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Collaboration Pays Off

Successful dealers are partners with their customers,and successful manufacturers are partners with their dealers. Such partnerships are the foundation of the industry and of both sales growth and training for young employees. Take the Field Service Representative (FSR) program unveiled in May 2010 at Continental Tire the Americas’ industrial tire business unit as an example.

Unlike a traditional salesperson, an FSR does not have an assigned territory. Instead, an FSR works with one dealer for up to three months, focused entirely on calling end-users to generate more business volume. Using market intelligence from the territory sales managers, Continental determines which dealerships could benefit from an FSR and develops a schedule for the FSR to work at that dealership for an agreed-upon length of time. FSRs are essentially salespeople on loan from the manufacturer whose role is to help grow the dealer’s tire business.

Benefits for Dealers
Continental FSRs have spent time at about a dozen material handling and commercial truck tire dealerships since the program began. Mostly, the FSRs work with dealers for whom industrial tires are a side business or an afterthought—someone who is dabbling in tire sales and isn’t sure of the return, or hasn’t had the time or resources to devote to this area of their business. By utilizing an FSR, dealers are able to ease into the industrial tire business without having to add staff. They have a well-trained, knowledgeable salesperson at their disposal who represents the product well and is focused solely on tires. The FSR travels with dealer salespeople and helps them add tires to their sales pitch.

Benefits for the manufacturer
As is true with most manufacturing sales representatives, industrial tire sales territories can be large, and it takes experience to learn how to manage relationships within them well. Continental sales representatives, for instance, often find that they can only spend a few days per quarter at each dealership in their territory to try and develop both business opportunities and rapport. This is where the FSR role comes into play, making it possible for the manufacturer to build better relationships with both the dealer and end-users. This position usually feeds into a territory sales position, and FSRs are well-prepared to step into that role when one becomes available.

Benefits for employee
By the nature of the position, FSRs learn a lot. Not only do they get to know the product inside and out, they also learn the dealerships inside and out. They learn the applications that dealers’ customers are using. They learn the different business models that dealers apply. Perhaps most important, they learn the issues that dealers are facing and what dealers really need from the manufacturer. It’s truly an educational experience in the industry. When they leave the FSR position, these employees have a toolbox full of knowledge they can take to their next position in the company.

Tips for implementation
The dealers must be willing to make the commitment. If they treat an FSR as simply an extra pair of hands, that’s not going to work. The dealer needs to provide adequate inside support. It all comes down to preparation. You can’t just send the FSR out for two months and expect results. Manufacturer and dealer management must sit down together and plan how to best use the FSR’s time. Encourage the dealers to come up with their own schedule and ideas. Which days will the FSRs travel? Which dealer salespeople will they travel with? How will they follow up? That’s up to the dealer, and having a structured approach will really pay off.

Obviously, there isn’t time to work with each and every dealer. But concentrating on one dealer at a time can make a big impact for both the manufacturer and the dealership. It’s a tribute to the power of partnerships in our industry.

Martin Burdorf Meet the Author
Martin Burdorf is sales manager for industrial tires Americas at Continental Tire the Americas LLC, located in Fort Mill, South Carolina, and on the Web at www.continental-industrial.com.

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association

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