Let’s Make the Dealer the Hero of Your Brand


Your dealers should be catalysts that propel your brand forward. Marketing and brand directors will likely nod along and say, “Absolutely, they should be. But they aren’t.” I’ve witnessed frustration on both sides of the fence between dealers and the manufacturers they represent. Like any relationship it requires effort from both parties. But dealers are required to serve many masters, so for better or worse the lion’s share of the effort in this relationship belongs to the manufacturer. Of course, the manufacturers also reap most of the rewards.

More sales. More revenue. And most importantly, greater momentum for your brand. I’ll explain:

A dealer network that’s in sync with your brand means you sell more stuff, which generates more revenue for you and the dealer. But dealers don’t always close the sale–no one has a perfect record. When they don’t, they have a damn good idea why. Dealers aren’t looking at this through the lens of surveys, focus groups and white papers about the competitive landscape. They’re on the front lines, face to face with customers. There’s no barrier between seller and buyer. When they lose, they hear it in the most direct possible way.

That’s market research that manufacturers ignore at their peril.

Dealers are not profit-sapping middlemen. They’re often industry experts who have spent their careers learning their business and building a solid understanding of their–and your–customers. Those customers look at your web site. They may request a brochure. But when it’s time to purchase they want advice from people who understand the product, and understand them. They want to talk to experts.

Manufacturers who want customer insights and who want experts on their side invest in their dealers. Those dealers, in turn, build momentum for the brands that make that investment.

What’s broken?

I’ve been at dealer locations shooting videos for brands. Dealers cooperate and say all the right, scripted things when on camera. But when the cameras are off the real stories emerge. Sometimes I’ve felt obligated to take a beating on behalf of a brand that has frustrated the dealer. Not to go all couples counselor on you, but the problem can always be summed up in one word: Communication. Dealers don’t have a voice. They know things but they have no way of getting that information to manufacturers. And when they try they get treated like a schlub trying to renew his license at the DMV.

Manufacturers keep dealers out of the loop about marketing. While dealers can’t be frustrated about the things they don’t know, this is a mistake that costs manufacturers money. Real money.

One particularly troubling example comes to mind: We had labored for months creating a comprehensive set of dealer marketing materials for a brand. The marketing manager went to great lengths to provide guidance and input on the materials. But, none of that guidance originated with dealer insights. Dealers were blindsided by the materials, didn’t understand their purpose, and left them sitting in closets, unused (unless you count the beautiful samples in my portfolio).

What can we do?

There are some good stories, and over the years we’ve seen some great examples of brand-dealer relationships. We know what successful, healthy brand-dealer relationship should look like. There are five key components:

There have to be established and open channels of communication that go both ways. Dealers have to know they have a voice and are part of the brand. They also need to understand what the brand is doing, and what is expected of them.

What you learn from dealers has to be put into action. There are few things more frustrating than having a voice only to be told, directly or indirectly, that it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to do everything dealers suggest, but there needs to be an understanding that their input is helping steer the brand.

Brands have to provide dealers with product training, technical training, service and support training at the very least. The strongest dealer networks are also given training in sales, marketing, and branding.

This covers a lot of territory. The efficacy of brand marketing needs to be evaluated, but it needs to reach down to the level of each dealer. Brands have to identify low performing dealers, decide how to give them guidance and know when its time to part ways. Not all dealers are going to be heroes, and it’s essential that brands direct most of their attention to the ones that are.

Rewards and recognition
Evaluation helps brands acknowledge and support their heroes. This doesn’t have to mean a huge expense. Never underestimate the power of a plaque from the local trophy shop. It serves as motivation for the others. Though a trip to the Bahamas is even more motivating.

The bottom line

Dealer networks are complex and can be a challenge to manage, but when you have systems in place to leverage this powerful resource it will strengthen your brand and increase sales. Dealers can be your brand heroes, but it’s up to you to give them the cape.