How to Market and Sell to Distributors


August 31, 2021


  • Distributors expect a lot from manufacturers, including training and education, marketing and incentives.
  • Marketing to the right distributors is important, as is being prepared to partner with distributors right away.
  • Relationships with distributors need to be managed and nurtured, or your products will fall out of favor.
  • Manufacturers are perfectly capable of becoming their own distributor through e-commerce channels.

How to Market & Sell to Distributors

If you’re a manufacturer with a fantastic product, or series of products, you have a tough job ahead of you to actually sell them. It’s almost impossible for manufacturers to go direct to retail outlets. In order to see your product sold in the right channels, working with distributors who already have relationships with the stores you want to sell in is your best option.

And while that’s simple enough, the hard part comes with the fact that; in order to find a distributor who will represent your product, you’ll have to figure out a way to market your industrial product to them, and your customer at the same time. That’s two marketing objectives in one!

Fortunately, many manufacturers have had success finding distributors by figuring out a marketing strategy that is also a sales strategy for your product. Because selling your product is the objective, right? There are many steps to make this process work, but at the end of the day, let’s get your product sold!

What Do Distributors Want From Manufacturers?

You recognized the need for the next great product, you devoted your company’s resources to research and development and now it’s ready to meet the market. But getting your new product onto literal shelves, or online marketplaces will take a few more steps.

marketing and selling to distributors

Distributors are accustomed to receiving more than just a product description and specs from manufacturers. Distributors want to know you’re in this for the long haul. It’s expensive for distributors to take on new products, so they need to see the value your products provide and the potential they have in the market.

When you plan to approach distributors to take up your products, you need to be aware of these fundamental aspects of working with distributors.

Distributors want educational and training resources

Whether you’re trying to sell robotics to factories, or a hands-free soap dispenser to a restaurant, distributors expect that manufacturers not only provide instructions for set up and operation, but also, resources in case something goes wrong. The more complex your product is, the more robust your backup resource networks will need to be.

Distributors want to be incentivized

If you’re using a third party distributor to sell your product, then you’re probably going right up against your competition side-by-side. So why should distributors list your product first to make it more attractive to customers?

Many customers implement a marketing automation system that keeps track of sales, and if pre-established goals are exceeded, incentives are paid to distributors.

Distributors want communication channels

Distributors expect open communication to be established prior to selling your product, but in reality, communication is far more important to manufacturers. Upgrades and changes to products occur all the time, and the last thing you want is a buyer to have a terrible experience because the specs on your product changed. Have a process for this set up ahead of time, as changes to the product, company or training are sure to come up.

Beyond the above items you’re sure to need if you’re a manufacturer vying for a distributor channel, there is something they’ll need that’s a bit more complex -- they need to know how to market your product.

How Do Manufacturers Successfully Market to Distributors

This is where the process gets a little mixed up, as it’s very important to keep in mind who you’re selling your product to -- the distributor!

That’s who’s buying your product from you after all. However, it’s not quite that simple, because distributors also expect that you’ve done your homework on marketing to the end user! Distributors don’t want to start from scratch.

Confused yet? No worries, as following the below steps will untwist your mind.

Manufacturers have to find the right distributors

Hopefully, your buyer’s persona and target audience are already a known quantity (if not, then it’s time to collect some data), and you want to find the distributors that are selling to that market. A good way to do this is to find out where your competition is selling their product. A proven distributor with a track record for sales fulfillment -- even if it is for your competition -- is always a good sign.

Manufacturers need to have the end user in mind

So this is where things get a bit twisted, as manufacturers are selling their product to distributors, but ultimately, it’s the end user that drives the popularity and profitability of your product.

This means having a track record of sales already established, or having an implemented and effective marketing strategy for distributors to sell your product.

Manufacturers need to be organized and ready to partner

Each distributor will be a little different, as they embrace varying degrees of marketing. Hopefully, you find a distributor that values marketing a great deal, and encourages sharing or co-marketing.

marketing to distributors

This means you’ll want to keep marketing assets organized, in a Google drive or other cloud based platform, for example.

