Nearly every business owner talks about wanting to be partners with their customers and suppliers. Thomas Nestor, founder of Leadership Today, said partnerships are important because they meet our needs for certainty, variety, significance, connection, growth and giving.

Speaking at Heavy Duty Aftermarket Week in Las Vegas, Nestor told HDT that to build a partnership you need to have a system of communication and trust. “Trust is the one common thing that if removed destroys everything,” he explained. “With trust, there is no hidden agenda. Trust is a function of what we do and how we do it.”

Nestor issued this call to action to meeting attendees who want to build partnerships:

  • Talk straight
  • Right wrongs
  • Delver results
  • Clarify expectations and verify
  • Keep your commitments

The most important factor in choosing someone to partner with, according to Nestor, is understanding their belief systems and values to see if they mesh with yours.

When asked by an audience member if partnerships are 50-50 in terms of effort put into them, Nestor said, “You each need to give 100% for them to work.”

Following Nestor’s presentation, a panel of suppliers and distributors talked about their successful partnerships.  Walt Sherbourne of Dayton Parts said partnerships depend on the little things like answering the phone when the customer calls.

Ed Neely of Truck Supply Company, encouraged attendees to have their suppliers spend time with people on your staff so the team gets comfortable with them.

When asked if cost of products was important in partnering decisions Neely said the quality of the product is what mattered first. Sherbourne added, “There will always be someone with a lower price. You need to focus on delivering value. Price is a concern but it should be the last thing you talk about.”

In choosing a partner Neely said he looks at how they back up their products. “I have to assure my customers that the products I sell them will perform.”

Sean Ryan of Point Spring & Driveshaft said he looks at the training his suppliers can provide to his sales staff.

Carl Mesker of SAF-Holland, said when his firm is selecting a partner they look at the potential partner’s relationship with the end customer. “Those are our mutual customers so we need to make sure they are taken care of.”

He also said that while technology has changed the way people communicate, “There still needs to be trust between the parties. It is about more than the product.” 

Neely offered this tip for how to maintain a relationship with a partner. “Don’t assume the sales rep is your only contact.” He advised companies to get to know people in the partner’s organization.

You need to be prepared for the fact that people are going to leave an organization, Ryan added. “You have to go with the flow. Make sure you have made as many contacts as you can within an organization because at some point someone you’ve been in contact with is going to leave.”

When negotiating with a partner Neely said you need to focus on cost per mile not just price and Sherbourne said that you need to look at the support behind the product. “The sale is not the end of the transaction,” he reminded audience members.

Ryan added that price does not always come up in a discussion “if you can provide knowledge, customers don't necessarily ask about price.”

Mesker said if price becomes an issue it usually means that you did not get all the answers from the customer about his business to be able to meet his needs.

About the author
Denise Rondini

Denise Rondini

Aftermarket Contributing Editor

A respected freelance writer, Denise Rondini has covered the aftermarket and dealer parts and service issues for decades. She now writes regularly about those issues exclusively for Heavy Duty Trucking, with information and insight to help fleet managers make smart parts and service decisions, through a monthly column and maintenance features.

View Bio