Wherever you are right now I want you to stop, close your eyes and think really hard. Do you know if the front door to your business is open? If you want to know for sure, call a rep.
For the dealers and distributors in my territory, I know the answer – and I don’t even need to close my eyes. As I sit here tapping away on my keyboard, I can tell you if their business door is open to me. I don’t have to drive there, look through their front window or tug at the door. Trust me. There are no supernatural anomalies or crystal balls hanging around my office. I can tell with the utmost certainty whether the door is open or closed because of past dealings and their reputation in the industry.
I’m not unique; every good rep knows what I know. It is our job to recognize where the best opportunities are and where it is best for us, and the suppliers that we represent, to aim to do business. It’s also our job to know where we are wasting our time.
Most people and businesses in our industry are engaging and welcome the knowledge, the products and the networking that reps bring to their companies. Their doors are open to reps because they seek out relationships within the industry that have the potential to better their organizations. They understand that reps are walking through their doors with more than just a new product tucked under their arm.
Don’t get me wrong; selling product is the foremost reason that a rep calls on you. Selling feeds your family and feeds mine, too. However, there is much more to benefit from maintaining open communication with reps.
I consider the basic exchange of information to be the prime reason for having an open door policy. The rep knocking at your door is most likely exposed to markets and businesses outside of your own. Taking the time to share a conversation and hear what’s happening in other places allows you to collect data that may be important to your business.
Maybe a rep will share an experience, an idea or a bit of information that you can use to advance your company. When I sit down with a dealer/distributor, my conversations often veer to tangential subjects. I end up discussing new technologies that I have seen in the field or news about industry players. Accounting, IT, human resources, marketing and other subjects usually end up intertwined in my product discussion. These are opportunities for both you and me to possibly uncover small treasures in shared knowledge.
I regularly rely on relationships within the industry to exchange information. I reach out to those that are open to me and they do likewise.
Though it sounds odd, the people I connect with are not always the ones I sell product to. I have strong links to dealers/distributors that have never bought a penny’s worth of product from me, but their doors are always open and I take opportunities to walk through them. Why? I do this because the exchange of information is good for all of us. I still strive to make them a customer one day, but until we find the right fit of product and need, I am more than happy to share the benefits of the informational exchange.
Open doors lead to opened opportunities, and being open to this exchange by welcoming reps into your business is true networking. We would all agree that networking is crucial for business in general, but we need to be more focused and realize how important it is to our own businesses.
We search for opportunities to network, we participate in industry associations, we dedicate time to functions and we attend trade shows and seminars to accomplish this. When you truly think about it, reps are bringing this benefit right to your front door. All you have to do is leave it open.
If networking and the exchange of information are not enough reason for you to leave your door open, the necessity of staying current regarding products and suppliers should be. Knowing what you are competing against is every bit as important as knowing what you are selling. So, even if your needs do not match the rep’s wares, your door should still be open. There could be a bonus if that rep walks through your door with precisely the product that meets your need. If your door is closed, so is the opportunity. Dealers/distributors who close their doors to reps don’t just lock reps out, they lock themselves in.
Unfortunately, some people and organizations do not have open doors to reps and miss out on countless opportunities as a result. As a rep, I know who they are and I avoid them.
I could be representing the greatest product ever, but I am not going to waste my time or my supplier’s time knocking on their door first; I am making a bee-line to their competitor. I will walk through the open doors over and over again before I get around to banging on the closed ones. The open-door companies hold the advantage of the first shot at new information, networking opportunities and products from me and the other reps in the field.
Just last week I was having a conversation with a couple of dealers and another rep at an event. As we were talking, the principal of a large local distributor paused next to me. I shook his hand and shared a few pleasant words before he continued on.
After a long pause, the other rep at my table raised a quizzical eyebrow and asked “What do you sell to him?” I smiled and answered, “Absolutely nothing.” I did not need to say any more, because the distributor’s reputation was well known as not having time for reps and, even worse in our eyes, as one that worked to eliminate reps from the supply chain. Without having to expand on it verbally, we both knew that his business was the last one that we would call on.
In reality, that distributor having a closed door to reps, and in turn reps like me feeling too discouraged to even try, is bad for everyone. We are both missing untold opportunities, and it is a shame because it has a negative effect on all of our businesses.
Keep in mind, too, that your door being closed may not be a conscious decision. Ambivalence and lack of time can keep it shut just as easily.
Open doors mean being open to opportunity. Check and make sure that you have a welcome mat in front of your door for informational exchange, networking and new products and ideas.
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This article originally appeared in Kitchen and Bath Design News 4/2008