Do you think of dealers as your adversaries?
Too many contractors often think of dealers as those to avoid until something breaks down and needs replacing. But what if you saw them as true partners with the intention of helping you grow your business?
Today, I have friend and industry peer Miles Kaplanides on the show to talk about the relationship between dealers and contractors and how it can be better. He has perspectives and insights on improving the construction industry from the sales side of equipment dealerships.
In this episode of the Contractor’s Daughter podcast, you’ll learn about how strife between contractors and dealers leads to inefficiency in your business. Miles and I will also discuss the value of the perfect partnership and how that looks from both the contractor (i.e. customer) and dealership side.
2:45 – What the relationship between a contractor and dealer should look like
8:00 – The importance of knowing who your points of contact are (as the customer)
10:25 – The benefits of treating dealers like strategic partnerships and knowing all the players in each market you’re in
12:58 – How the perfect partnership plays out on the dealer side
15:32 – Why the entire value for the customer goes beyond the piece of equipment he or she needs
19:04 – How the perfect partnership plays out on the customer/contractor side
22:29 – Why going on job sites is one of the biggest ways dealers can benefit good, consistent, and loyal contractors
Mentioned In Partnering with Your Dealer to Improve Operations with Miles Kaplanides
“Giving Back and Growing Are Not Mutually Exclusive” by Jeani Ringkob | MOXY: The Voice of Women In Infrastructure
Quotes From This Episode
“We have to be in this together as a team, not just, ‘I’m the customer. You’re the dealer. I’m going to pound on you 100% of the time because I want what I want.’” – Miles Kaplanides
“The dealerships are there to solve your problem. Selling is an offshoot of solving problems and helping customers.” – Miles Kaplanides
“The piece of equipment is the product that you need, but that’s not the whole value. It’s everything else that goes with it.” – Jeani Ringkob
More Episodes of The Contractor’s Daughter Podcast You’ll Find Helpful
Jeani Ringkob: Welcome to The Contractor's Daughter, your go-to podcast for eliminating random acts of strategy and marketing in your highway construction business. Hello, friends. I'm your host, Jeani Ringkob. I'm a third-generation asphalt contractor and an absolute brand strategy and marketing geek.
Welcome to The Contractor's Daughter. I'm your host, Jeani Ringkob. Today, we are sitting down with Miles Kaplanides. He is a true friend of mine, not just a peer in the industry, someone I've known for several years, and we stay in touch because we enjoy having conversations about how to make things work better in the industry.
He comes from that sales side on the equipment dealership and I love his perspectives and insights. We are often bantering back and forth in DM messages and sharing tips, videos, information articles, and we always enjoy getting together when I am in the Denver area.
I'm actually going to share some of the great conversations that we've been having here on the podcast with you. Today, we're going to be talking about how as a contractor, you can build a partnership with your dealer to actually improve your operations, maybe even reduce costs, and really help your business grow.
Not thinking about them as an adversary, somebody that you hope you don't have to deal with, or you just don't take the time to deal with until you need something from them or something's broken down, but how could it look like if we actually had a true partnership and they were paired with us as a partner that actually had intentions about growing our business with us.
We're going to dive right in with Miles right now. Stay tuned. Make sure you're subscribed because we're actually going to be diving into a whole nother conversation in the next episode as well.
We were going to talk today about contractors and why they should actively engage with their dealers, what are some of the benefits, how do they do it, who are the right contacts, what does it really look to really partner with your dealer, and some of the benefits. Let's start there. If we have one more time, we want to go into any of these other topics, I may cut it into two episodes, but let's talk first, Miles, about contractors and their partnering with dealers.
You have a long history of business development in equipment sales in our industry. You're an incredible example of building relationships. That’s part of the reason why I enjoy talking to you is I grew up on the sales side and you really embody that relationship piece. But you have some really strong ideas so tell me, fill me in a little bit more about the contractor side and the dealer, and what that relationship should look like.
