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December 2017
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Communications 101: Dealer & Manufacturer Relationships

Every relationship depends on good communication. Here are two manufacturers’ ideas about how to have good relationships with dealers.

Open, honest and timely two-way communication is imperative to good relationships between manufacturers and dealers, said Bill Pfleger, president of Yale Distribution. To achieve that, Pfleger does as much face-to-face communication as possible, even going out of his way or spending an extra night on the road. “Maybe I’m old school, but I still think that people like to know who they’re dealing with,” he said. That’s important in good times and helps you get through the tough times, he said. If it can’t be in person, a one-to-one telephone call is the next best thing, he said.  He’s not as likely to use email, “not that it is bad, but it’s a lot simpler to pick up the phone and talk it through. I see more and more people trying to do complicated things through email. They end up playing email ping pong.” The best medium might include a webinar where appropriate, large group dealer meetings or snail mail, he said. He sees no decline, and actually an increase in communication. A meeting of the minds on roles and responsibilities is even more important as the economy improves, he said. “I really think assumptions and lack of clarity result in miscommunication. We try, and our dealers try, to do the right thing. If there is a misunderstanding, it usually comes back to somebody’s assumption, or a lack of clarity.” To ensure that their message is clear, multiple people read it before it goes out to dealers, he said. “Training for Yale is one of the things we believe is the core responsibility of the manufacturer. Nobody can take on that responsibility. We need to own that,” Pfleger said.

“Consistent two-way communication is the best way to maintain good relationships with dealers and anyone else,” said Bret Bruin, national dealer development manager for Toyota Material Handling, U.S.A., Inc. “It is essential to listen to the voice of the dealers, and incorporate their feedback, to ensure our industry-leading products and services are meeting the needs of the customer in a timely manner.” It is important to make sure each understands the other.  “One of the main pitfalls manufacturers must avoid is assuming the dealerships fully understand a new strategy, policy or process after the initial announcement.  The complexity of many of these initiatives requires conversations at multiple levels throughout the dealer organization to ensure understanding. You can never over-communicate when it comes to aligning your strategy with dealers,” Bruin said. While new technologies can make communication more efficient, the message determines which medium is best. “Any of these methodologies can be effective depending on the subject matter and time-sensitivity of the topic.  Strategic issues should always be communicated in person; tactical issues might be an in-person visit or phone conversation if appropriate; and emails, texts or other forms of social media communication are best utilized for simple information sharing,” he said.   “We have more channels of communication available today than ever before.  The challenge is to ensure we have the capability to receive all forms of inbound communication, and likewise, utilize the appropriate channels of communication to respond in a timely manner.” “Lack of communication is the primary cause of misunderstandings between dealers and manufacturers. The fix is to consistently ask for candid feedback to ensure understanding and be prepared to adjust your position if necessary,” Bruin said.

“One of the primary evolutions of the dealer-manufacturer relationship will involve total business systems integration. Integrating business systems will result in a more efficient distribution process, improved analytics to increase dealer profitability and a higher level of service to the end-user. Access to information, speed of response time, and ease of doing business with a company are as critical as product features and benefits to many customers,” Bruin said. The recession “challenged the manufacturer and dealership to collaborate in providing a more efficient supply chain to increase the value proposition to the end-user. In many cases, this was accomplished by integrating business system capabilities and incorporating process improvements,” Bruin said.   

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