Manufacturers: Tips on Getting More of Your Distributors Time

We 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 guysThese 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.

If you like this post, you might want to read:

Trends in Distribution and What it Means to the Distributor/Supplier Relationship.

Podcast: Manufacturers and Distributors – What are you Doing to stay Relevant? New rules of Engagement

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Podcast: Why Online Training Gives You the Edge

I caught up with Lisa Bordeaux from BlueVolt recently to talk about the importance of using online training. Everyone is looking for ROI. 

BlueVolt provides online training centers for manufacturers, distributors, buying groups and trade associations. They have delivered more than 1 million courses to date. They have been a strategic partner of ours for over 5 years and have helped several of our clients in this area.

Lisa explains the differences of why Manufacturers and Distributors use it and why their reasons are different. She also talks about the different ways to learn – Observations, Conferences, Classroom and Self-Study.

Here are a few highlights:

Training – It’s not on fire (easy to push out) – but in our customers’ experience – it’s one of the most significant things you can do for the bottom line. We have customers telling us certified people are outpacing their industry averages by 16-24% YOY. Not sure what other efforts have that impact.

Training – get it as close to the guy as possible – usually folks have 10 minutes in the afternoon to learn something – our buying group customers – say their member employees spent the ten minutes surfing a supplier site for product information – but by bringing it all in one place and putting the incentives on it, like we do – they spend the 10 minutes becoming better sellers – and that’s time well spent.

Enjoy. Listen here.

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Free Online Training Webinar: Learn How You Can Launch a Course in Under a Week

Are you looking for a repeatable way to provide training to your customers so your sales people can focus on selling?

Explore options for online training, best practices, what not to do and how you can launch a course in under a week. The presenter, Lisa Bordeaux from Bluevolt, a leading online training source for suppliers, distributors and end users, will be our presenter.

Join us to learn more about how manufacturers are developing product training courses that educate people on their products and building product experts in the field.

Our research shows that Distributor sales people recommend products to customers 2-5 times per day. They recommend what they know and most of the products they sell they have never seen in application. Learn how others are bringing those products to life online and making it easier to educate and market to the channel with partners, buying groups, customers and others.


Tuesday, December 7th, 2-3 PM EST. Registration is closed.


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New Product Launches: Don’t Overlook Your Distributor Partners

Many manufacturers are so focused on the features and benefits of their new product that they sometimes forget about educating and motivating their distributors to insure a successful launch.

Distribution is a key link in the launch and if your distribution isn’t on board or even understands what or where this product fits into your overall strategy, it’s going to be hard for them to sell. Let’s face it, especially in today’s economy, a distributor needs to understand why he should invest in inventory of this new widget.

Here are some tips to help make sure your distribution is on board:

  • Give them plenty of notice – They need to know 45-60 days in advance so they can get the new SKUs into the system, onto the promotion calendar and most importantly, get you that initial stocking order.
  • Incentivize the initial stocking order – Give them an additional discount on that first order or give them extended dating or waive your minimum order requirements. The key here is to make sure they have your product on the shelf so when the contractor comes in and asks for it, they have it.
  • Train/educate distributor sales force – It’s an important step in the process that’s often overlooked. Many manufacturers assume they understand the big picture, and most of the time, it’s not the case. With time and travel expenses being what they are, traditional things like lunch-and-learns may not be the best way to introduce the new product. You might want to use an online training tool like BlueVolt that can both train, verify and motivate the sales team.
  • SPIF sales – For at least the first 3 months, put some sort of incentive on the product to get the sales folks excited. Put yourself in their shoes. Most distributors carry anywhere from 15,000-25,000 different items. Which ones do you think they will be talking about? And oh by the way, don’t overlook those inside and CSRs. They have 5-7 times the number of contacts with customers everyday and can talk up new products and create add-on sales (do you want fries with that?)
  • Make key end user calls – This seems like a no-brainer, and while you the manufacturer might be making those calls, you don’t always include the distributor in them. Chances are that key potential for you is already a key customer for the distributor. He can make sure you get in front of the right people and brings a relationship to the table.

These are some simple ways to insure your new product launch is successful.

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Distributor Survey Shows Online Training from Manufacturers Helps Them to Recommend and Sell More Products

If you’re a manufacturer who sells through a distribution channel, you need to think about training. A recent survey by BlueVolt indicates that distributors who are trained online recommend and sell more.

It makes sense – most distributors stock over 20,000 items and it’s impossible for them to know about each one of them. It stands to reason if they feel comfortable about a product, it makes it easy for them to recommend it.

Think beyond new product launches as well. Look at some of your core product that might be considered by the end user as a commodity. What better way to differentiate your product from the pack than by training the people who have influence over what users buy?

And what’s more interesting is that these folks are requesting online training mentioning manufacturers by name. Talk about an opportunity! You need to think of training as a selling tool, not a marketing expense.

About the study:
BlueVolt, starting in the fall of 2009, sent out a survey to employees of distributors who took online training within the major buying groups and associations. Among the industries covered were Electrical, Plumbing, HVAC, PVC, Construction, Industrial and Flooring. Job titles included sales (inside and out), counter people and CSRs, to name a few. A total of 1291 surveys were sent out and 1210 were returned for a 94% return rate. The respondents were given the opportunity beyond just answering the questionnarie to identify, by name, those manufacturers they wanted more training from.

Regarding increasing sales and improving customer service:
– 81% said that they sell more as a result of learning through BlueVolt
– 94% said their customers rely on them to recommend products or manufacturers
– 89% said that they service their customers better as a result of online training from BlueVolt
– 63% said they recommend products at least once a day
– 57% said they recommend products 2-5 plus times a day

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Here are other posts that might be of interest to you:

Use Online Training to Educate Tradesmen Part 1

Use Online Training to Educate Tradesmen Part 2

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