Most national Canadian distributors and manufacturers are familiar with the difficulties involved in rolling out new financing programs across a network of dealers. Signing a partnership to give dealers more sales tools is one thing. Convincing them to use it is often another. To overcome this, Ontario-based Hydropool Hot Tubs developed a three-step process, starting with an email, followed by a phone call and ending with a face-to-face visit. The most important part of this process is not the hundreds of dollars of financial incentives being offered on every vendor sale using financing. It is the final in-store visit by a sales representative.
Without it director of marketing Doug Gillespie is certain most of Hydropool’s national network of dealers would not use the new financing programs. In fact he has proof. “We used to send out free posters to every retailer and say ‘here’s your free $200 worth of posters, your whole POS (point of sale) program’, and they wouldn’t even put them up,” he says. “Execution is the key: If you don’t execute, you’re dead in the water.”
Tip 1: Engaging With Dealers is Critical
To say engagement is important for signing dealers on to your new financing program is putting it lightly. Engagement is critical. This is because it is needed to build trust with your dealers to get them to adopt a new system. “It’s a process: there’s no slam dunk,” says Edmonton-based Prime Capital Group President Angela Armstrong, who has spent 30 years training businesses in B2B sales. “There’s no ‘I’m going to send an email and they will sign up’ solution. This is strategic selling and you’re building a long-term relationship with a supplier. They are not going to introduce something new to their customers unless they trust that it is not going to screw something up.”
What Communication Platform Works Best
- Email can be a useful first step to signing your dealers up, especially when a trusted reference is involved. However it is only a starting point. To frame why, Ms. Armstrong asks a simple question: have you ever bought anything just over email? “Nobody does business with emails,” she says. “You have to find another way to connect with your dealers.”
- VOIP, conference and phone calls can be an efficient way of dealing with distance and time constraints – and they can work. However often more is needed, as the Hydropool example illustrates. Most dealers require considerable face time to use and promote new financing programs.
- In-person visits and meetings are critical. Companies that are successful at rolling out financing rely on them, despite their cost in terms of time and money. “People do business with people they can look in the eye,” explains Ms. Armstrong.
Tip 2: Preparing for a Face-to-Face
How you handle the initial face-to-face meeting is vital. Ms. Armstrong, who is also a Canadian Finance & Leasing Association Director, warns against going in with a prepared sales pitch. Instead find out what their pain is by asking them questions and listening to their worries. “You cannot go to them with a hard pitch because they get dozens of those a week,” she says. “They want to hear that you are knowledgeable about their pain source. You say ‘this is great information, we’re going to go back, consider this and then we’re going to bring back a proposal for you that is going to address these problems’.”
Tip 3: Target Your Innovators
It can be highly effective to target your early efforts on those dealers you know are innovators and early adopters. Those willing to try new ideas and adapt their business practices are inevitably going to be more receptive of changes such as a new financing program. They can then provide a powerful sales tool to persuade others in your network to use financing. “Find out who are the early adopters, who are the innovators – and woo them,” Ms. Armstrong says. “You can then use them as a selling tool: promote them. Everybody has an ego, everybody wants their success story to be known.”
Tip 4: Be Aware of Dealer Differences
It also pays to know your audience. Every network contains a vast array of dealers living across cities, provinces and Canada. Each is run by a different owner in a different place with a different style. All this matters. Differences between Alberta and Quebec may seem obvious, but differences also exist between dealers in Toronto and Ottawa or Vancouver and Burnaby. “The culture in each of your buying centres is going to be different, the customer base is going to be different, how they interact with their customers is going to be different” says Ms. Armstrong. “There is no cookie cutter solution.”
Working Towards a Common Goal
Signing a partnership with a financing company will not change your business overnight. Instead think of it as a process. Spend time working with your dealers to implement it and help them overcome any worries they might have. Your financing partner should be willing to do the same. Ongoing face-to-face meetings are a vital part of this. Never send an email and think you are done. Take the time to work with them to maximize their use, trust and understanding of financing – a powerful sales tool – and remember that ultimately both your goals are the same. To sell more product.