Building A Bridge Between Manufacturer, Distributor And End-User

Over the years, I’ve noticed that the greatest opportunities for distributors have always manifested themselves with the manufacturer’s participation in the communication process with the end-user. I’ve always viewed the relationship with the distributor as a true partnership. A true partnership demands complete trust, clear communication and fierce loyalty. A distributor needs to have a comfort level knowing that the manufacturer will never breach that loyalty. When that trust level is achieved, incredible opportunities will be unearthed. An important key to that formula is a direct communication between the manufacturer and the end-user, with the distributor acting as a conduit between the two.

The challenge in this formula has always been this:  End-users have a basic idea of what they need, the distributor knows where to get the product or the solution, and the manufacturer has the strongest knowledge relative to his own product line and/or service. Let’s face it. The distributor’s time is valuable and his or her focus is on selling multiple products. With this in mind, I personally believe that is a lot to ask. No one can really expect distributors to have every product specification or knowledge on the tips of their tongues. While there are some exceptions to this rule, by and large, the manufacturer should be willing to assist by asking the proper questions in synergy to execute a solution or product offering.

It is also beneficial for the manufacturer and distributor to work together when needed products or services don’t even exist. Simply put, the distributor can use the manufacturer’s expertise in asking the end-user probing questions, possibly resulting in a new product or service to sell that would otherwise never have existed.

Knowledge Is Power
There are several things a manufacturer needs to know from a distributor when addressing an application. First of all, what is the application? What is the customer trying to achieve? The distributor should take into account these two questions that are relevant to what he or she is trying to sell. For example, in the case of carts, some details to be provided include terrain, available space and site temperature, as hot and cold variances may impact the choice of wheels and tire treads.

Consider space requirements. Is a firewall needed? What are the local codes that must be followed? Price point is always important. What is the end-user’s price range?

Maximize The Message

There are some great tools available that easily solve the challenge of communicating with an end-user in one location, the distributor in another and the manufacturer in another. Technology provides many ways to keep the three parties on the same page.

Online Catalog with Links offers a unique way to get more than product information to the end-user. On the page highlighting our firewall trucks, a link goes directly to the specific regulations on OSHA’s website that are related to the product. This is an effective way to showcase the product line to both distributors and end-users, maximizing the message that a specific requirement must be met.

Three-Way Calling works well for the distributor salesperson who is in the field using his cell phone to communicate with the manufacturer. The three-way feature can tie all three parties together, allowing the manufacturer to match product needs in real time, thus helping the salesperson to close the sale.

Skype Video Conferencing is a free service that allows all three (or more) parties the ability to see each other on screen and speak to each other at the same time. Some smartphones have cameras with this feature.

GoToMeeting allows the manufacturer to send a link to the distributor and the end-user via e-mail. Once the link is clicked, the manufacturer can show the end-user and distributor any number of documents, product pages, photos, catalogs, PowerPoint presentations, etc. The manufacturer controls the screen while speaking on a conference call number that GoToMeeting provides, so all can hear the presentations at the same time using using his cursor to point and direct the meeting while explaining the product, solution or proposal.

Follow Up
After a product is sold, the distributor should follow up to see how that product is working. How does it perform? How does it handle the application? Does the product achieve what the end-user wanted it to achieve? If

it did not achieve the end-user’s goal, the distributor and manufacturer should find another solution. Sometimes a minor change can result in a better product for the application. For instance, we’ve learned that products used in nuclear power plants must be made to accommodate a small plank way. We discovered this after a distributor visited an end-user’s site and watched as cylinders were removed from a cart, rolled through the doorway, then attached on the other side because the cart didn’t fit through the door. The solution was easy—narrower wheels.

Examples like the above are more common than you might think, as industrial markets are not always willing to ask for help. The medical field, on the other hand, is very good at requesting assistance, perhaps because medical markets are so highly controlled. For example, when a hospital changes its line of beds, it’s very possible that the bottle holder currently in use will not work with the new bed’s design. When the distributor of the product sees the challenge and notifies the manufacturer, the containment can be redesigned quickly. This is a clear case of the end-user relying on the distributor, and the distributor relying on the manufacturer to provide a better solution. With the right knowledge and speed of return, it becomes a win for all three parties.

Partners in Sales
While knowledge is power, and with this knowledge comes closer contact with end-users, it’s important to recognize that it is not easy or even possible for the distributor to know everything about a product line. With the right relationship, the manufacturer becomes an extension of the distributor’s sales force. Why? Because there is no one better than the manufacturer who created the product to talk about that product.

This requires a high level of trust and comfort on both sides. Distributor and manufacturer must develop a level of comfort with each other that will help to build this trust and open the door to a proactive relationship. The distributor must trust that the manufacturer will not do anything with the end-user behind the distributor’s back. The manufacturer must trust that the distributor will act as a partner in product development and keep the best interests of the product in mind.

The bottom line is this: The manufacturer’s expertise is a strong resource that could be used to help the distributor close a sale with the end-user. Everyone needs to be willing to think outside of the box and ask those probing questions. We are both here for the same purpose: to find the best solution for the end-user.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association
Frank Salvucci Meet the Author
Frank S. Salvucci Jr. is vice president of Anthony Welded Products, Inc., headquartered in Bakersfield, California, and at www.anthonycarts.com.

 

The Partnership Principle