The Distributor Rep’s Playbook

Edition: September 2013 - Vol 21 Number 09
Article#: 4319
Author: Dave Kahle

Selling for a distributor puts you in a unique situation. While many basic sales principles still apply, there are additional, unique challenges rising out of your position as a distributor salesperson. For example, you probably sell many of the same things your competitor sells. Add to that your special potential for creative in-depth relationships with your customers, and multiply that by the number of vendors and products you sell, and you can see the extra complexity of your job.

Here are some “Power Strategies” specifically designed to help you become more successful.

Focus on results

At first you may think this to be self-evident, and to some degree it is. However, many distributor reps are guilty of “going through the motions” selling. In other words, you see “Customer A” on Tuesday morning because that’s your habit. Instead of being driven by the objective you hope to achieve in that meeting (the results), you’re driven by habit. You go where it’s most comfortable rather than where it’s most effective.

You can apply this strategy in almost every aspect of your job. If you focus on results, you rank your prospects and customers in terms of their potential, and spend the greater amount of your time with the highest potential accounts. You create specific call objectives for every call, and annual objectives for every one of your key accounts, focusing on the results you want to achieve.

You view the products in which you choose to invest your selling time in the same light. Which products will bring you the best results? Those are the ones you promote, if you’re focusing on results. You manage your time and territory precisely, asking yourself daily, if not hourly, “What is the best use of my time right now?”

Get important

When you’re important to your manufacturer partners, you’re able to provide them the one thing they need from you – access to your customers. Think about it. Most manufacturers can warehouse and ship and bill their products almost as well as you can. What they can’t do as effectively as you is get in front of your customers.

It’s always going to cost them more to get to your customers because they have a limited number of products over which to spread their sales cost, while you can spread your costs over a much wider number of products. Thus, you should always be able to access the customer at lower costs than the manufacturers. And the smart ones know that. So, your ability to get important to your manufacturers is directly dependent on your ability to provide them access to your key customers.

That means that you must get important to your customers. You do that by becoming, in your customer’s mind, an integral, almost indispensable part of their business. You can’t do that if you restrict your activities to quoting the lowest price and picking up orders. Rather, you must systemically create relationships with the most important people within your key accounts, invest your time in learning about their business and getting to know them better than anyone else, and then providing creative solutions and systems that solve deep and systematical problems. When you do that consistently and effectively, you become, in the eyes of your customer, a valued part of your customer’s business. And that makes you important to them.

Think, a lot

Your customers are changing, products and vendors are changing and adapting, new competitors and technologies are springing up. If you go through your job mindlessly, you’ll soon be outdated and ineffectual.

Do the opposite. Commit yourself to the challenge of continuous improvement. Think about everything you do and examine ways to improve and wring more value out of it.

Challenge and question everything you do. Is this the best way to write up a quote? Should you be visiting this account, or would the other one hold more potential? Should you really be spending your time promoting this product, or is another one important? Should you really be lunching with this customer or should you invest that time in another? Is this the best way to file your old quotes, keep track of customer contacts, and file product literature?

Got the idea? Never rest. Be discontent with every aspect of your job in order to provide the stimulation to improve on it. Think a lot.

These three strategies can be guidelines to help you master some of the uniquely challenging parts of your job.


Dave Kahle has trained tens of thousands of B2B salespeople, sales managers and business owners to be more effective in the 21st Century economy. He’s authored nine books, and presented in 47 states and seven countries. To access Dave’s training, insights and tools online, visit The Sales Resource Center. Visit www.davekahle.com to check out a seminar near you.