Ask yourself: Is something being held back? Are direct answers given? Do you give them? Do you get them?
In the Agents and Distributors minds they are constantly re-evaluating each conversation and each slight policy change.
- "Is the manufacturer asking lots of questions because they want to sell directly to my customer?
- "Am I being eliminated?"
- "Do they want to move the business to a competing distributor?"
Is the manufacturer "throwing their weight around" and not really acknowledging that the distributor runs their own business?
Does the agent or manufacturer call the end-user directly.... and not tell the distributor or independent rep? Do they visit end-users on their own? Is there communication when they do?
The most successful brands are built on a foundation of trust and loyalty. Each party knows where the other stands. You can actually watch the relationships grow.
In the early phases it may be that the distributor or the agent calls up the manufacturer and asks for something... The reprimanding parent response is "You know we can't do that! We can do xxxx." To which the smiling reply is "I know, but I had to ask."
Later, as the relationship evolves, when the distributor or agent calls up they say "Hey, we just promised this program and that promo with this product, I know I need you to approve it but I already quoted it while you where on vacation" and the response "Great Job, what else ya need?"
Perhaps, more than any other part of the business relationship, TRUST IS THE MOST IMPORTANT.
Whose Customer is is anyway?
Many times manufacturers who use the industrial supply chain become confused as to who their actual customer is. The customer is the one who writes you the check. If you are selling directly to the end user of your product then that end-user is the customer. If you are using a wholesale supply sales channel, the person writing you the check is YOUR customer and the end-user they are supplying your products to is THEIR customer.
The "Agent" or "Regional Manager"
An agent or territory salesperson has a relationship with his customer: The distributor channel. It's where they live, It's where they put food on their table. Most of the smart independent agents, and even the factory guys, realize that the relationship is the most important aspect of their livelihood.
Agents realize that Management comes and goes, manufacturers change gears, different managers come on-board with their own ideas and their own relationships, but the one consistent thing is their customers and that trust they have built up. Although you as the manufacturer may be writing the regional manager the check, they realize that that check is being generated from the relationships they have in the territory. If the regional manger has put down roots. Has a house, has a Family, has kids in school, They have "gone native." They are going to be more loyal to the territory than to you. It's good to remember that in all of your conversations with them.
Distributors are even more protective of their turf. They have their territory marked and that IS how they perceive it. It's THEIRS. When a distributor brings someone into their customer it is akin to bringing your first date to meet your parents. You are coming into THEIR home, you are being extended the relationship that they enjoy. When a manufacturer tells them "That's MY customer not yours" they are pretty offended and, like a dog, they'll probably come back and bite you. They own the relationship.