During my three decades of work in the industry, I consistently observe flaws in the planning and execution of joint “ride-alongs” between vendor and dealer sales representatives. The dealer typically is expected to schedule a day of sales calls and allow the vendor rep to ride along and provide technical support.

This scenario plays out frequently and often leaves the dealer salesperson feeling used. I know I used to feel that way. I reached a point at which I told my manager that I wouldn’t ride with a vendor rep. I felt they were simply reading the literature and, because I’m an avid student of products and not too slow on my feet, I felt I could do as well presenting as the vendors, if not better.

There is a tacit understanding that vendor reps possess superior product knowledge and therefore are worthy of a mild form of celebrity status. The problem is that vendor reps don’t make their living by dealing with the pressure of daily price negotiations, scheduling challenges, and the competition of numerous suppliers selling the same brand … of the vendor you’re traveling with!

I have some very strong opinions about the protocols for a joint sales call. Here they are.

  1. Know the product: I’ve worked as a manufacturer salesman and a dealer rep. I’ve also sold in the home. One thing I have learned is that product knowledge is your responsibility. If you feel that you need a vendor rep to ride along with you to supply technical product support, then you’re risking your credibility. Product knowledge is not the same as presentation skill. Read product literature to gain the technical knowledge necessary to influence decision makers.
  2. Make appointments: A pet peeve of mine is the vendor rep who expects to ride along with the dealer salesperson who lines up a day of meetings. The vendor rep should earn the right to ride along by scheduling some of those meetings. Ideally, the vendor rep should be contacting the dealer to invite the dealer on sales calls, not asking to ride along with the dealer. The dealer is the customer. The vendor should bring value to the customer. Product knowledge is minimal value; sales leads are maximum value. Hold vendor reps accountable for maximum sales service and value.
  3. Switch roles: Let’s assume we’ve gotten past my pet peeves and two salespeople—vendor and dealer reps—are on a joint sales call. Here is your chance to change the game. Everybody expects the vendor rep to talk about the product while the dealer rep will talk about delivery, pricing, and service. I recommend the reverse. Properly executed joint sales calls begin when both salespeople contribute to the scheduling of the day. They take shape when each salesperson is capable of presenting the other salesperson’s value.

In sales training parlance, we call that the “higher authority.” Strive to work with sales partners who can present your products and services as well (or better) than you can. This will change the impact of your ride-alongs and the nature of your vendor-dealer relationships.
—Rick Davis is the president of Building Leaders, a training organization devoted exclusively to the sale of building materials. His latest book, The Sales Secret, is now available. To order it, go to buildingleaders.com, call 773.769.4409, or contact Rick at rickdavis@buildingleaders.com