Making The Consultant Connection
Despite the need to grow sales in an overcrowded market, a surprising number of foodservice equipment manufacturers still have not figured out how to build mutually beneficial, long-lasting relationships with specifying consultants. Almost every equipment maker has established solid and productive communication channels with other members of the E&S distribution channel, but for most factories gaining the support and trust of specifiers continues to be a mystery. This needn’t be the case.
Consultants typically rely on reps to keep them informed about equipment manufacturers’ products, prices and strategies. This works out well when reps are well-informed, motivated and adept at problem solving. Even then, however, factories remain one step removed from the consultants themselves and if a rep relationship goes bad or is terminated, the factory is back to square one. There are several ways to overcome this problem.
Perhaps the approach that has grown fastest in popularity among equipment makers is sponsoring FCSI-approved continuing education programs. Inviting a group of specifying consultants to a factory, rep’s test kitchen or a restaurant equipped with a manufacturer’s products where specifiers can earn a percentage of their mandated annual continuing education units can provide several collateral advantages. Personal relationships can be created between factory personnel and attending consultants, and specifiers have the chance to view the equipment in action or during assembly, increasing their understanding of products features and applications. In addition, manufacturers can make use of the interludes between generic product education sessions to make presentations on their own models’ newest options and comparative benefits.
The very popularity of these continuing education programs has raised another difficulty – there are only a relative handful of specifying consultants in the U.S. (just a few hundred) and not all of these are FCSI members. That’s why it can be useful for equipment makers to form consultant advisory groups by inviting several specifiers to meet with factory personnel at periodic intervals and offer input on product improvement, R&D, service support and marketing. Such advisory groups have the potential to make equipment manufacturers more cognizant of consultants’ concerns and expectations, while helping specifiers develop a vested interest in a maker’s products. And, today, win-win scenarios such as this are more valuable than ever.