Publisher's Letter
The Relationship Cycle

Edition: May 2003 - Vol 11 Number 05
Article#: 1527
Author: Repertoire

Just about everyone in our industry would agree that it’s a smart strategy for distributor sales people to identify, and then build relationships with, key manufacturer’s reps in their territories. Then why don’t all distributor salespeople focus on building these relationships?

Many times the importance of these relationships – and the business they tend to generate – gets lost in the hustle and bustle of everyday business. What’s more, corporate dictates may get in the way of some of the best relationships. And like many other things in our business, the recognition of the value of these relationships is cyclical.

Top performing distributor salespeople instinctively understand the importance of these relationships, and are quite good at forming, maintaining and growing them. Of course certain criteria exist prior to pursuing these relationships, such as product quality, pricing, margins, service, ethics of the company, quality of the rep and so on. With top distributor sales reps, these relationships are not cyclical – it’s the way they conduct their business day in and day out.

Top reps understand that if they go out of their way to learn about a manufacturer’s products and actively sell those products, they’re going to be treated differently than the reps they compete with in their territory. They want to be the ones who get the sales leads, the support and all the extra help they need to increase their sales. They also understand that when the key manufacturer’s reps are working with them, they’re not out working with their competition, or even other members of their own companies!

How do top performing reps form these relationships? By paying attention to them. It might mean a phone call to the rep at night asking for literature or paying close attention at a sales meeting, asking the rep to ride with them on sales calls (and being very well prepared for those calls), keeping the rep informed of activities and opportunities in their territories, and developing and closing business. It’s a pretty simple formula, so it’s surprising that other sales reps would overlook it.

Currently, it appears we’re in the part of the cycle where distribution is again emphasizing the importance of these relationships. That’s partly because such relationships are being stressed at the macro or corporate level, which means that even the people who aren’t in the field selling everyday still understand the importance of strong relationships with the vendor community. And when they focus on it, it becomes a priority for many more sales reps, not just the high achievers.

We’ve been to a variety of distributor sales meetings over the past month, for both the national and independent distributors, and it’s apparent that there’s once again a strong focus by distribution toward moving back to stronger relationships with manufacturers. It’s been integrated into the distributor cooperatives national sales meetings, and it’s even been a key part of a meeting held by a national distributor, who publicly stated they were looking for more low-cost ways for manufacturers to interact with their company. That’s all good news.

But the bottom line remains: Ultimately, it’s still up to the sales reps. Are they willing to step up and take the time to evaluate the manufacturers they do business with, rank them in order of importance and then spend the time and energy to create relationships? If they are, they’ll create winners on all sides and increase business in the process.