Sales & Marketing
We are often asked by clients how to find new distributors, so we have asked our Partnerships Manager and distributor expert, Judith Kee, to share the tips she's amassed in her 30 years managing distributors.
You can quickly determine which territories you require distributors in by identifying the gaps that your direct sales do not cover. Rank your target countries by market size and work your way down. Ways to do this would be to determine how much funding each country is getting for a particular application. The SciLeads tool can help with this.
Some countries such as India, Italy, and Israel only allow local companies to apply for tenders so these are priority countries to get a partner for. If you have strong competition in a particular country then having good local support will give you a unique selling point (USP).
Just make sure your product can be distributed freely and/or meets the necessary regulations before reaching out to that country.
Once you know which countries you need to focus on, here are the ways to find distributors. I have also highlighted some pros and cons of these methods.
An effective way to locate distributors is to research similar or complementary products to yours and look at their distributor network. Go to a company website that sells a complementary but not competitive product to yours - it could be similar but a different price point or a product that is used in the same application as yours. Look under 'support' or 'local sales' to see the list of the distributors they are using in each country. For example, if you sell image analysis software then locating people who are already distributing for the microscope companies would be a good fit.
Consider how your product could fit within their current portfolio - is it a higher or lower end product that would complement their current offering, or could it be something that is needed for the same application, for example, a protein purification kit that is used before Biophysical Analysis.
Here are the pros and cons:
Researching competitor products and their distributor network means you can approach those distributors and ask them to sell your product instead. If you don’t already know them, you can find them by using the competitive insights tool in the SciLeads platform. Set up a trial here.
Ask a customer that you have a good relationship with if they have worked with a local supplier in your required territory. If they know anyone then they can help you make the initial introduction and give you some background information on them. Of course, if you don't have a customer in that country to ask, then that's why you need a distributor there in the first place!
Tradeshows are also an important resource as many of them are well attended by distributors such as Pittcon, Medica, Analytica, and SLAS. You can add that you are looking for distributors in any marketing campaigns you do before and at the show, and if you don’t have a booth at the event, you could simply wear a shirt saying ‘looking for distributors’.
Or if you have distributor(s) in mind then you could send them a list of the shows you will be attending and ask if they are going to any of them. If you aren’t sure which conferences to attend, then use the SciLeads platform to help you see the most popular trade shows for your application area.
Make sure you also advertise on your website and social media channels that you are looking for distributors. You could do a paid advert on LinkedIn and target the specific locations where you want to find distributors.
Ok, so now that you have signed up a new distributor, how do you get them up and running? Remember, the goal of any distributor relationship is to make it as easy as possible for them to sell your product, stay at the front of their mind, and position your goods as more profitable than others. This includes providing presale leads, after-sales support as well as offering deals and discounts where possible.
As with any business relationship, make sure you have a good contract in place and set targets so that the business outcomes can be regularly assessed. However, don’t feel you need to secure exclusivity straight away; trial periods work best to learn about the region, distributor, and the market. Try if possible to experience a couple of customer visits with your potential distributor prior to formally signing them up and incentivize them with a good deal off the RRP.
It can be good to continue to work directly with any reference customers as it will help you keep your ear to the ground in that particular market.
In your initial training, you need to make sure they are familiar with the product features and that they know how to correctly demo the product (if applicable). Ideally, you should do this training in person if possible, and make sure you provide training videos and/or documents that have step-by-step instructions too.
Make sure your distributor has access to a demo unit - you can heavily discount it and that’s a small sale too but stipulate that they can’t resell it unless it’s 12 months old. It is important to assign a dedicated Channel Manager as well as a technical support person that they can reach out to easily - and ensure their queries are responded to promptly to help to keep business flowing.
Give your distributor as much sales and marketing support as possible but involve them in the process so they are making an effort on their side too.
Make sure your products are added to their website with high-quality images and descriptions and monitor this going forward to ensure the information is always up to date. You may want to include stipulations in the contract about how your product should be represented and include brand guidelines for use of logos etc if applicable. Ensure you also add the distributor to your own website.
You can facilitate them to make money from the outset by providing them with some warm leads, but don’t just send lists of leads as the expectation will be set that they don’t need to prospect themselves.
You could work with them on a joint initial outreach campaign so that you have some control and visibility but are also helping them to see how to prospect for your type of customer. Schedule a time to visit your distributor early in the relationship and use SciLeads to find relevant leads in that area. Send an email to say ‘Hi I’ll be in X institution next week, are you free to talk about our new product?’. We find people are more likely to book meetings when it comes directly from the manufacturer but it's never a problem if the distributor arrives at the meeting instead. It might also be worth getting the distributor to translate the email into the local language.
Distributors are an important part of your network and so you will need to continually monitor their progress and ensure that they have everything they need to sell your product effectively.
1 - Make sure you are in their inbox on a regular basis.
2 - Schedule monthly/quarterly catchups to review progress.
3 - Have regular training programs and specific distributor launches for NPI - don’t forget about your distributors when new products are launched - train them up as well as your own people.
4 - Have annual distributor meetings at your HQ where they can network with other distributors and network personally with product managers and engineers.
5 - Review their website regularly to ensure they are keeping up with your latest products and branding.
6 - Have a support portal and keep updated, FAQS, Reference customers, Product Materials.
7 - Create joint visits to customers or have a joint booth at specific shows. Check out our blog about 5 Steps for Visiting Scientific Customers.
8 - Have a regional roadshow - if a distributor sells multiple products for the same application/technique - eg cameras and microscopes - they can invite their prospects to evaluate them all at the same time.
9 - Provide scalable incentives to align with growth plans - awards can help with motivation/mindshare and inter-distributor competitiveness.
10 - Keep in their mind or they’ll move on - invest time into the relationship and travel to the region for dinners and social events to build up trust and loyalty.