Manufacturers: Are You Missing an Opportunity to Build Better Relationships With Your Distributors?

Most of the manufacturers we deal with sell through various distribution channels. The relationships range from true partnerships to a necessary evil. Most manufacturers have missed an opportunity to build relationships by not utilizing an old technique called a distributor council. We recently did a survey to a group of manufacturers who sell through distribution and 85% of them haven’t used this marketing tool.

I think with the market changes after 2008 and the rise of social media, that some of the old traditional ways of building relationships were put on the back burner. If your goal is to build lasting relationships with key distribution partners, you might want to consider a distributor council.

The group has several purposes:

▪ Reinforce your commitment to the industry

▪ Discuss industry trends

▪ Identify ways you can better serve them

▪ Identify new product opportunities

It’s a great way to say thanks to those who have been loyal to you and a way to build loyalty with some distributors that have you on as a supplier but is splitting the business with one of your competitors. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve seen those kinds of distributors come to a meeting like this, and after hearing stories from your brand-loyal distributors on how you really bring value to the table that orders start increasing.

Here are the basic  items for you to consider for a distributor council:

  • Identify 10-12 key distributors. Ask them for a 3-year commitment (rotating 3 off each year to be replaced by new ones). Make  sure they know this just isn’t a social event.
  • Have two meetings a year. One at your facility so they can interact with other members of your team, and one somewhere nice and warm in the winter.
  • You pick up all expenses.
  • During the course of the year, if a new opportunity surfaces or you want feedback on a possible new  product, get their input.

Possible Topic Areas to cover in meetings:

1.   Product Training

▪ What kind of training are they looking for?

▪ What are other manufacturers doing?

2.   Sales Force

▪ How can they help you sell more product?

▪ How do you rate our salesmen (weak/strong points)?

3.   EDI

▪ How important is it to you?

▪ What systems are you currently working on?

▪ How many of your other manufacturers offer EDI?

4.   Marketing Support

▪ What can we do to help you sell more products?

▪ What kind of support do your other manufacturers offer?

▪ Review and evaluate marketing support we currently have.

▪ How important is the Web in your sales operation?

▪ Would you use direct mail programs targeted at end users if we supply them?

▪ What do other manufacturers do that work well for you?

5.   New Products

▪ Ideas on new products?

▪ Ideas on improvements to current products?

6.   Pricing/Service

▪ How do we stack up against the competitor?

▪ What are our strengths and weaknesses?

▪ What are our competitor’s strengths and weaknesses?

The key is to put together an action item list coming out of the meeting and get back to them on items you will be taking action on. This will show them that their input has been heard and is valuable. Let them know upfront that anything can be on the table, but that doesn’t mean that all items will be acted upon.

Distributor council meetings can be worth their weight in gold if handled properly. Have you had an opportunity to participate in any? I’d like to hear your thoughts.

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