We recently did a survey to marketing/sales folks in the manufacturing sector who sell through either industrial or construction distributors to see what their biggest challenges are.
From the manufacturer’s point of view, their biggest challenge is getting the distributor’s salespeople to focus on their products. Sound familiar?
Here’s another interesting note. The manufacturers biggest marketing challenge is getting in front of the ultimate end user (contractor or MRO professional).
So it seems that we are in a catch 22 scenario. Manufacturers sell through distribution for many reasons. One of the most important ones is that they have an active loyal customer base that we want to reach. The issue is how do we get more of the distributor’s salesman’s time and attention? I’ve been in this market for over 30 years and have been trying to address this on a regular basis. I feel like I’m in the movie Groundhog Day.
Here are some tips that we’ve initiated over the years that might help you:
- Training – over half of the folks we surveyed didn’t have a formal training. It’s hard to imagine anyone trying to sell something they don’t understand. While most people focus on products, don’t overlook the opportunity of how to sell and look for application opportunities when on a job site or in a plant. A good resource for training modules is BlueVolt. They focus on distributor training and focus on marketing and buying groups for the industrial/construction markets.
- Promotions – plan them well enough in advance so the distributor can incorporate it into their normal correspondence to their customers. So many times we give them too short of a lead time and we wonder why they don’t do well. SPIF programs work if they are easy to understand and manage. Note that you don’t have to have one for a promotion to be successful. What you need to do is communicate to their marketing and sales force.
- Inside Sales & Customer Service – we normally focus our efforts on the outside sales folks since those are the ones we usually ride along with. But in the real world, CSR’s and inside sales talk to 10 times as many customers a day than the outside guys. These are the people you want to train and incentivize. When taking an order, they have the ability in most cases to enter an order for the products they are most familiar with. Not often (although we’d like to think so) that someone calls in and says I want 10 Acme Widgets. They normally say I need 10 widgets and the person taking the order has the discretion of sending them yours instead.
The key is planning and communications. I’d like to hear what you’re doing to make your distributor relationships better.
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