Greg Seminara, Export Solutions

Brand owners demonstrate significant due diligence in selecting a new distributor. This includes lengthy negotiations with the distributors owner and development of a marketing plan with their senior management.  Typically, you sign a contract and then they introduce you to “John” ( example), a 30 year old Brand Manager with a marketing degree who will be your first point of contact . In reality, most brands are in daily contact with “John”, but do little up front to evaluate, select, or define “John’s” role in building your business. 

Role Definition
Normally, the title of Brand Manager is assigned to your primary point of contact at the distributor. This person serves as the central switchboard of all elements regarding your brands business at the distributor. Problem solving, logistics issues, promotion planning, and chasing payments are just a few of the everyday tasks assigned to the Brand Manager.

Can your Brand Manager “Move the Organization” ?

A key issue is the seniority of the person assigned to your brand. Are you working with a top manager who has a close relationship with the CEO ? Or are you working with a junior person who works hard, but basically maintains the flow of paper ? In most cases, I look for a person that commands the respect of the distributor organization. Many distributors have multiple brand managers, all lobbying for share of voice from the team. “Best in Class” Brand Mangers possess the  tenacity to motivate the sales organization to achieve the results and priorities required for your brand.

Brand Manager workload is always a key issue. Typically, a Brand manager may be shared by 3-5 brands. This approach may be acceptable if you are a niche brand and you are achieving desired results. On the other hand, it is frequently preferable to secure a dedicated Brand Manager who spends 100 % of their time working on your business. Exporters need to recognize that Brand managers cost money, so your contacts workload is directly proportional to the income generated by your brand.

Marketing versus Sales Background
Brand Managers typically come equipped with a marketing degree. This background is helpful if your brand requires a “classic marketer”, combining creativity with deep focus on the consumer. In other situations, Brand Managers with sales expertise prove to be adept at participating at key account sales calls and understanding the best methods for working with the sales force.

Do you like your Brand manager ? Most companies spend extensive time working with their distributor Brand Manager contact. You must be aligned and develop a healthy working rhythm. This can be difficult, as you share common objectives, but report to separate bosses and perhaps different performance incentives. In many cases, a brand owner develops a strong personal relationship with their brand manager. This can be unhealthy if you like your contact, but let this relationship continue even if results are poor.

People Power: Next Steps
A strong Brand Manager serves as your “Brand Advocate”at the distributor. Export managers need to include assessment of their potential Brand Manager as part of the Distributor selection process. Ask “Who will be my day to day contact ? Why ? Other choices ?” . Avoid “paper pushers” that are nice people and can complete forms but offer few new ideas , complain about being over worked and fail to capture the attention of the sales force .Winning Brand Managers bring energy, new ideas, and results to your brand. Recognize Brand managers who maintain the skill set to take your annual plan, add creative ideas appropriate for their market, and drive the sales organization to deliver the results !