Relationships Count

The right ingredients go far to make the Manufacturer/Distributor relationship work.

80a_partneringI have been fortunate to be on both sides of the Manufacturer/Distributor relationship, witnessing first hand what makes this dynamic relationship work. With this knowledge, I encourage everyone to build a stronger alliance with your Manufacturer/Distributor partners. Whether your product is welding or gas related, the process of marketing and selling will definitely benefit if there is a good relationship between both parties.

It is important to understand that there are two sides to every story. The Manufacturer makes the product, and the Distributor sells it. Sounds simple, right? Wrong. They each may have their own agenda and individual set of goals. Success happens when these agendas and goals are designed to work in unison.

For every success story, certain ingredients are always present. Below are some of the successful ingredients that make for a winning Manufacturer/Distributor partnership.

Map Out a Marketing Strategy
Both the Manufacturer and the Distributor should sit down and discuss their individual market needs. The more you understand each other, the easier it is to work together. An annual Manufacturer/Distributor meeting is a great way to identify the products best suited for your market, lay out a game plan and ultimately maximize sales.

Sales Meeting
An open forum sales meeting is a great opportunity for a Manufacturer to educate the Distributor’s sales team about the entire portfolio of products that are available. You’ll be surprised at the opportunities that will open up as you discuss products and applications. Quite often, niche products go undiscovered because the Distributor was unaware of product availability. A sales meeting is the perfect time to unveil these hidden opportunities and outline a sales plan for the future.

The best way to improve sales is through training. I’ve attended dozens of training classes and no matter how smart I may think I am, I always learn something new. A well-structured training program begins with the basics and progressively leads to a more advanced knowledge of the equipment and/or process. The more you know, the more you sell. Most manufacturers offer training, and you should take advantage of it. Each training class you attend will add another arrow to your sales quiver.

If you are an old pro at this, consider a training class on a specific product, application or subject. Promote sharing information with your coworkers. The new members of your sales team can benefit from the knowledge shared by the seasoned members of your sales staff. If someone were to ask me what I like best about the welding and gases industry, my answer would be short and simple: I never stop learning.

Joint Sales Calls
Having a good Manufacturer/Distributor relationship means working together to win business. Larger customers appreciate the technical expertise and depth that can be gained from a Manufacturer’s visit. Also, there are situations that are better addressed by the Manufacturer than the Distributor. New opportunities often present themselves that the Manufacturer may spot. The Distributor gains credibility by helping the customer and making the sale. Joint sales calls can be a win/win for both parties.

Visit the Manufacturer
One of the best ways to educate a Distributor about the Manufacturer’s capabilities is to arrange for a visit to the factory. I’ve been fortunate to visit filler metal, welding equipment and gas apparatus plants all over the United States. During each visit, I always learn something new. I’ll never forget a visit to a filler metal facility. I soon realized how much I did not know about this process, from the way the wire is drawn to the flux mixture and extrusion process. Seeing it first hand really opened up my eyes and made sense of it all. I highly recommend that salespeople visit each of their major manufacturers’ production facilities. Get to know the staff and reliable sources of technical know-how. They may come in handy down the road.

Every successful relationship is built upon trust, and trust is a two-way street. It is crucial that both parties, Manufacturer and Distributor, work together to communicate their sales strategies and expectations within a given market. This exchange of information can be beneficial toward preventing any future misunderstandings, and ultimately will build a stronger relationship.

At the end of the day, the #1 product you are selling is “you.” Your ability to present a product in a manner that creates the need will have a direct effect on your ability to succeed. The better you know your product, the more information you can share. A professional salesperson will focus on the customer’s needs, and point out those features that best suit the customer’s individual needs. I like to call it hitting their “hot button.” You never know which feature is going to resonate. This is why you need to know as much as possible about the products you sell. It is in the Manufacturer’s best interest to share this knowledge with their Distributor.

Nothing strains a relationship more than problems. Dependant upon how big the problem may be, the Manufacturer/Distributor relationship is put to the test when a problem arises. The best thing a Distributor can do is communicate the problem clearly to the Manufacturer as soon as possible. The best thing the Manufacturer can do is to support the Distributor. With the right amount of Manufacturing support, the Distributor can effectively defuse almost any problem.

Sales Collateral Information
Every Distributor should have a current supply of sales collateral and engineering data to support their sales efforts. This information should be accessible to those who may need it. The Manufacturer can be instrumental in updating this library of technical information, as well as supplying samples to support their products.

Recipe for Success
A strong Manufacturer/Distributor relationship is behind every successful business. If you haven’t done so already, contact your Manufacturer or Distributor salesperson and set up a meeting. Together, plan out a schedule of sales meetings and training classes that will enhance the knowledge of your sales team.

The recipe for success includes a combination of ingredients, some of which are listed above. When mixed properly, the Manufacturer/Distributor relationship is capable of producing amazing results.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association
80b_kirkpatrick Meet the Author
Patrick Kirk is marketing manager-engineered products at Unisource Manufacturing Inc., located in Portland, Oregon, and on the Web at Kirk’s first job in the industry was as a driver for an independent welding distributorship. He worked his way up through sales at three distributorships before becoming western regional marketing manager of shielding gases at BOC, a job he held for 26 years.