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These days, products are only part of the equation.

Gone are the days when reps and companies were all about products and delivery. Offering the right price and a speedy delivery is a given.  The key now is being able to deliver the elusive added value. Good feelings, honesty and caring are components of added value. With the volatile economy, your customers — if you're a manufacturer — are probably having a tougher time attracting and getting their products into their customers' hands. 
 
So how do you tap into this added value and position yourself in front of your competitors? First, by recognizing that you are your product's added value. Your ability to empathize with your customers/distributors and their challenges will deliver as much value as any product in your bag. Empathy is about understanding the customers' situation and then determining how you can best help them build their business. Here are some tips to keep in mind.

Become the right partner. Do some homework. Find out exactly what challenges your customers face and have an open discussion about how to address them. Be positive. Come up with ideas to challenge them.

Know your customers. Are you throwing something against the wall and hoping it will stick — or do you really know what customers you're after? Research who they are and what will make the loyal to you.

Know Your Products. Read magazines like Fabulous Floors, Floor Focus, Floor Covering Weekly, Floor Covering News, and National Flooring Trends and don’t forget industry trade shows such as Surfaces and Coverings

Go outside the industry to look for solutions. Who also caters to your customers and what are they doing? Maybe you can come up with something new. Home Channel News is a great out-of-industry market with lots of information on the big retailers.
 
Have high ethics and morals. Being honest is one thing, but acting in an honest fashion may be different. Gossiping about the competition and their problems does not support honesty. In fact, it gives your customers an uneasy feeling. Don’t carry tales from one customer to another; give each one of your dealers the support and care that they deserve.
 
Respect your customer and how your customer runs their business. Everyone has their own way. Just because you're in the marketplace doesn't mean you know what's right. There are benchmarking standards published yearly by the World Floor Covering Association that would be helpful to your customers. Don’t forget the fiber people and their expertise on color, style and design.
 
Remember your alliance is to your industry and your company. If your company fails it won't help your customer. Do your best to help your business thrive.
 
Do a self-assessment. What do you bring to the table? What do you really know about your customer and your customer's customer? You may be a product mavin but can you convince a retail customer to buy your product? Do you know who your customers' competitors are? Have you attended a Chamber of Commerce meeting with your customer? Polish those networking skills.
 
Take advantage of classes being given for your partner. The right manufacturers are partnering with your customers by providing classes in sales, marketing and business 101. Not only should you be pushing your customers to attend these programs, but you should be attending these classes too. No one wants to go out of business.
 
Hang around in the retail store with your customer. Wait on a few customers, work a private sale, understand how their private label credit card works and how it builds business.  
 
As Ben Franklin once said, "We must all hang together or assuredly we shall all hang separately."
 

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