Move to Exporting 201
Companies that have had some export success selling though distributors often reach a point where their sales growth flattens or stalls, or they are pulled in so many directions in different countries that supporting this becomes unsustainable. This series outlines the key steps needed to truly make your export business strategic, with sustainable growth.
Take comfort that many companies have made this shift, and have never looked back.
In this installment, we examine the final key to move to Exporting 201: enhancing the distributor experience.
Much has been written about optimizing the customer experience, but little about the partner experience. Your distributors are your customers, but they are quite different from your direct customers. They are not the end-users of your products or services, but instead a partner that needs to work closely with you to reach more end-users.
Make no mistake, the partner experience is important. When we chat with distributors, they often complain that their suppliers are hard to work with. Their policies are complicated or are not communicated clearly. Escalation of issues is confusing and inconsistent. Information about product specifications, relevant marketing collateral, pricing, and product availability and shipment status is not timely or hard to obtain.
Frustration builds, and your company’s products or services start getting pushed down the priority list. And once the distributor’s focus on you is lost, it is candidly very difficult to get back.
Here’s a few tips on how to maximize your distributor’s experience with your company:
Map out the partner experience. Export 201 companies map out all the touchpoints in their company, and take steps to make each of those contacts as smooth as possible. Start with the very first interaction your distributor has with you, and follow it through recruitment, due diligence, business planning, contract negotiation, and operations. Recognize that the distribution manager can work to build partner relationships, but that will not be enough if the distributors have bad experience dealing with legal and compliance, customer service, tech support, or shipping and logistics.
Enlist your internal resources. There are many ways to do this. Help educate each of the relevant functions so that they see the company through the distributor’s eyes and become better partner advocates. Work with them to clarify and update relevant policies and procedures. Engage them to help train the distributor’s team. Find ways to help them build bridges with their counterparts in the distributor’s organization.
Invest in partner onboarding. As noted in a previous article in this series, good onboarding is a “how-to” guide for the supplier and distributor will work together – the investments both will make, how issues are resolved, company culture, regular meetings to review a detailed business plan, and the written procedures – and more importantly, all the unwritten rules of how your company operates. Take the time to create a good onboarding process and follow it consistently.
Create a partner portal. A partner portal is a central repository of key information your distributors may need. This could include product data, marketing collateral, branding information, product demos, on-demand training, pricing, and information on product availability and shipment status. A good partner portal ensures version control, and allows distributors to access the information they need, as they need it. This not only makes your company easy to deal with, but saves wear and tear on your company’s personnel by minimizing urgent one-off requests.
Commit to continuously improve. Seek out candid feedback from your distributors on how to make things easier for them. Learn what the best suppliers in your industry do and emulate those things that make sense. Foster partner councils or other platforms to facilitate the exchange of best practices among distributors. Never stop seeking ways to add more value to your partners.
To truly grow your export sales, make the move to Exporting 201 by optimizing your company’s partner experience. Your distributors will reward you for it!
Doris Nagel is the CEO of Globalocity, and has 25+ years of hands-on global experience, focusing on strategic partnering, indirect sales channel management, and market entry. She’s a frequent speaker and author. Join Globalocity’s upcoming webinar, where we’ll show how the distributor onboarding process enables your distributors sell better and faster, and stay more engaged.