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Ten Tips: Connect with Distributor's CEO

By: Greg Seminara, Export Solutions
Topics: Distributor CEO

Many exporters spend 80% of their interaction with their "brand manager " at a distributor.  Contacts with the CEO or managing director may be limited to a 30 minute meeting during a market visit or a phone call when something goes wrong. Brand managers represent the day to day master of details for your business. However the CEO controls the purse strings, strategic direction and resource allocation for the distributor's stretched sales team. Creating a good personal relationship with the distributors leadership  is critical to sourcing attention for your brands priorities. Export Solutions shares our Ten Tips to develop a good relationship with the distributors CEO or senior decision maker.

1.Quarterly Phone Meeting
Check in at least every three months to establish regular dialogue, not just when a problem erupts.
Phone topics can be strategic as well as tactical. CEO 's love to share perspective on their outlook on the retail business in their country, successful programs being executed by other brands, and planned capital investments in distributors infrastructure and organization. Your agenda is to leave the owner with a clear message on the overall state of your business and 1-2 top priorities to meet budget expectations.

2. Form Distributor Advisory Council
Create a small, elite, advisory board of several of your distributor CEO's. Meet two times per year, once in a resort location and another time at your corporate headquarters. Meetings could include outside speakers and access to senior industry leaders. Establish a two year term, with rotating membership.
Other distributors should view it as an honor to be invited to be on your distributor advisory council.

3.LinkedIn

Are you LinkedIn with your Distributor's CEO ? LinkedIn counts almost 500 million participants worldwide. A LinkedIn relationship keeps your name "active" in the owners bandwith. LinkedIn connections see your updates, activities, and news. A well managed LinkedIn profile allows you to share articles and insights to your network. Over time, this will allow you to learn more about the distributor CEO and vice versa. Reminder: Distributors get nervous when they see their competition listed as a new LinkedIn contact for you !  Any distributor managing director not on LinkedIn may be "old school" or failing to network very hard which in itself is an important insight.

4. Meet your CEO
Distributors love to conduct "top to top" meetings with your company CEO or leadership team.
Invite your CEO to visit a market and request the distributor owners full participation. It will be amazing to see the market issues that get solved prior to the arrival of your CEO.

5. Speaking Invitation

Distributor executives can share broad perspectives on industry observations sourced from a variety of suppliers. Most would be flattered by an invitation to speak at your company's annual sales meeting or local industry conference. Suggested topics are the distributors own success story, trends and innovation or another area where the distributor has demonstrated a unique capability. Organizing and hosting the speaker normally requires significant interaction on speaking topic and logistics supplying further personalized contact opportunities.

6.  World Cup, Wimbledon, or World Series
Every country has a "hot ticket" for a big sporting event. Many brands have sponsorship relationships for local teams. Find out the CEO's favorite sport or pursuit and find a way to connect. Some CEO's may appreciate an invitation to the opera or a rock concert more than a Formula One race. Make sure that it is a VIP experience, as a poor seat can breed disappointment.

7. Ask for Advice
Company CEO's love to provide feedback.  Share with them prototypes for a new product or advertising campaign. Seek to benchmark with the distributors other non compete brands. Ask for examples of other companies that they represent who serve as "Best in Class" in supply chain, information technology, or other functional areas.

8.Factory Tour

A well executed visit to your production facility represents a perfect opportunity to demonstrate your category leadership and commitment to quality. Couple the factory tour with a meeting with your Research and Development team to impress the distributor  with your plans for the future. Finish the day with a dinner with your company president or other senior executive from your team. This will provide an excellent opportunity for you to serve as a "host" and create lasting impressions of your brand beyond numbers on a price list.

9. Annual Tradition
Create an annual event where the distributors CEO  always participates. This could be an invitation to your companies annual meeting or an activity linked to your brands big promotion or peak seasonality.
It is a normal request to have the CEO's full attention for one day per year.

10. Dinner & Golf
Golf still represents a great 5 hour bonding experience. Invite the distributor to  play at a famous course in your country. Dinner at a first class restaurant with the CEO and their spouse may be a treat.

A personal relationship with the distributor CEO is good for both parties. This eases business problem solving and sends a message to the distributor organization that you have open channels to top management. In times of career turbulence, distributor CEO's can be great references for your job search.