long-term relationship, you need to remember your partner’s birthday every year. They may forget the countless thoughtful gifts you’ve given over the decades, but forget their birthday just once and they’ll remember that forever. Or so I’ve been told. We need to remind ourselves that dealers are people, and people want to be acknowledged and appreciated. Sadly, most brands earn low scores in this category. But there are ways to raise the bar––and nurture dynamic dealer relationships that will prove to be an excellent long-term investment.

Dealer relationships depend on communication.
We’ve worked with manufacturer brands for a long time, and there’s almost always tension with their dealer channel. It’s typically caused by a breakdown in––or absence of––communication. This is more than your sales force checking in with their dealers from time to time. It’s Brand Central having an ongoing exchange of info and ideas with the folks on the front line. You can kick your dealer communication into high gear by following these three best practices:

• Be consistent
If your dealers know when they can expect to hear from you, it will calm their anxiety about being ignored. The idea that dealers don’t want to have their in-box flooded is only partially true. Establish a schedule for being in touch and stick to it.

• Be relevant
Be sure what you send to dealers relates directly to their business and their success. Share news, updates, articles, and links that tie to your brand. And if there’s no real news, don’t fake it. Instead, ask questions and offer support. Let them know you’re there for them.

• Be an active listener
There are many reasons to listen to your dealers, and to do that effectively you must establish a format conducive to back-and-forth dialog. Remember, the goal of communication is for both parties to be heard. Otherwise it’s not communicating, it’s broadcasting. Do they need more sales materials? More training? More time with their sales reps? Listen and find out. And most importantly, act on what you learn.

Dealer relationships take time to develop.
With an ongoing dealer communication process in place, you’ll be ahead of many of your competitors. You’ll also have a foundation for transforming your dealer relationships into something that’s more of a partnership. By keeping your dealers informed and giving them the resources they need, they’ll be more engaged––and better prepared––to represent your brand and drive sales.

Truth is, it takes more than following a few best practices to get closer to your dealers. It takes discipline to plan, execute and support a communications infrastructure. You can’t just send out a monthly email or newsletter and expect miracles. It may take time for dealers to feel welcome and willing to share ideas. Just stick with it. As long it’s consistent, relevant, and allows for feedback or questions, even a newsletter can be a great platform for growth.

Keep in mind that your dealers live in an environment of urgency. They have customers who want answers now. They need to understand your brand’s long-term strategy, in terms they can act on. They’re tied to your success and want to be well-informed for the future.

Dealer relationships aren’t just about sales.
There’s no question that a strong dealer connection can drive innovation and growth for your business. Since your dealers have daily interactions with your end customers, they’re ideally positioned to gather––and convey back to you–– valuable insights about market trends and customer needs. This can inform everything from product development to marketing strategies, allowing you to stay ahead of the competition.

Just as important, improving dealer channel relationships can help strengthen your brand image and reputation. A dealer that has good rapport with a manufacturer brand will reflect that to their customers. There are few communication tools as powerful as a dealer who genuinely believes in the brand they’re selling.