Q. Is there a proactive way to implement a program from manufacturers to encourage distributors to have their sales force sell our product instead of another? My intention is to have the salesperson give quotes for our product more frequently?

And how can we appeal to retail users more? Especially ones that are taking bids from competitors that are not represented by our distributor?

Historically, we’ve shown favor to our distributors and given them discounts. Unfortunately, the benefits seem to end up in their gross profits. They have not been passed along to retail. It then appears that we are either not competitive, or don’t have a price advantaged. Furthermore, our distributor network has come to expect lower costs on a regular basis. Your thoughts, please.

A. I think too many of us operate on the assumption that money is the only motivator, whether it is for a sales force or a group of dealer or distributor salespeople. I’m coming to appreciate more and more the power of other kinds of motivators.

Let’s start there. Don’t assume that more money in the deal is going to get you the results you want.

What else can you do?

The best thing, of course, is to have a product that uniquely solves some of the end-users’ problems, so that you and your dealers are selling a unique solution. While that may be ideal, it’s very rarely the real situation, and most products have competitors which, at least in the mind of some customers, are thought of as equal.

Let’s assume that’s your case. Now what?

There are three ways to influence a distributor sales force to become more active with your product line: relationships, education, and “easy, secure money.”

3 Ways to Influence Dealers or Distributor Sales Forces:

1. Relationships

Think of the distributor reps as your customers. Work at creating close business relationships with the good distributor reps in the same way that you would with end-user customers. Focus on the good ones and spend little time with the mediocre. With the higher quality reps, discover their interests, uncover their values, find things you have in common, get to know their spouses and families, spend non-business time with them, etc. As you build strong relationships with them, you’ll find your distributor reps naturally becoming more involved with your product lines.

2. Education

Focus on the concept of “comfort zones.” Most distributor reps have a virtually unlimited number of products that they can promote.

Most eventually settle on those products and applications with which they feel most comfortable with selling. They develop product/customer/application comfort zones. If your product or application doesn’t fit into a specific rep’s comfort zone, they’re going to spend little time with it. So, you must get to know your good distributor reps (see above) and then you must help them expand their comfort zones to include your products and applications.

That means that you must lead the way, showing them how to find the opportunities, how to specify and present your product lines, and how to close and services those sales. Until the distributor rep is comfortable with your products and sales processes, you’ll be swimming upstream.

3. “Easy, Secure Money

Yep, money is still important. But notice the emphasis on the first two words.

“Easy” means that you make it as easy as possible to deal with you, to sell your product. You have the best selling literature, a generous sample policy, the quickest and most responsive inside people to respond to the distributor’s questions and requests, the simplest price list, the easiest policies and procedures in each of these issues.

When your company is easy to deal with and when your product is easy to sell, you’ll find more and more support for it among the distributors.

“Secure” means that you provide some security for the salesperson who decides to spend time promoting your product. You protect that investment of time by making sure that none of his competitors can come into an account and low bid it after the salesperson has done the work to get your product trialed and accepted. If a distributor rep invests in selling your product and experiences a competitor who did nothing to sell it, comes in and steals the business out from underneath him just once, you will likely lose that rep’s loyalties forever.

Hope these three strategies will help.