Attention Suppliers: How to get noticed by your 🍾 distributors

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It’s easy to get lost in the shuffle among the thousands of suppliers in a distributor’s portfolio. But there are things even the smallest supplier can do to box 🥊 above their weight class.

A small fish 🐠 in a massive pond

In light of the massive proliferation of new brands and line extensions within the last seven years, most distributors (except for the very newest ones) have portfolios bursting at the seams with items to sell.

It’s simple math. Too many brands, too few distributors. And more brands and SKUs are coming every day.

Most distributors are not taking on new brands – even from among their existing suppliers! There is simply no room at the inn.

Like a needle in a haystack, it’s very hard to get noticed among the sea of brands inside your distributors’ book.

Brains versus brawn

Everyone loves a good underdog story. And the wine and spirits industry is replete with them!

As Walter D. Wintle’s famous poem, “Thinking,” says, “You’ve got to think to rise high.” The battle does not always go to the strongest and the fastest.

Superior thinking and unconventional strategy are the keys to getting noticed on a crowded playing field.

In the same way that great sports coaches know how to bring out the best in every player on the team, small suppliers must reach deep into a new and modern bag of tricks to make an outsized impact for themselves.

Smart suppliers know how to tap into existing forces and leverage them in their favor. Ironically, this also wins the admiration of the distributors in the process.

Align, don’t malign

One doesn’t have to look very hard to see the discontent among average suppliers regarding their frustrations due to what they perceive as a lack of performance on behalf of their distributors.

The most helpful tool that springs to mind amid all this rampant narcissism is a 🪞 mirror.  If you’re unhappy with your distributors’ performance, look at your own performance.

The days of distributors being able to do all the brand-building you want them to do are long gone. It’s not a matter of will or motivation. It’s a matter of capability (or lack thereof).

One of the best ways to stand out positively with your distributors is to stop complaining and pitch in to do your part collaboratively.

The current situation of “brand overload” among distributors will not change. In fact, it will only get worse. However, what can be changed is how a supplier thinks about the dilemma and makes the appropriate adjustments. Align: don’t malign.

Do it Yourself; Do it First.

If you are a supplier reading this blog post, please take a moment to list everything important to you. Your list might include items such as:

  • Getting your brand in front of key buyers
  • Building lots of high-quality new distribution
  • Pulling product off the shelf
  • Getting reorders

The first step in getting noticed by your distributors is adopting a do-it-first mentality and approach.

Start by creating your own key account target list. Make the initial version of the list as exhaustive as possible (and whittle it down later). It is OK to start with a list from our distributor if you have one, but you need to add value on your own as well.

This is an extremely important and valuable exercise every small supplier must undertake. It will clarify not only what types of accounts you’d like to be in but also which accounts are viable and feasible to get into.

Now, prioritize this list of accounts based on three essential criteria:

  1. Will my brand/product bring value to this account’s business (because the sale happens in their world, not yours)?
  2. Can I demonstrate to the account that there is a demand for my product that their customers will appreciate?
  3. Can I provide service after the sale, personally?

Next, using your CRM system to keep track of all details, begin researching who’s who at each account. Who is the primary buyer contact? What other key personnel might be involved in decision-making?

Congratulations! You’ve just taken the first step towards being a supplier that distributors greatly admire and appreciate!

Communication: the coin of the realm

Although it might not be evident to most suppliers, there is a central economy within the distributor-supplier relationship, and the “currency” is communication.

There are two kinds of distributor-supplier communication:

  1. Communication that burdens
  2. Communication that blesses

Burdensome communication is unwanted and unsolicited. It interrupts, is disrespectful, is annoying at best, and is abusive at worst. At its core, it is selfish and self-seeking.

Blessed communication is respectful. It’s courteous. It is incredibly concise. It seeks to add value and support. Like a good wedding toast, “Be good, be brief, be gone.”

Here are some practical digital communication tips to enhance your relationship with your distributor partners:

  • Never ask a question you could have easily researched yourself.
  • Make expert use of the subject line in the email. If it’s done well, you don’t need to type within the body of the email.
  • Get to the point in the first sentence of your email and get to it quickly.
  • Don’t make anyone scroll to read your email. You’re doing it wrong if you can’t say what you must say in just a few sentences.
  • Keep CCs to an absolute minimum.
  • Choose links to shared files/folders rather than attachments. Attachments are for 🦖 dinosaurs.
  • Never text or call.
  • Never use the word “urgent.”

One of the best ways to help your distributors is not to hurt them. Poor communication among the supplier community is the #1 way to get pushed to the bottom of the pecking order.

Kill Bill Volume VII

Imagine that every distributor has a list. A list of their suppliers in descending order of pains-in-the-tooshy. Where are you on that list?

The idea is to move UP on this list, not down it. And it really isn’t that hard.

Imagine a revenge movie where the protagonist wreaks vengeance upon all those who wronged her in prior years. Would you be one of the first people on the hit list or someone so far down the list that no one even bothers to knock on your door?

If you’re not 100% certain where you stand on the list, here is a handy checklist to aid you in your ascension:

  • Accept the reality that today’s distributors have many suppliers to choose from.  You are just one of ten thousand brands or more.
  • If it’s important to you, do it yourself. Then, communicate what you’ve done as briefly and concisely as possible to the ONE person at the distributors who needs to know.
  • Plan way ahead. Allow plenty of lead time. Don’t expect immediate actions or responses. Remember the 7 P’s.
  • Be patient.
  • Strive to be a blessing, not a burden.
  • Know the market(s). Know the accounts. Know the competition (inside and outside the distributor’s portfolio).
  • The world needs another vodka or Chardonnay like a hole in the head. Be prepared to prove there’s a demand for your product that it fills some need.

No disrespect is intended for the distributors, but as a supplier, you need to recognize that the world has changed. Due to the abundance of brands and the paucity of distributors, they need help to do what they used to be able to do. YOUR help.

Distributors help suppliers who help themselves.

That’s what the money is for…

To anyone who remains steadfast in their belief that distributors SHOULD do their suppliers’ bidding to justify their profit margins, we can only say welcome to the new reality.

Your righteous indignation about this reality won’t make a bit of difference. For better or worse, the middle tier holds all the cards. All the leverage.

So you have two choices:

  1. Accept reality and make the necessary adjustments so your company and your brands can prosper despite it.
  2. Stomp your feet complaining about the system’s injustice and stay at the bottom of the list of suppliers that distributors respect and help.

No explanation is necessary for those who understand, and no explanation will suffice for those who do not.

About Andavi Solutions

Andavi Solutions provides category-leading software with actionable data insights, connecting partners in the beverage alcohol and consumer packaged goods industries. Click here to contact us or to schedule a demo.