In today’s competitive market, the process of sourcing vendors effectively to reduce costs is now only the start of the relationship-building and trust-building process. Nurturing a long-term relationship requires a foundation based on more than just price. Purchases that are based solely on price tend to be viewed with less weight within an organization or a company. When price becomes the only part of your interaction with vendors you miss out on their willingness to build your relationship and tap into other ways they can (and want to) help you sell more of their products…and make money doing it.

In other words, loyalty is a key motivator for vendors. It becomes the catalyst for nurturing relationships, building trust and creating a supportive environment. Once you get past the pricing of the products you buy, the time comes to look at the other ways your vendor can help you be successful selling their brands. A key offering is vendor training.

From a vendor’s point of view, training usually focuses on providing retailers with new ways of understanding market needs and raising awareness about new trends, while simultaneously giving them a quick start when selling new products. Further, many try to help dealers become experts on their products, resulting in a higher level of confidence among, and trust from, end users.

Over the last few weeks, I performed an informal survey of approximately 30 dealers, asking a series of questions that pertained to their attitudes as regards vendor training.

Ten percent said they simply did not have the time to speak with me. Now that I’m on the retail side of the market, I have more empathy for those dealers than I did when I was selling B2B. Frankly, I used to think they were just blowing me off. Now, I have a better understanding of their time constraints.

Ten percent were not interested in discussing this particular topic. When I dug deeper, I discovered an attitude of disgust with the overall lack of effective training provided by their mix of primary vendors.

The remaining dealers shared some insightful answers. The results of the survey show that 23 percent believe the principal reason to participate in vendor training is to take advantage of vendor-specific pricing and support benefits (such as initial-product-launch discounts or in-store presentation/display support). Nineteen percent participate in order to appear more competent in front of their customers. Sixteen percent thought that training would provide them with a better foundation to improve customer communication. Fourteen percent look to vendor training as a way of helping them improve focus on a particular model or line. Only eight percent believe that vendor training actually helps them achieve an increase in sales.

Most of these percentages fell in line with my expectations. However, the one statistic that stood out as rather surprising was that only eight percent of dealers feel that training actually helps their sales. When asked why, most replied that the training itself was generally adequate, but that, consistently, there is a lack of information provided as regards who they can contact within the organization for more detailed answers to product-centered questions.

Although the majority of retailers commented favorably about their account managers, many of them would like to have a more direct line of communication with product managers and technical staff. Today’s consumer is better informed than ever before. In fact, by the time customers actually show up on a sales floor, they have already made the decision to buy the product. The real question is from whom. The dealer who is the most informed and who’s able to build the highest level of trust wins the sale. Having access to these other information resources within the supplier’s organization is critical to helping dealers establish credibility, provide accurate answers and, ultimately, sell more.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending a regional training session provided by Yamaha. It was their 2015 Piano Pro Tour, and it was held at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare in Chicago. This was the first training session I’ve attended as Retail Sales Manager for Hartland Music, Inc., and I went into it with eyes wide open.

The first day was devoted to covering all the new models and their capabilities. It was impressive to see how technology has driven the development of new features and the ways that technology is utilized to help create more music makers.

The second day was focused on sales training. Relative to the proprietary nature of their content, I was very pleased to see how they addressed today’s shoppers and their attitudes, their buying behaviors and how they can be reached. Lastly, there was a great amount of emphasis placed on dealer Web sites and ways to improve their overall effectiveness.

Yamaha has it figured out. They understand the importance of covering both sides of the selling process: product specifications and the emotional side of buying instruments. Vendors must ensure that their training content focuses on providing retailers with ammunition to sell their products more effectively. Everyone realizes that training is an essential component of the relationship, and it’s one that requires a considerable investment from both parties.

When assessing whether to attend your next vendor-sponsored training event, make sure to keep the following key points in mind:

  • Will you get any special pricing advantages for attending the training event?
  • Will your store receive any additional display and presentation tools?
  • How will the session help your staff appear more confident in sales presentations?
  • Will the session’s content help you become more of an expert?
  • Will the vendor provide additional points of contact within the organization?
  • What type of information will be presented to address how to position products more effectively with end users
  • How can the vendor help you increase sales?

I firmly believe that every one of your vendors wants to help you become more successful selling its products. Granted, some, unlike Yamaha, might not have extensive programs in place. However, initiating conversations with your reps about other ways they can help you will have a positive impact on your relationship and, ultimately, your bottom line.

David Hall is Retail Sales Manager and Webmaster for Hartland Music, Inc., and the Waukesha County Conservatory of Music, a full-line, 15,000-square-foot, freestanding facility with more than 2,500 students per week. Contact him at david@hartlandmusic.com.

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