Using Your Rep as a Key Business Resource

Do you cringe when your cell phone rings? I don’t. Why? Because when my Blackberry rings, buzzes or blinks during the day I smile, knowing that nine out of 10 times it’s one of my best customers calling.

My best customers ring, buzz and blink me because they understand what role I play in their businesses. They know I’m a valuable resource offered by their suppliers, and they’re not shy about taking full advantage of it.

These customers are successful – and continually work to be even more successful. They reach out often to best utilize the tools and knowledge that I, as a rep, afford them. After all, I’m their closest connection to their supplier and a business resource for them to utilize.

The first thing this morning, I looked at my Blackberry and its red light was blinking brightly. I checked my e-mail and there was a note from a kitchen designer wanting to know if we would paint cherry. Of course we would; we do it everyday – and it says so right in the front of our spec book.

Doing this is not complicated, and the designer could have easily found the answer. But this was a great opportunity. The designer is a new customer, a bit unsure of our product line, and did exactly the right thing by turning to me for product information. As her rep, I know the product line inside and out and I can make her sales easier and more accurate if she is comfortable asking me even the simplest of questions.

It’s my job as a rep to know these answers and, when I don’t, it’s my job to find the answers. As a kitchen/bath designer or dealer, you should feel comfortable turning to your rep with such questions. The last thing you want to do is guess, make an assumption or just plain hope something is the way you think it is. That just leads to problems. Instead, use the resource your supplier has supplied you with.

PRODUCT TRAINING AND MORE

The first phone call of my day came from a store manager looking for product training. Like most of you, this individual continually adds new salespeople, and she wanted me to set a date as soon as possible to familiarize her two new designers with my line. That’s one of the most important functions of a rep.

Training is time consuming but necessary and, as busy as dealers are, it’s very difficult for them to handle training on their own. Today, many companies have training programs that actively include their reps. Not only will a rep train on a specific product line, but the best reps also mix in design and sales techniques to supplement the training. Our firm, in particular, emphasizes technology as well as cabinetry, so when one of our customers looks to us to train new designers, he or she gets the “bonus” of additional sales, design and technology training. Including your rep in training is a tremendous use of this resource.

Mixed in with my many other morning calls, I had the infamous “I-need-a-credit-for-this” call. Here, the customer had received a door from an overnight carrier that arrived in two pieces instead of one. This particular call, though, was from a customer who turns to me only when there’s a credit issue or a problem with a job. This happens, of course, and it’s certainly a part of my job. But companies like this are really missing out on a valuable resource.

There are kitchen and bath design firms and dealerships that view their rep as a guy who stops in every so often in his sports car and shares a joke or a fishing story – or maybe even buys lunch and sends a card for the holidays.

That’s the wrong image to have of your rep.

Your rep is probably like me: out on the road in a Honda minivan with a cracked windshield and loaded down with samples. There’s no time to fish, or golf, or anything like that. Your rep gets up early and works way too late, just like you do. Visits, cards at the holidays and a lunch here and there are fun, but your relationship with your rep needs to be an everyday occurrence, not an occasional one. Today’s technology makes it especially so.

Your rep is a valuable resource – another ingredient in your business’ pursuit of success – that’s literally right at your fingertips. But it is up to you to take advantage of this resource.

Need some more reasons to ring, buzz or blink your rep’s cell phone? Here’s a good one.

Yesterday, I spent the entire afternoon with one of my customers, reviewing new product ideas. We do this several times each year. He presents new specs, colors, door styles and other ideas to me in detail so that I can go back to the supplier well-armed with this information. He uses me as his conduit to the manufacturer’s marketing and manufacturing departments. He does so because he believes that these new ideas will help his business grow and that I’m his contact or agent for making this happen. He works hard to utilize his rep and benefits from it greatly.

A COMPETITIVE EDGE

How about turning to your rep for competitive data? Let’s say you keep running into a competitor and you need to know more about the products they offer. Call your rep. He or she probably keeps information on all of the manufacturers and their products, and can share ideas with you about how to better compete. If your rep doesn’t have the information, he or she probably knows someone who can get it.

Another way that many of my customers rely on me is for showroom and display ideas. I spend a lot of time sharing information on what’s hot when it comes to specs, colors and door styles. I also get to visit hundreds of showrooms and job sites, and several of my customers turn to me as a resource about what’s unique and innovative out in the field.

Have you ever been in a situation with a customer where you felt like you could close the deal or resolve an issue if you just had someone else there to support your ideas and positions? Call your rep. I’ve often sat in on meetings between designers and their clients. Sometimes it’s helpful to inform clients that they’re so important that you brought in “the guy from the factory” to meet with them. My role in this situation is to provide support to my customer, and we’ve closed very big jobs because of the attention that both the designers and I have been willing to provide to clients. As a rep, I want to do whatever’s necessary to make my customers successful with my line.

Need yet another way to utilize your rep?

Let’s say that you have a unique piece or request to be placed on order and you’re afraid that manufacturing may not interpret your request correctly. Contact your rep. Explain the situation to him or her and let your rep help facilitate the production of unique items. Your rep is close enough to your business to understand what you’re expecting, and close enough to manufacturing to understand your request may be interpreted and what limitations may exist. Turning to your rep in these situations will help expectations become reality.

These are just a few examples of how my best customers take full advantage of the resource their suppliers offer to them in the form of my services as a rep.

I really do like it when my Blackberry rings, buzzes and blinks. Nine times out of 10 it’s one of my good customers looking to utilize my expertise – and the more often that happens, the more my business will grow.

And that’s worth smiling about.

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