Miles Kaplanides: Yeah. What I've seen over my time is that I see contractors who honestly view the dealer as almost an adversary, someone they don't want to engage with, someone they don't want to know anything about their business. From the dealer side, what that causes is a lot of inefficiency for the dealer to support the contractor.
We get [inaudible] engage with people from these contractors and they don't ever want to talk to anybody from a company unless they are needed. Then what happens is when the contractor is down, it's very inefficient for everybody to try and get the right parts, understand what they need, understand their expectations. It causes problems on both sides with this.
Ultimately, machines are going to break. Ultimately, something's going to need it. When you don't know who to talk to or if you don't know what expectations there are from both sides of the fence, how can anybody do anything efficiently? I've watched it for 20 years and it causes strife on both sides.
The contractor is stressed out and doesn't like the dealer. The dealer is stressed out and they almost are worried about what this contractor is going to want from time to time. If the contractor, I don't care if it's a new customer coming in or a current customer wanting to engage in maybe annual pay, let's sit down and talk type situation, let's make sure where we are, what our expectations are, what our job flow is, where we're going to be for the next year.
I learned it really quickly from a really big corporate customer from [inaudible]. They came in with seven people into my store, sat down, and we had a meet and greet. They laid out their expectations of us. We explained our limitations and how things work on our side to make sure that we had a great understanding of that relationship.
It's been flawless since we had that conversation. We've had all those guys. Now they sit down all the time but I had a guy coming in and we'd sit down or we'd have a conference call or we'd have something to say, “Okay, where do we sit down? Where are we going in the next year? Here's what my expectations are,” “Hey, we have a new guy on the team. This is who you need to talk to now instead of the person who [inaudible]”
In the turnover today, it's hard to keep up with that stuff. But on the other side, when we do have those partnerships, the relationship goes better, the support goes better. We can work out situations a whole lot better. Ultimately, it allows both sides of the relationship to be more profitable and more efficient in the way they do work.
Jeani Ringkob: Right. When you say this, it reminds me of like with our fractional CMO clients, we meet with them quarterly. There's a lot of strategy work that is upfront at the beginning of that. That first quarter is really heavy as we're developing that. But when you're on an ongoing basis, we actually set up quarterly meetings and we've been busy executing for them, but we want to know what's working, what's not working, what's confusing, what's missing.
We want to look at metrics and see what's going on. We want to talk about, “Hey, are you pursuing other opportunities or do we need to help you evaluate and have an outside perspective on what maybe market opportunities are there and how you might be positioned to leverage them?” It gives them a chance every quarter.
I think in our industry, there are definitely quarters where it's much quicker and they're like, “Let's just talk about the basics.” But there's always at least one of those meetings a year where we set aside time when we get deeper into strategy and stuff like that.
When I hear you say that, it reminds me of that, and the stuff that comes up in those meetings, I may find out like they may just say something that a customer said to them, about a conversation that a salesperson had with a customer or about a need that a customer expressed to them or something like that. All of a sudden like, “Wait, there's a whole opportunity here.” If they hadn't sat down, borrowed my brain, and just gotten that scenario, it never would have come up.
Miles Kaplanides: Exactly. What I've seen is that a lot of times, a sales rep gets all the phone calls for every [inaudible] In my personal opinion, that's the wrong way to do it. The sales guy’s job is to be the representative of selling equipment. He's not the problem solver on fixing the tractor, or getting a card or whatever it is, but he's the guy or she's the lady that gets that phone call all the time. That's just inefficient on the customer side.
The customer is going to be sitting waiting for the salesman to go hand it off to somebody else to do something else for somebody else and goes down free ladders of the rain before somebody can make action happen. If you know who to call the first time and know who's going to be the person who can get it done for you, not your sales rep all the time, you're going to have a more efficient business and you're going to be happier with your dealership.
It makes sense to actually understand who you're talking to. But the bigger thing to me is almost make sure that your dealership understands what your expectations are. The dealership has to explain to you if there are parts that need to be overnighted, there are all these things that happen and there's a cause and effect to that happening.
We all have to be in this together as a team, not just, “Hey, I'm the customer, you're the dealer. I'm going to pound on you 100% of the time because I want what I want.” If you can have that open conversation, it's going to go a lot better for both sides.
