Greg Seminara, Export Solutions

You think you are busy ? Try serving as the owner or managing director of a distributor. The typical distributor represents 10-20 companies. This role is comparable to parenting 10-20 children, each vying for attention and requiring care everyday , not to mention the needs of the distributors own employees. A distributors days are filled with back to back meetings, an endless stream of business dinners and an email inbox that never empties.  So don’t take it personally when you don’t receive an immediate response from your latest email request.
The question for brand owners is “How do I break through the clutter” to develop a strong collaborative relationship with the owner or senior manager of your distributor partner ? Recapped below are five ideas for gaining management attention to your priorities.

1. Establish a Regular  “Phone Date”– Export managers may find it tough to make personal visits to each market on a frequent basis. One concept is to establish a monthly (or quarterly) phone date with the managing director  of each distributor. Shipment status is important, but the critical discussion should be around the two key business initiatives that are driving your business.  You want him to be clearly focused on “what matters” versus buried under the minutiae of day to day trivia.

2. Top to Top– Invite the distributor owner to meet your company president or division manager. Distributors thrive on the prestige of meeting with their senior counterparts to talk about lofty goals for the industries future.  Upon return to the home market, the distributor will experience a renewed sense of commitment to your brand as he does not want to disappoint his “new best friend” at your company.

3. Distributor of the Year – My regular readers know that I am a strong proponent of establishing a Distributor of the Year program. This tactic tends to be an inexpensive way to motivate and reward distributor performance. Progress reports on the annual contest  provides another important communication opportunity to discuss with the Distributor leadership team

4. Sports– Most of us enjoy sports either as armchair fans or active participants. A good way to connect with a distributor is to find a common link based upon sports. Discover the distributors favorite sports team and invite him to a match. Many brands sponsor teams or have marketing relationships around events like Formula 1, Tour de France , or even the World Cup or Olympics. Everyone appreciates a ticket to a “hot event”. For a distributor that is a golf fanatic , nothing beats an invitation to play at a world class course in your country. I am a tennis player  and find that the stresses of the business day melt away after a competitive match of tennis. The important message is that your relationship with your distributors senior executive will change once you share some personal time together outside the office.
5. ESMA – One of the best ways to connect with leading European distributors is through ESMA.
ESMA is the European sales and Marketing Association, a group of about 100 of the strongest distributors in Europe. Distributor owners and leading international brands senior managers meet once a year ( 2017- Oxford) to discuss issues of the day in a relaxed atmosphere. There is a modest fee for Brand owners to join ESMA, but it can provide a gateway “straight to the top” at many of Europe’s top distributors.

The new year represents an appropriate time to reach out via phone to your distributors senior management. Ask about outlook for the new year, planned capital investments, changes in his local market, organizational changes and reinforce your two major priorities for the year.
My New Years resolution is to call my contacts more often versus email.
Greg Seminara
Export Solutions