Want to improve your customer experience? Start with your dealer relationships.

Are you leaving out the most important part of your customer experience?

Brands of late have been working hard to create a better customer experience. And that’s all great. Brands should focus on a flawless CX. A recent AMA study shows that 90% of marketers expect customer expectations to increase in 2022. But B2B brands often forget that their dealers are customers, too. I’ve seen more and more resources put into CX, while less is being invested in support of the dealer channel. And it is hobbling the entire CX effort.

Here’s how the customer journey is supposed to go.

Let’s say I’m in the market to replace some industrial equipment in my factory. I’ll start by doing research on possible sources and solutions. In other words, I’ll go to the manufacturer’s website and look around. You (the manufacturer) have invested heavily in high-quality web content to make sure you show up in the search results. You’ve got videos, white papers, rotating 3-D animation of your machines, and powerful case studies. So far, so good.

With this kind of purchase, I’m sure to have specific questions and need to talk to a dealer. You’ve wisely made it easy for me to get in touch with a dealer salesperson who I assume is knowledgeable and up to date on tech specs. So, I click to Contact My Nearest Dealer. Which brings us to the real question: is my dealer is prepared to answer my questions and close the sale?

Here’s what happens way too often.

The first part of our CX story stays the same. A potential customer finds our product and does the initial research. They click to find a dealer, enter their zip code and are whisked away from the brand website. We’ll bypass the countless potential points of failure in this handoff––which we’ve discussed in previous articles­­––and assume they land at the dealer website.

Once on the dealer site, they see no mention of your brand. But they fill out a contact form, and this is often where the customer journey ends. Mr. Nearest Dealer never sees the contact request and the customer never hears back. Our own research shows that only one in three independent dealers monitor their contact forms well.

But for the sake of our narrative, let’s say they get do a timely call back from a salesperson. Turns out he or she has zero familiarity with the new product the customer found on your brand’s site. But salespeople work for the dealership, not for you. So they recommend a solution from a different brand that they’re very familiar with. All your hard work has just made a sale for a competitor.

Customer loyalty often belongs to the dealer, not the brand.
Complex B2B sales tend to be far more relationship-driven than brand-driven. And that relationship doesn’t belong to the brand. It belongs to the folks that answer questions, deliver the equipment, and repair it when it goes down. It’s dangerous to assume that repeat business means brand loyalty. The better approach is for the manufacturer brand to view the dealer relationship as a partnership––and provide support along every stage of the sales funnel. Here’s a short list of what that support should be:

Listen
Dealers want to have a voice, like any partner. And they’re in a unique position to tell you what their customers are saying. If you don’t already have one, form an advisory board of key dealers and use them as a valuable resource. They are a far more efficient source of insight than online surveys.

Act on what you learn
Once you hear from your dealers, put what you learn into practice. The only thing more frustrating for a dealer is to be asked for advice––and then have that advice ignored.

Provide training
Dealer salespeople have deep expertise in their market, and they want to know as much as they can in order to have meaningful conversations with customers. This article goes into more detail on the topic of training your dealers.

Provide tools
By “tools” I don’t mean an online platform where they can order brochures on demand. They need technical sales presentations they can use to guide specific customer conversations. What they don’t need is a print-on-demand brochure that has the same content as the website.

Be available
When questions come to you from a dealer salesperson, keep in mind they have a customer on the other end who is also waiting for an answer.

41% is not a passing grade
Our recent survey of equipment dealers told us that only 41% believe that the manufacturer brands they sell understand their business. Let that sink in. Understanding the dealer’s business is not a particularly high bar to clear. But the good news is there’s room for improvement. A few good adjustments to your dealer channel will make all your CX efforts a lot more effective.