A decade ago, Barry LaBov and the LABOV team created a short business parable named, “The Umbrella Story.” It was inspired by our clients, many of them manufacturers whose products were represented by independent sales networks (usually dealers or distributors). The dynamics between the two parties were fascinating as in some cases, it was a perfect marriage and in others, it was a daily battle. In our parable, the two main characters—the manufacturer and his top dealer—deal with the challenges of their relationship and realize that to truly achieve success, they need each other.
The Umbrella Story gave birth to a dozen parables as each explored issues such as employee engagement, customer loyalty, leadership and more. We’re excited to offer this special email series to you. Once a month, we’ll share top insights from a book in the series and offer a link to download it (for free). And in each installment, we will highlight three learnings from each story. Feel free to share with your friends, team and partners.
Face and solve issues quickly
In our story, the two characters initially worked well together but as they became successful and were less in touch, their relationship became strained. The all-too-common issues between manufacturers and sales networks manifested themselves.
Manufacturers may view their dealers as not selling enough nor providing customer experiences befitting the brand. Dealers may believe the manufacturer is lacking viable, new products or have concerns about quality. Failure to keep the lines of communication open will lead to irreparable relationships, with manufacturers pursuing other approaches to selling their product, dealers jumping ship to competitive brands and frustrated customers.
We learn that the longer you wait to solve a problem, the higher the price you pay, no matter how strong you believe in a product or how effective its salesforce is. And more often than not, it’s critical to communicate in person and not let technology, no matter how convenient, compromise your chance to have a harmonious relationship.
Don’t reduce relationships to numbers.
Most manufacturer-dealer relationships began intimately, with two people shaking hands and agreeing to work as a team, together. As time passes, it’s tempting to focus on numbers rather than partnerships. How many products are sold, how much money is made, how many new customers are gained? Numbers are important, but it’s also vital to keep the manufacturer-dealer relationship healthy.
That means open conversations about what each side needs from the other. And most important, it’s listening and taking action on what is learned. The characters in The Umbrella Story book depict what can happen when partnerships break down due to a lack of listening. The good news is that when you look beyond the numbers and remember you’re on the same side, everyone wins—the manufacturer, the dealer and ultimately, the customer.
There is no business without the customer.
When there’s angst between manufacturers and their sales networks, it’s common for the customer to be forgotten in all the turmoil. If the manufacturer isn’t supporting its dealers with the right products, training, parts or compensation program, they’re making it nearly impossible to serve the customer.
And when the dealers aren’t passionately presenting products or delivering positive buying experiences, customers will turn to your competitors. Keeping one statement top of mind—there is no business without the customer—will go a long way toward aligning the manufacturer and dealer on what is most important.
Please Answer One Short Question
Does your company treat customers as more than just numbers?
Barry LaBov is founder and CEO of LABOV Marketing Communications and Training. He is a two-time Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year recipient and author of numerous business books, including the upcoming book The Power of Differentiation. Since 1981, LABOV has differentiated and launched products and brands around the world.