Best Practices for Distributor Relations: Demonstrating Your Commitment
As you know all too well, distributors are very busy selling many products simultaneously. Getting a distributor to represent your brand in their marketing area is just the beginning. So, how does a small to medium size winery with little clout capture and retain a distributor’s attention? Relationship.
Distributors need to know that a winery is committed to them and to the market – that you are shoulder-to-shoulder in the race to the finish line. What I have seen with my winery clients is that it is not uncommon for even the smallest, most seemingly insignificant winery to generate a large amount of enthusiasm from distributors and trade accounts by following a few simple, common sense practices to being good partners (that are surprisingly overlooked too often).
- Be attuned to your distributors’ information needs. Nothing says “I am committed to our relationship” like understanding your partner’s needs. Like the rest of us, your distributors are overwhelmed with information coming at them. Streamline your communication by providing only the information your distributors want and that is appropriate for their market. This goes for marketing materials, too. Send your distributors what they believe is good for their sales efforts.
- Provide information how distributors want it. Before you dazzle your distributors with your very impressive Excel document, ask the distributor managers if they have a form that works best for them. By doing this, you will save the manager’s time and you will most likely get a faster reaction.
- Be responsive. Distributors are busier than ever trying to appease trade accounts, wineries, and sales people’s issues and growth plans. When you have their attention, be responsive. Demonstrate your commitment by being timely – reply to inquiries on a same day basis.
- Nurture key sales relationships. Good relationships with your distributor managers are important…and so are good relationships with key sales people. Determine which distributor sales managers and representatives are responsible for 80% of your sales and communicate directly with them. By getting to know the key sales people they will better understand your message, see that you are committed, and will more likely be loyal to your brand.
- Share best practices. Get in the habit of providing your distributor with new ideas and successful strategies that are working in other markets that have application. Distributors are always looking for innovative ways to sell more of your wine and, frankly, don’t want to get bogged down trying to solve your problem. (This is information your distributors want.)
- Keep your distributor partners in the loop. Your distributors are representing you in the market. They need to be up-to-date, knowledgeable, and motivated. Send your distributors important winery information and recent press. Remember to send it in the best format for them (versus what is easiest for you to send). Distributors don’t have time to reformat your documents.
- Befriend key trade accounts. Get to know the important trade accounts that are capable of or are selling a good amount of your wine. Then, come up with reasons to touch base with them every 3 months. Make sure you visit them at least 1 time per year – nothing shows I am shoulder-to-shoulder like a good face-to-face.
- Be a welcoming host. Jump at the opportunity to entertain your distributor sales representatives and key trade accounts when they are visiting your wine region. This will leapfrog your relationship forward and will build lasting memories that will translate to loyalty and sales over time. (Some of my closest industry relationships solidified at these onsite visits.)
- Lastly, show gratitude. Your sincere thanks and appreciation for your distributors’ hard work and efforts are greatly valued. Avoid the “what have you done for me lately approach.” You want the distributor working for you and thinking about your brand.