Jeani Ringkob: Right. When I think back to just my years in the industry, I think that supervisors out on a cruise, out in the field, I think it would be really valuable too, and it would feel almost like a perk or an insider thing that you very intentionally knew who to call when there was a problem like that. It wasn’t the salesperson.
You knew that you were going straight to the source, straight to the person that can execute quickly, give you a yes or no, “Here's the viability, here's how long it's going to take.” I mean, that seems like a perk and a benefit, but you have to get in a situation where you can get access to that information as well.
Miles Kaplanides: Yeah. The dealership side of things to be able to give that information to somebody on who are their points of contact.
Jeani Ringkob: Yeah, I could see that would be tremendous. I mean, downtime is expensive. Every single moment we can save there but then also I'm thinking about I love that you said like having recurring meeting, and I'm always talking to clients about who are your customers, who's your competition, but also who are your partners.
I think I was lucky growing up in my family's business. A lot of the people that we did regular business with felt more like partners. But I think we could have even done a better job of that in terms of sitting down and saying, “This is an opportunity that we're thinking about pursuing next year. We're thinking about adding this type of equipment, doing x more amount of this type of work,” or something like that and getting a two-way feedback, like how can this partner help you grow your business that way instead of waiting until all your other decisions are made and just showing up to purchase an item.
Especially these days, sometimes you just can't get what you want when you want it and for years, we all thought we could. Really being a strategic partner in how you can grow your business, how you can manage breakdowns and efficiencies, have stuff on hand, calculating how quickly are you wearing through parts, all those kinds of things seems like would be benefited by this type of relationship.
Miles Kaplanides: Yeah. There are customers that say there won't be a brand than the actual brand. Why? I would think that you would want to know brand A through Z that's out in the marketplace because you never know when you're going to need somebody because your main brand does not have what you need or cannot support you.
I'm talking wear items, I'm talking parts, I’m talking service potential. It's not about just machines. It's about any part of the thing because the dealerships are there to solve your problem. Selling is an offshoot of solving problems and helping customers. Whether the car services say, “We're there to help our customers be profitable and be up and running.”
If you want to go to X and they can't do it, you better go to Y or download Z and if you don't know who you're dealing with, you got some major problems on your offset. To me, getting to know all the players in each market you're in if you're in multiple markets or in just one, it's important, because each of the dealerships have something to offer to you. It's just a matter of finding out who you need to talk to.
Jeani Ringkob: Yeah. If you could design this into a business and look at settings, what would it look like if it was a specific process that was followed with customers and dealers over and over again on repeat?
Miles Kaplanides: Which way do you want to look at, the side of the dealership?
Jeani Ringkob: Well, let's talk about the dealer side first. What would it look like for you in a perfect scenario?
Miles Kaplanides: Well, so you look at okay, so you have a new sales rep and he doesn't know [inaudible], he doesn't know who to go to. I've coached sales reps, first thing you guys do is you have to identify all your customers. The trap of sales reps is from dealerships now if they go find somebody to talk to from a customer but it's not the person that makes the decision or has any influence on anything, it's a labor, it's an operator, it's something but it's not a foreman, it’s not a decision maker, it’s not a VP, and it's not purchasing agent.
You'd have to find out who those people are and somehow get to them but also realize when you're not the right person to talk to. If they have a service department, you need to get your CSR and their customer service rep or your service manager in touch with those people. It's a long process to do.
But when it's all said and done, nothing's easy, but if you give them the information of who to talk to even if you just go and see their main service person or the person in charge of the fleet manager, and you say, “Hey, here's my service manager’s card if you need anything,” don't give them your card. Go give them your service manager’s card, go give your CSR’s card, go give your purchase manager’s card. Go get them something to say, “This is the direct line of communication if you need anything from us on the service side”
Then you go talk to their CFO, their procurement people, whatever. But you've got to figure out the right people to talk to, not just any people because you could spend so much time wasting time and a lot of your own if you just go talk to anybody you can get your hands on.