It also means you should be ready in case the distributor is interested in a co-marketing strategy.

This can make the relationship between manufacturer and distributor a bit tricky, as you’ll want control over how your company and products are portrayed, but also make your new partner happy at the same time.

How Manufacturers Can Manage Distributor Relationships

Of course you’d bend over backwards for your distributors, and hold their hand when they need help, but at the end of the day, it’s your company who’s being represented when it’s time to sell your product, and you should have control over that.

Chinese philosopher and general, Sun Tzu, once said that “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”

In other words, know yourself first, then be prepared with what’s below for the rest of your battle plan.

Manufacturers need to control their brand

Hopefully, you’ve already taken the time to run through brand exercises to figure out what your company truly values, and what about that you want to show to the world. Your brand is who you are, and it should be nurtured and cared for.

So if a distributor wants to slap your logo on something, you better have a look at it prior to being published, lest it represent your company in a way that you don’t approve of.

Manufacturers need to communicate with distributors

Yes, communication with distributors is so important that it’s worth revisiting. To get off on the right foot it’s important that manufacturers have a process in place to onboard new distributors. Some manufacturers have an onboarding kit, or a drive or dropbox full of marketing assets that are ready to share.

If you’ve established open communication channels then they will be effective as your relationship with distributors evolves.

Not only can you communicate changes to your company and products as mentioned before, but also if you’re having supply chain issues or manufacturing troubles. Staying ahead of these situations fosters a better relationship, and gives time for distributors to adjust.

Any discussion of how manufacturers can better sell to distributors would be incomplete without manufacturers asking one, simple question: Can a manufacturer be a distributor? The answer is yes, and now more than even manufacturers are considering taking this step.

Can a Manufacturer Be a Distributor?

The short answer to the above question is… absolutely! In today’s day and age, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s recommended to open up a brick-and-mortar store to sell your product.

What it does mean is that you can set up your own e-commerce marketplace. Whether you have one product, or over a million SKUs, you can operate your own distribution channel, and drive your customer to it.

Creating an e-commerce marketplace

There are many digital marketing agencies that offer e-commerce services, and the first thing they’ll want to do is build manufacturers a website that’s an online catalog complete with guided navigation and a smooth and easy buying process.

warehouse of goods

Then it’s a matter of uploading your product information, optimizing and ultimately, driving customers to your new website.

The great thing about setting up your own e-commerce marketplace is that you can also do it in conjunction with partnering with distributors. Having your products available in more places is a great thing, provided potential customers can find them.

Digital marketing through SEO and content marketing

Not too long ago, people would find the company they needed with the Yellow Pages, and then Google took over. This complicates matters a great deal for manufacturers, because Google uses complex algorithms to determine what companies appear first when people search for a product.

Getting a company to the top of a Google search takes Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and content marketing. By identifying what your customers are searching for, and the words they use to search, SEO experts are able to create content that caters to these tendencies.

By creating topical blog posts, informational videos or infographics around your customers' search terms, you’re increasing your website’s domain strength, and driving it to the top of Google rankings.

Once SEO and content marketing experts have done their job, your company will be at the top of Google searches related to products you sell.

Mobile is vital to e-commerce

A recent Google survey found that 42% of B2B decision makers use a mobile device to do at least some of their online research. For B2C applications, the number is considerably higher. This means that your website needs to be mobile friendly, or you could be closing the door on a huge portion of potential customers.

The idea behind building your own e-commerce marketplace is that you want to be more accessible to your customers, which in essence, is the fundamental goal of marketing -- appeal to your target audience where they are.

With all the expertise, knowhow and money that goes into creating a quality product, it’s amazing that that’s not enough to sell the product. The process for getting the product to the right distributors, using the right channels, and ultimately finding your customers, is a difficult road to navigate.

But if manufacturers take the time to do it right by following the above steps, they’ll have far more success at establishing beneficial relationships with distributors and seeing their products in the hands of a larger audience



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