Making The Switch


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When a brand gains customers, most often, they are switching from one brand to another. Keeping customer needs front-and-center is the best way distributor sales representatives (DSRs) can provide service during this transition.

Supply and demand
The number one reason customers switch brands is due to backorders, says Eric Rothe, program development sales representative in Texas for Micro Technologies. Lack of adequate supply forces customers to evaluate other options.

From there, Rothe lets the customer follow one of three common paths: round up existing supply to extend the customer’s stock; outline equivalent product options; or suggest new products.

“If we’re given ample notice, and there’s still some supply out there, we’ll do what we can to keep the customer stocked,” he says.

If the customer wants to compare similar products, Rothe offers options that align with the most important need, which can be price or efficacy or administration. Opening the discussion to completely different products allows more flexibility.

“We have eyes and ears on the ground every day,” he says. “We can offer suggestions on what other customers are doing and what is working best for their operation. Our customers value our opinion on those matters.”

Customers typically want something similar to what is on backorder, says Joel Boschma, territory manager in Idaho with MWI Animal Health. However, it’s important not to jump to that conclusion.

“Present them with everything,” Boschma advises. “I’m not going to present them with what I want them to buy. You’re going to experience long-term success and loyalty if you give the customer as much help as possible. Help them through the process. A positive experience is the best relationship building opportunity with the customer.”

Boschma owns a 2,000-cow dairy himself, which informs his experiences with products. Even his firsthand experience is carefully framed to the customer.

“I make it a point to mention that it’s only my opinion, so I’m not coming across as influencing their decision. Every customer is different. Maybe a product hasn’t worked so well for me, but it worked great for another customer I have respect for. Every situation is different and every customer is different.”

A change in price is another common reason customers want to make a switch. Sometimes Rothe notes these are knee-jerk reactions to regular price increases. Of course, no customer wants to sacrifice efficacy for a less expensive product.

“In some cases, you may have a customer that wants something cheaper, but if it’s not saving cattle it just becomes more expensive in the long run,” he says.

A customer’s comfort level with a product can negate a price difference, Boschma adds.

“Some people will continue to use a more expensive product because they are comfortable with it. With other people, it just doesn’t matter to them at all. For pricing questions, I just hit the high points and leave the decision up to the customer entirely.”

Early adopters
Once in a while, a product comes along that is a “game changer.” With “game changers,” customers may be interested but slow to adopt new technology. In these cases, Boschma emphasizes a trial period over using the product throughout the herd.

“Sometimes people just need time to get comfortable with it, to understand it,” he says. “It’s our role to help them through that process. If it’s a product that you believe can really help them, it’s important to make sure each one of your customers understand. If they are hesitant, I encourage them to try a little and see if it works.”

Participating in manufacturer meetings is a key step in being prepared to answer any customer questions – but especially when considering product changes, Rothe says.

“For new products, I have to pass on what we’ve been educated about in manufacturer meetings. Then, explain to my customers what the benefits are, what the cost efficiency is – or what it may be. At that time, it’s up to them to decide if they want to be a pioneer.”

Switching teams
The DSRs’ first concern is always the customer, Rothe says. However, he considers it a professional courtesy to give manufacturer reps a heads-up when customers may be considering a brand switch due to a negative experience.

“Sometimes, I may call up a manufacturer rep and let him know a particular customer has concerns, and it may be in their best interest to visit with them and try to work out any issues,” he says. “About 70 percent of the time, when a customer has their mind made up, they are going to switch, and it’s going to be hard to sway them in another direction.”

The bottom-line for product choice is a positive customer experience. No matter what the brand or pricing, the product simply must perform.

“At the end of the day, a producer has to use the product that works best for them,” Rothe says. “Other factors that come into play are going to take a secondary role. If the product isn’t effective, pricing and availability aren’t an issue anyway.”