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Ten Tips: Getting Better Results with Big Distributors

By: Greg Seminara, Export Solutions
Topics: Food Distributors

I admit it: I like big distributors. They feature more critical mass which allows them to invest in people and technology. Retailers and large distributors are "co-dependent", leveling the playing field. Also, big distributors get paid first during financial crisis and usually offer better multi-channel coverage and retail services. However, many small-mid size brands feel lost at a big distributors, securing mediocre results and failing to access massive distributor resources. Listed below are Export Solutions Ten Tips for "Getting Better Results with Big Distributors".

1. Develop a Personal relationship with your Distributor's CEO
Call him a few times per year. Invite him to dinner or a high profile sporting event when you are in town. Send him a good business book. Stay top of mind.

2. Focus on 2-3 Priorities
Provide a limited number of specific, measurable objectives that are critical to the delivery of your annual business plan. Many companies bombard their partners with a myriad of priorities, forms, and requests diluting focus. Instead position communication, reporting, and activities in context of the 2-3 tasks that must happen.

3. Invest in Distributor Sponsored Events
Large distributors offer the possibility of co-promotion with their other brands.
frequently a mid size brand may be able to gain promotional activity at a reduced cost due to the scale of their distributor partner.

4.Evaluate your Distributor Brand Manager
Your distributor brand manager is your primary point of contact. If your business is not growing , this could signal a need for a change in brand manager. Two scenario's exist. In some cases, you may have a senior brand manager, with too many brands and no time for you. In these case, may be better to shift to a junior brand manager with more bandwith. In other cases, your contact may be too junior, with limited organizational clout to get things done. In this example, you may fare better by changing to a more veteran brand manager.

5. Spend time with the Field Representatives
I am an advocate of escaping distributor conference rooms for the hustle of the stores. Spend time with the sales representatives visiting their customers and stores. The field team is frequently ignored by export managers, but serve as the engine of the distributor. Take them to lunch, listen to their problems, understand their business, give them a gift with your company logo and they will be your dedicated warriors for life.

6. CEO Market Visit
Invite your CEO or other senior executives to visit the market. Distributor CEO's love to " rub elbows" and solve the world's problems together. You'd be surprised at the number of market issues that will disappear in advance of your CEO visit. It's also a good idea to invite your technical experts in information technology or supply chain to visit. Big distributors love to learn best practices from their overseas suppliers.

7. Create a Distributor Advisory Council
Invite a select group of large distributor CEO's to advise your company on international development. Meet twice per year a year, with at least one event at a resort location. This allows your large distributors to build relationships with your senior team in an intimate setting. All members of your Distributor Advisory Council will achieve their annual objectives !

 

8. Sales Contest
Create some excitement with a sales contest for the entire distributor team.Make it fun and structure it to maximize winners. Find a way to include all the "non-sales" people if you can.

9. VIP Visit to Corporate Headquarters
Treat your distributor as a VIP at your corporate office. This trip creates a memorable bonding experience and a chance for you to serve as a good host. Take the distributor to a new product development laboratory and organize a meal with your CEO or executive officers. Make him feel like a member of the family.

10. Distributor Awards
Recognize your high performing distributors with an award.
This could be Distributor of the Year or for achievement of $1 million in sales or for 15 years of partnership. Some companies sponsor smaller awards for key account manager of the year in each market and retail representative of the year. Publicize the event by awarding a plaque, hold an awards luncheon, take photos and share a press release of the celebration.

In most cases , large distributors have achieved scale through years of hard work and success. Most suppliers maintain a mix of large and smaller distributors. Veteran export managers will confirm that good results are possible with distributor organizations of any size. The key is to align yourself with a committed partner who loves your brand and is delivering shipment growth consistent with overall market trends.