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In the world of dealer sales, a little understanding can outperform a lot of technology.

Here’s a common story: A brand introduces a technology platform designed to support marketing and selling through their independent dealers. It fails after a long, painful implementation process. No one – brands or dealers – is happy about the experience.

You wanted a happy ending? There can be one, but only if the story starts with brands understanding dealers’ needs and implementing solutions that support them. Dealers control the most important customer touchpoints, so it is about them. Understanding what dealers want and the constraints they operate within can turn our sad story around.

First, let’s look at three significant obstacles brands face when introducing new tech into their relationships with dealers:

First, dealers don’t often have dedicated marketing people.
Marketing in a B2B dealer environment is usually not a full-time position, much less the domain of a dedicated department. In smaller dealer organizations, marketers often have many other sales support and administrative duties. They may be responsible for everything from answering the phones to payroll to HR.

And when they do have time for marketing, they have to prioritize a long list of tasks. They manage the website, load inventory into the website, post and respond on social media and create quotes and sales presentations. For them, marketing means sales support, because that’s the revenue pipeline and the priority is always cash flow. Learning a brand’s new martech platform is the least of their priorities.

Second, you aren’t the only brand they work with.
Even if you are the primary logo on their sign out front, there are always other suppliers that provide parts or equipment related to what you make. Conservatively, let’s say they have half a dozen good-sized brands they sell. Each one might have their own marketing platform, asset management process and marketing expectations. A dealer marketing manager (that is, if the dealership has one) will resist toggling between content platforms, asset management, and CRM platforms from a dozen brands. Instead, they will follow the path of the least resistance and most productivity. For example, if they need your brand’s logo for their website, they won’t log into your platform to see if the brand standards are up to date and they have the approved version of your identity. They’ll bootleg the one from that sales presentation on their hard drive. The one that predates your rebrand.

Third, dealers are trying to build their brand. Not yours.
Brand managers build their brands across countless touchpoints. And arguably the dealer controls the most critical ones. Dealers represent the crucial last mile between the manufacturer and the customer that actually uses the product. But manufacturers might have hundreds, if not thousands of dealers. The manufacturing brand wants all those dealers to look the same and reflect the brand standards. There are a lot of excellent reasons that this is a good thing, including a consistent customer experience.

Dealers have slightly different objectives. They need to stand out in a world of dealers that all sell the same brand, at a time when concepts of a sales territory are challenged by transient customers, multi-regional customers, and growing e-commerce options. To do this, they have to create identities based on their strengths, and not necessarily those of the brands they sell.  

Those are the obstacles. They aren’t insurmountable. Brands get results from dealer marketing campaigns by following three simple but not easy principles.  

First, use incentives.
It shouldn’t have to be about the incentives but sometimes we all need an extra reason to care. We’ve written on this topic before, and there are dozens of approaches to motivating your dealers. It doesn’t have to be a Caribbean vacation, but it could be. We’ve seen that work. You can offer a discount on products, allowing the dealer to increase margins if they participate. Product discounts work best when tied to specific dealer purchase commitments. This invests them in the success of the program.

Second, generate leads and get out of the way.
Brands don’t want to hear this. They want to own the lead generation process, from ad to landing page to lead allocation. They have their own very good reasons for doing this. But this turns dealers into proxies for the brand. Dealers resist this.

Those dealers own the customer relationship and are accountable to those customers. They want leads immediately; not days, weeks or months after they arrive, so they can act when a lead is hot.

Third, help dealers every step of the way.
Brands with dealer networks are presumably committed to them. It’s in their best interest to give dealers adequate resources to help them sell. This includes proactive training and communication when running marketing campaigns that incorporate dealers. Dealers serve many masters and they want your help. You can’t always wait for them to ask and having scheduled check-in calls or web meetings can work wonders to keep your brand marketing campaigns on track.

Martech platforms exist to support these activities, but so far there is no brand marketing tool that replaces sound strategy and effective implementation and management.

The dynamic has shifted between dealers and brands over the years. Brands that are comfortable with that dynamic are best positioned to give dealers what they need, stay out of the way when it makes sense, and reap the rewards of a successful partnership.


Ten Pound Hammer is a marketing firm with expertise in B2B dealer channel marketing, delivering excellent ROI across dealer networks. For more information, contact Gary Thompson at 336.275.0974 or [email protected]

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