Success within a manufacturing business hinges on a number of factors. A few include the value of a brand name, quality and cost of products, responsiveness to end customers’ needs, employees, and corporate structure/leadership. But even if all of these factors are driving a business in the direction of success, a weak distribution and product support system can bring it all to the ground.

A strong dealer partnership is just as important as strong engineers and product manufacturers. It can be the single advantage that brings your end users coming back for more and recommending you to their network. And a vital key in building and maintaining this relationship – communication. But what does effective communication look like?

Here are four strategies to strengthen communication with your dealers:

1. Recognize the gaps

Local dealers are long-established members of their communities and have close ties to your end customers. They know more about your end customers’ needs than you ever could. And by recognizing and embracing this level of expertise, they can become your problem solvers, market researchers and consultants.

But before you can utilize their knowledge, you need to build trust so they will share their opinions and ideas openly and honestly. To understand where their level of trust lies, you need to uncover the gaps and resolve their pain points. Survey your dealer network to understand what gaps are holding them back from trusting you and what you could do to better your relationship. Then, most importantly, make commitments to do what the majority are asking.

2. Listen and be transparent

Once you start asking dealers questions, it is crucial that you listen and take action on their responses. It is incredibly easy to lose trust and exponentially harder to rebuild it. Show them that you are not only listening to their opinions, but take a step further and incorporate dealers into your business. Transparency is the best way to build trust. Transparency with your business problems, product designs, service and field support will show dealers that you are actively problem solving with them and then actually listening for solutions.

Send them regular communication with business updates and questionnaires or surveys to gain answers to important questions. Offer your best dealers a seat at the table through a council advisory board where they meet on a semi-regular basis with top leadership.

3. Give them the right tools

Dealers play an important role in providing your end customers with a wide range of services before and after the sale. They are seen as a trusted resource for research, financing and service. Therefore, make sure you are giving them the most effective tools to help sell and support your products.

Some of these tools could be training sessions on not only new products, but existing ones as well. Find out what frequent questions or concerns dealers are getting, and offer them easy guides ways with answers. Also, provide them an education and updates on your business’s trends and new sales techniques. Give them updated tools to market your products, like POP or enhanced displays.

When a marketing piece helps draw attention to a product on the dealer floor, and product/sales training helps the salesperson understand the product’s value and answer questions just as well as one of your service technicians, and the product sells, that is a clear victory for everyone.

4. Offer them support

The relationship between a manufacturer and their dealers goes beyond a contract. Just as the manufacturer relies on a dealer to be the spokesperson for their products, the dealer depends on the manufacturer to create quality products that will support their business and keep the trust of their customers. This begins with supporting the dealer, whether it is through service technicians or making a sticky situation right with an end customer.

And support doesn’t have to be reactionary through answering questions or resolving issues. Be proactive by refreshing your dealers’ tools. You can also support their hardwork in celebrating business successes. Offer them incentives for meeting goals and gifts for dealership anniversaries.

The dealer network is a unique business advantage for many manufacturers. They are your marketplace afficianados who know your customers best, and act as your spokesperson for everyone who enters their shop. And the dealer/manufacturer partnership is like any other relationship. It requires dedication to building and maintaining trust and respect, with communication as the main vehicle. Continuing to improve on your communication with your dealer network will not only improve your relationship, but your bottom line, as well.