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From Partnership to Profit: The Keys to Successful Distributor Management

In a recent article on Manufacturing Dive, I noted that partnerships can help solve many of the workforce challenges facing the manufacturing industry. Once you build those partnerships, though, how do you manage them effectively? This post explores that question in more detail, specifically for your dealer and distributor partners, and looks at the fundamentals (and future) of seamless distributor management.  

As I've seen as a long-time sales leader, and prior partnerships leader for a growing manufacturing company, smart distributor management strategies can help manufacturers maximize revenue, drive business growth, and stand out in a competitive marketplace. Let's get started.  

What is distributor management?   

Distributor management involves the strategies, tools, platforms, and processes used to manage relationships and interactions with dealers and distribution partners. In today’s business landscape, indirect sales channels are increasingly prevalent.  

Effective distributor management is crucial for maintaining strong partnerships and driving revenue through your indirect sales channels. By leveraging the right tools and strategies, manufacturers can enhance collaboration, streamline processes, and ultimately boost their bottom line. 

The fundamentals of distributor management  

By leveraging the right tools and strategies, manufacturers can ensure that their distributors are well-equipped and motivated to drive sales. This section explores the essential elements of distributor management, and I also offer practical insights and real-world examples that can help inspire your approach.  

1. Set up a centralized distributor portal with key resources  

A centralized distributor portal is crucial for managing your distributor relationships. This portal acts as a hub where distributors can access critical information such as marketing/sales collateral, product updates, training materials, and more.  

Providing these marketing and sales enablement materials is essential for helping distributors effectively promote and sell your products. These resources can include co-branded collateral, product brochures, and sales scripts. 

Marketing and sales enablement materials not only boost your distributors' ability to sell but also enhance your brand's visibility and reputation. When distributors have access to high-quality, professionally designed materials on demand, they can present a cohesive and polished image to end customers.  

This portal should also act as the hub for your partnering processes, serving as the center of your partner-related tech stack. By consolidating your resources into one platform, communication becomes streamlined, and all partners have the information they need at their fingertips. A centralized portal also ensures consistency. Every distributor receives the same updates and training, which helps maintain a uniform standard of knowledge and service across your ecosystem.  

Riverbed Technology is a great example of a company that's doing distributor management right. Johanna Hauck, Director Channel Program Operations, discusses how Impartner has helped them develop a go-to hub for all partner-related activities: 

"Riverbed is all about a seamless digital experience, which is why having a partner portal that provides that to our customers is so important for us because it's actually what we do... 88% of our business runs through our channel. And of that 88%, about 90% of that runs through distribution... Right now, Impartner is absolutely the center and the hub of our partner tech. We integrate into like five or six other technologies and we're able to manage it all through Impartner. It's a great seamless experience for our partners." 

2. Create personalized onboarding and training programs 

Your goal is to bring new distributors in your program up to speed fast. Management tools, like Impartner, that simplify the process of integrating new distributors into your program ensure that they can start selling as quickly as possible.  

By automating your onboarding processes, you also reduce the administrative burden on your teams and provide a seamless experience for new distributors. Continuous training can keep distributors informed about new products, market trends, and best practices. Look for tools that allow you to personalize training and certification programs to different regions, product lines, or distributor types, so your training is always relevant. 

3. Keep your distributors in the know   

Newsletters, email campaigns, and other outreach mechanisms are essential for keeping your distributors informed and engaged. Regular communication ensures that distributors are up-to-date with important product updates, promotions, and industry trends. This ongoing dialogue helps maintain strong relationships and can foster a sense of partnership between manufacturers and distributors. 

With the right distributor management platforms, newsletters and email campaigns can be tailored to different segments of your distributor network, ensuring that the information is relevant and useful. Put simply, when it's easy for distributors to work with you, it helps build loyalty and encourages distributors to invest more effort into promoting your products. 

Siemens is another example of a manufacturer that prioritized a seamless distributor management process for communication. When they built their partner newsletters, they faced the following challenge: "Most of our partners are non-native English speakers, so localization was key. Everything had previously been sent in English and required multi-factor authorization to view each article, which clearly hindered engagement."  

They realized that they needed a tool that would enable them to deliver the right message, to the right partners, at the right time. With Impartner, Siemens: "Started localizing newsletters and for those languages that we tested - German, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean – we immediately saw amazing results. All of them had over 50% and some up to 70% unique open rates.” 

4. Manage distributors with a data-first strategy    

Today's leading manufacturers are investing in technology now to help weather future industry challenges. Oracle notes that 60% were investing specifically in data analytics tools.  

Robust reporting and analytics tools are crucial for understanding the performance of your distributor program efforts. Any distributor management platform should offer detailed insights into sales performance, distributor engagement, and other key metrics. These insights allow manufacturers like you to track the effectiveness of your distributor programs and make informed, data-driven decisions in the future.  

Conducting regular performance reviews with each distributor based on this data can help you identify strengths and areas for improvement. By basing these reviews on concrete metrics, you can provide specific, actionable feedback that helps distributors improve their performance. Regular evaluations also provide an opportunity to recognize and reward high-performing distributors, which can boost engagement. 

This continuous improvement process is crucial for maintaining a high-performing distributor network that drives revenue and growth. Having access to real-time manufacturing partnership data and analytics enables you to identify program-wide trends and address potential issues before they become significant problems. Additionally, detailed reporting helps you justify ongoing investments in your distributor programs by clearly demonstrating their return on investment.  

5. Build a foundation of advanced workflows and integrations   

Finally, integrating your distributor management processes and tools with the rest of your tech stack is crucial. Advanced workflows between these systems allow manufacturers to build automated processes to reduce manual errors and improve overall productivity. 

Integration with other business systems, such as your CRM or ERP, ensures seamless data flow and reduces the need for duplicate data entry. This seamless integration helps maintain data accuracy and consistency across your organization, again enabling more informed decision-making.  

Grow faster with your distributors  

Effective distributor management is key to maximizing revenue and driving business growth. By leveraging centralized portals, automated onboarding and training, robust reporting and analytics, and advanced workflows and integrations, manufacturers can enhance their distributor relationships to accelerate indirect sales.  

Not sure where to start? The answer is Impartner.   

Each day millions of partners in nearly every industry across the globe access Impartner. Why? Because the partner experience matters and leading organizations agree.   

Impartner is the fastest-growing, most award-winning partner management platform on the market. Our partner relationship management and partner marketing solutions help manufacturing companies like yours accelerate revenue and profitability through their indirect sales channels at every partner lifecycle touchpoint.   

Get in touch today to talk more about the next generation of distributor management tools. You can also learn more about Impartner for manufacturers here! 

About the Author

Anson Gessel is a Strategic Sales Director at Impartner. Anson is a seasoned sales leader with over two decades of experience in driving new business development and expanding markets. With his entrepreneurial spirit, Anson excels in guiding sales teams through complex and transactional sales cycles, ensuring successful execution of deal qualification, training on customer-relationship strategy, and sales-closing principles. His numbers-driven approach and influential leadership style have enabled him to excel at negotiations, forge strong partner networks, and tackle strategic challenges. Previously, as VP of Sales & Marketing at a workwear startup, Anson developed a comprehensive GTM plan, achieving a remarkable 13X revenue growth, and established strategic partnerships with a network of global distributors.

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