Then for the dealership, it's a waste of time, especially for the customer, they're not seeing any value in the dealership because the people who are the decision-makers, the ones that really drive their business, they're not seeing the right people from the dealership.
Jeani Ringkob: Right. Before I ask you to give it to me if you were that customer and give it to me from the outside, I want to ask the question because something you said triggered this. Before I lose it, I want to ask.
The piece of equipment is the product that you need, but that's not the whole value. That's not the whole offer really. It's everything else that goes with it. This will help us shift over to that customer side, how do you think customers typically perceive that? Do you think they understand that? What do you think are the most important things that they actually want in addition to that piece of equipment that really makes the relationship really valuable?
Miles Kaplanides: The piece of equipment to me is peace of mind that they see they do a job. What gives them the value is support of that piece of equipment, the uptime of that piece of equipment, the overall cost of that piece of equipment, and understanding those parts of it, I mean, today, we've got fuel burn, we have uptime, and we have repair costs, warranties, and all these things that we can provide. That's where the value is, is that how fast you jump on when machine breaks, what is your part’s pricing compared to the competition. How fast can you get parts in? What kinds of warranties do you have?
If you don't provide that information, the piece of equipment is a commodity. It's not anything but it is a piece of equipment they're going to use up and when they need another one, they're going to get another one because they make money with that piece.
But if you look at say a customer, like your company, your family's company in paving, when that paver goes down, and you got hot asphalt and trucks, what are you going to do to get them up and running so they don't have segregation in asphalt or have to go and just start all over again? How are you going to react to it and then how are you going to perform?
Those are the things you need to prove to your customer and show that you can do it. That's where when you have a customer that's very happy with somebody in their performance, you know what, don't be afraid to be the backup. You know what, they're happy with Brand X, Y, “Okay, well, I'm Z here. If something comes up and they can't provide it for you, give me a call.” Provide a solution that may be not available from X and Y.
Jeani Ringkob: Yeah. I love that. Do you think that customers are good about asking the right questions to understand those extra values and those things that should go along with that piece of equipment to really make the brand that sold them that equipment a partner?
Miles Kaplanides: I would say some are and some aren’t. I've seen customers be very, very comprehensive in their questions, very, very comprehensive in what they want to know, understanding the whole gamut. Then I've seen customers that all they care about is the transactional relationship of buying the piece of equipment and they don't want to know anymore.
I looked at it saying, “Okay, they're paying X amount per machine, but then the product support side, there's no conversations about it. It's only about that transaction.” If you can come up with a more comprehensive conversation, it would be more beneficial for both sides of that conversation.
Jeani Ringkob: Yeah, absolutely. That leads us to what would this perfect relationship look like if you were on that customer side, you came in, and built that? What would that look like?
Miles Kaplanides: I'm basing this on real experience. I had a customer come in. We had gotten a new lineup of equipment we're representing and the customer, we've never done business with and the VP of the company walks in and says, “I need to talk to you about doing business with you today.”
I've stopped everything I was doing. I sat down with them, talked about it, and set up a meeting within a week of everybody involved about what there was in getting things straight on who was who, what was what, and what their expectations were for that equipment.
It was that easy of him coming in saying, “I want to talk to you, guys.” I look at it saying, “Okay, if you're an owner-operator, it's a different dynamic than if you're a 500-employee company,” but if you're an owner-operator, go into your dealership and say, “Hey, I want to get to know you, guys,” guess what, dealerships love to show them their big shiny shops, all the stuff all the time.
But even if you're the medium-sized company or the large company, make sure your people are engaging with your dealerships so you can have the expectations of product support, or coming up with better ways for you as the customer, [inaudible]. Sometimes they’re very open to doing a lot of things that will keep you up and running. But it takes conversations, it takes communication between both sides to do it.
Sometimes it does take the customer's instigation to do it because the dealership is trying to support however many hundreds of customers, it does take the customer to want to talk to the dealer and come in and talk to them. It's not just a sales rep. Come into the dealership, come see what we do, and try and understand the business that we're in and how it works because we can explain a lot of things of why things happen and why things are the way they are if a customer is just to come and take the time and visit with us.
