Appointing a distributor can provide valuable access to a market – whether a specific segment or geography as they will have well developed sales channels and customer networks. Managing distributors requires active effort on behalf of the manufacturer.
In the medical product market, distributors can be broadly categorised as either general distributors or specialist distributors.
General distributors tend to have own label products that they sell alongside branded lines, whereas specialist distributors may focus on a clinical specialty or geography and have a more focused product offering.
Accelerate Associates has conducted studies to identify distribution partners for clients and has provided marketing support to clients and their distribution partners.
When managing distributors, it is fair to say that the manufacturer-distributor relationship can be difficult as manufacturers can exert little control over their brand once a distributor has purchased stock of a product and distributors can feel like the poor relation to in-house sales teams. If distributors do not feel supported, it is unsurprising that they will naturally focus efforts on selling products where there is more support and the sales process may be easier.
Drawing on personal experience of appointing and working alongside distributors, the closer the relationship, the more fruitful it is likely to be for both parties. Certainly, treating distributors as an extension of your sales team is advisable to optimise sales effort.
Strategies for successful distributor relations can include:
- Good distributor selection – YOU appoint your distributors so select them with care. Try to find specialist distributors that focus on markets that are relevant for your business, interview them in detail to determine the size of their sales force, marketing opportunities (such as inclusion of your products in their catalogue or their online store). Also, define territories, agree expectations and targets and agree to underake an annual review.
- Product training – train your distributor sales team as if they were you own. Your distributor is likely to be selling many other brands so well-educated sales people will bring your product to the forefront of their sales effort.
- Promotional activity – remember that your products will be competing for attention against other brands carried by your distributor. Activities to generate leads to pass to distributors will help to keep distributors engaged and focussed on your product(s).
- Communication – keep your distributor up to date with the latest developments within your business and share relevant product information from new applications to user case studies.
- Marketing – distributors need customers to request a brand. Often distributors are sales orientated businesses that may have less focus or resource in marketing. Supporting your distributor with appropriate literature, web site or brochure copy is recommended. This has the added bonus of supporting your distributor whilst also controlling what is published about your brand in their marketing communications channels. Depending on your specific market, the amount of control you can exert over the use of your brand may vary from none at all through to complete conformance with your requirements so branding is something to discuss with any potential distributor.
If you are looking for new distributors or would like to better support your current distributor network, contact Accelerate today.
Philippa Bevan has over 25 years commercial and public sector experience in marketing, market research and product management spanning the education, laboratory, medical device, technology transfer and packaging industries. Philippa has a BSc (Hons) in Microbiology and Virology and is a Chartered Marketer.