10 Simple Ways to Increase Your Importance to Key Vendors
• Develop relationships with upper management. In the end, everything revolves around relationships. The closer you can be to the folks who run the show, the better off you are. These are the people who can make exceptions and bend the rules. They’ll do these things for you if you’re an important customer.
• Support the full line. There’s no better way to become important to your supplier than supporting the full line. You see, there’s a cost to servicing your account, regardless of how much you spend. The more broadly you buy, the more those costs can be spread over multiple products. Your account becomes more profitable to the factory and you become more important. Moreover, your own costs go down as well. Most suppliers offer generous rebate programs designed to encourage full line support. And you save on overhead, as you have fewer lines to learn, less orders to place, less invoices to pay.
• Have patience during their rough spots. Nobody’s perfect—not you, and not your vendors. You’ll build a deeper relationship with the factory when you realize that, from time to time, your key vendor might go through a rough patch. Maybe a new product is late or part of the line is a bit stale. Have patience. It will most certainly be rewarded over the long term. Avoid the urge to jump ship every time there’s a problem. In the end it will only cost you money and create a bad reputation for you in the vendor community.
• Communicate honestly when you’re going through a rough patch. Nobody likes to admit they’re having a problem, but if you want to be important, you must come clean. Most factories are willing to work with customers. The more important you are, the more they’ll work with you and for you. Communicate early and often, especially regarding cash flow issues. You’ll be surprised just how much better this can make things.
• Be accurate, honest and thorough. These characteristics define trust. Practice these three simple concepts to build trust with your supplier. Trust builds comfort and makes you more important, and you’ll never be important if you’re not trusted. So describe situations in detail. Don’t fudge things. Don’t leave parts out. Don’t be vague. If you dropped a touchscreen and it broke, admit it; sure, it’ll cost you in the short term, but in the long term, you’ll be much better off.
• Give your opinion, good or bad. There’s an old saying: “Good customers complain. Bad customers just go away.” Believe it or not, the best suppliers want to hear about things they need to improve on. They need to hear about those things that make you angry, frustrated or get in the way of your business. They can’t improve without your valuable input. Any company that doesn’t want to hear it doesn’t deserve your business. Need new products? Say so. Need more training? Tell someone. Things don’t work right? Let somebody know. Conversely, if things are good, say that too. Everyone likes to see their hard work recognized. Being involved and sharing your opinions is one of the best ways to be important. You can’t do too much of it.
• Tell your friends. If your supplier goes out of its way to do something for you, spread the word. Suppliers count on your endorsement to build their businesses. If you can help promote the good things your supplier does, you automatically climb its importance ladder.
• Go to their trainings. Manufacturers depend on you to keep end users happy. You can easily help (or harm) the reputations of the brands you install by doing a good (or bad) job. Make sure you know how the products work, how to install them and how to get the best performance. This ensures your customers are happy, and happy customers bring more customers, both to you and to the brands you represent.
• Demonstrate key products or concepts. Most factories offer generous incentives if you demonstrate their products in your showroom or in a model home. They believe that if customers can experience the products, they’ll buy. Custom installation products can be difficult to explain since they’re primarily lifestyle-oriented, but if you can demonstrate the A/V lifestyle, you can make the sale. It’s good business for you and for your supplier, and it goes a long way towards becoming important.
• Be a brand builder. Building a brand is more than just demonstrating product; it involves the entire scope of your business. From the logos on your trucks to the quality of your installers to the cleanliness of your showroom, the better you represent the factory’s brand, the more important you naturally become.
Frank K. Sterns is president of Niles Audio.