Walk in on a high-value Designer or Contractor and say “hey I’d like to be your lighting supplier“, what do you get most of the time?
Probably something like: “I already have a supplier and we have a relationship, we’ve been doing business together since before the invention of, like… oxygen.”
Here’s a strategy I call “Be The Dog” for overcoming the long-term-relationship barrier:
- When you visit a potential account, ask if they’re happy with their current supplier. If “yes” (which will be most of the time) say “great! can I be your backup / #2 supplier?”
- Explain that a #2 is for when they need a dog to kick. When something goes wrong (missed delivery, back order issue, items that the #1 can’t get, etc.) call the #2 and we’ll jump right to work hunting down a great solution.
Many say “yes” because it’s not threatening and it isn’t a bad idea to have a backup – most just hadn’t thought of it.
- Tell them that you’ll swing by every couple of months and see if they have any “dog” needs, but you won’t ever nag or push.
- Make regular visits – about every 2 months – and make good on your promise not to push. In time, if you’re professional, courteous, and don’t drain too much time each visit, they’ll start to see you as a relationship.
- Once they have you solve a few “dog” problems, they’re signaling that you’re in position to be a little more bold. Ask for a project or two (don’t go for the whole account just yet).
- After you’ve dazzled them on a few projects, now go ahead and ask to become the #1 and have their current supplier move to #2 (a much less threatening request than “dump your #1 to go with me”) and THEN show them the superior value you have to offer.
In my experience, this strategy works well but requires patience. Don’t rush it. If you properly set yourself up as The Dog (the #2) you have tilted the table in your favor because it’s just a matter of time before the #1 can’t deliver and you’re there to swoop in as the hero. You can bend over backwards and focus a ton of energy to solve a dog problem where the #1 can’t focus that much energy on every possible problem.
A few rounds of being the hero and you’re primed to move in as the TOP DOG!
Jason Petersen owns Hansen Lighting Inc. a lighting company with multiple showrooms in Utah.
Jason acquired Hansen Lighting out of near-bankruptcy in 2004 and turned the company around by implementing outside-the-box systems and ideas. The company is now one of the fastest growing companies in America (#3087 on the Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Companies list) and has been recognized as one of the most profitable privately-owned retailers in North America.
Jason is also the co-founder of XOLogic and Lit Living Inc.