Jeani Ringkob: Right. When a customer does that and then they walk away from that, if it's done well and it's done right, what is the mindset shift that they would likely walk away with if it's done well, and it's done right in terms of how they want to interact with their equipment provider?
Miles Kaplanides: Well, if it's done well, if it's done right, I would first say that there's probably a level of understanding that wasn't there from where they walked in, obviously, I would hope there's a level of trust there that was built just by the conversations, and maybe a little bit of aha moments of “Wow, I didn't know they did that. Wow. I didn't know they could do that. I didn't know that they had that. I didn't know that they could provide that situation or that the solution to our problem.” It is really a situation of learning. What's the word, Jeani, in law? Discovery.
Jeani Ringkob: Oh, yeah.
Miles Kaplanides: It really is a time of discovery for both sides of the relationship to understand each other better, get a lot of things out on the table better, and understand things a whole lot better by just having that kind of conversation.
Jeani Ringkob: Absolutely. Do you ever find benefit or do you guys ever do this in terms of anybody from your team when opportunity arises being out on projects for good, consistent, loyal customers so you can see what their operations are like, the scenarios, and actual situations their equipment is actually operating in?
Miles Kaplanides: That's what I preach 24/7. If we don't understand their job, if we don't understand what they're doing, we're not going to solve a problem for them. We're just going to be a commodity. If we're just waiting for the phone to ring when they need that next piece of equipment, we're a commodity. But if we're out looking at a job site and looking at how things are working, what's breaking down, or whatever, we can actually provide solutions possibly they've never thought of.
It's funny with skid-steers of all things, little skid-steers, the sales rep go to job sites not to look at machines, but to look at what attachments these guys need because that can solve a problem for a guy that maybe they've never thought of. They buy one of those ones every few years, but they couldn't use it in an attachment on a job that we have that they've never thought of.
Going on job sites is probably one of the biggest things that dealers do that could benefit the customer the most. Now I know I've heard it, “God, I hate it when the guys get on the job site. I hate it when they come on.” You know what, I would ask the contractor to welcome him, show him the job, tell him what they're doing because they're there for a reason. They're not just there to get you burritos, which believe me, I know they give them plenty of burritos, but they can come up with a solution or something there to fix a problem, solve an issue, and you might not even realize it’s there.
Jeani Ringkob: Right. I think it's always having those outside eyes that are looking at stuff from a different perspective that we really find those solutions. Sounds good. We get so proprietary about stuff and we forget that we can really benefit from collaborating.
Miles Kaplanides: Yeah. All it takes is communication.
Jeani Ringkob: Thank you so much for sticking with me going through this conversation. I think this is something that's really powerful. I actually wrote an article that talked about developing a strategy from that dealer perspective and we use a hypothetical in this article that we wrote for MOXY: Women in Infrastructure.
I will link to that article in here but we actually break down all of the different elements, what that process could look like from a strategic point of view from the dealership side, how it could benefit your business, the feedback loops that you could build into it, how you could find opportunities for maybe even reoccurring revenue, and really supporting your partners in helping them grow their businesses.
If you'd like to dive into the strategy stuff, you want to think about what could these hypothetical relationships look like, how could we do it better even if we're doing it well, you might want to check out that article. We're going to include the link to it there and make sure that you are subscribed and that you are taking time. It is that time of year that we need to continue to work on our businesses.
If you have questions about strategy, marketing, what does it look like to have a fractional CMO come in and help you fill the gaps in your business, borrowing the brain of that executive strategy level to help you think through the next level of your business, make sure that you're scheduling a call. I'd love to see you on my calendar. That link is also in the episodes and you can also find that link right on the front of our webpage at storybuilt.marketing. Alright. See you soon.
Thank you so much for joining us for this episode of The Contractor's Daughter. If you liked what you heard, be sure to subscribe and review. But most of all, share this with all of your friends, partners, and customers in the highway construction business. Thank you for building the infrastructure that we all rely on.
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