Knowledge is power, and you know your brand inside and out. But can you have too much of a good thing? If you're suffering from brand blindness, the answer is yes. Your products, brand image and value proposition may be so familiar to you that you lose sight of how it looks to the outside - in this case, to your distribution partners. When that happens, working toward a common goal becomes difficult.
Take a quick inventory of your channel partner relationships. Where is the information gap? What's causing these differences in perspective? Understanding the most common "brand blindness" pitfalls is the first step in getting everyone in the sales channel on the same page.
When you say "tomato," your distribution partners say . . . ?
In this instance, a sometimes-literal language barrier stands between you and your distribution partners. As industries and markets globalize and the U.S. becomes more diverse, it's increasingly likely that a different culture, perspective, or an entirely different language influences your distribution partners' decisions. For example: did you know that the color green suggests marital infidelity in China? That kind of cultural blind spot can throw a major wrench in the gears between you and your distribution partners when it comes time to present a product.
These are the kinds of details that can easily be lost when trying to implement a diversity-friendly distribution channel strategy. Without in-depth local knowledge and strong relationships with team members on the ground, navigating these complicated markets is a tall order.
You’re experiencing a customer data drought.
According to a PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) study, consumers are becoming more diverse, especially in growth markets. Your target consumer has more specific needs and is more bargain-savvy than ever, with a keen eye for value and an expectation of quality, all while competition is intensifying. How do you capture B2B customer loyalty when your customer base spans all demographics, has more options every day, and has their own bottom line to worry about?
To meet the demands of this ever-shifting consumer tide, businesses will have to develop more advanced go-to-market strategies. Gathering much more specific B2B consumer data through credible points of sale and establishing greater control over how products reach customers can help your channel marketing strategy.
For instance, if you've chosen wholesale distribution, you may have expanded the reach of your product, but wholesalers tend to be less committed to you and your vision. A local distributor, on the other hand, can act as a direct sales representative; an ambassador abroad for your brand.
This places even greater value on distribution partners, as each partnership you create will provide unique and essential insight into your target consumer audience.
You’re with the wrong distribution partner.
Gone are the days of the faceless, “pack & ship” partnership. Product mobility is still essential, but the real value of a distribution partner is in the details. Just like your customer base, today’s channel partners have specific business goals and challenges. The more your distribtors’ goals and challenges complement yours, the better.
Once you understand who your target consumer audience is and your channel marketing vision is clear, put distribution partners under a microscope. Determine whether the partnership will truly benefit you both by answering questions such as:
- What does the current channel customer base look like? If there are similar companies to yours in the distributor’s network, it's more likely they understand the kind of business you do. Look for a distributor with special programs or subgroups which align complementing businesses to leverage one another's information and buying.
- Does the distributor have a diverse sales channel? For instance, is the distributor partnered with businesses that offer products or services complementary to yours? The ideal distributor should act as a doorway to gaining and improving business.
- Does your distribution partner offer training around new technologies, such as cloud computing, virtualization, and mobility? Because solution providers tend to be poor marketers, you'll need your distribution partner to help with business development services, marketing and pre- and post-sales support.
If your candidate for partnership doesn't pass this test with flying colors, it's time to look elsewhere. For more in-depth analysis of your partnership, complete the Distributor Alignment Checklist, and see if it's a match made in heaven or a flash in the pan.
You’re not engaging distribution partners and providing value.
Like any other relationship, this is a two-way street. It’s not all about what the distribution partner is giving you - in order to get the most out of it, you’ll need to put in some effort.
According to a recent survey of global C-level executives and other senior managers of large enterprise companies conducted by Forbes Insights, “81 percent of respondents stated that customers are now more likely to expect vendors to engage with them and 73 percent said that customers also tend to compare current vendors with their competitors in regards to how they are engaged after initial sale.”
How your distributor feels about you personally matters greatly. If your distributors dosn’t feel valuable to you or heard by you, they won’t be as motivated to engage with the customer on your behalf.
Try to connect with them on a personal and emotional level. Exchange channel marketing insights, input and success stories. Interact with them on social media. You are far more likely to have a successful distributor partnership if you engage the on the human side of business as well as the professional. Make your distribution partner feel valued, and you create the incentive for them to increase their product knowledge, recommend your products to customers and be the representative of your brand they can be.
Making sure your distribution partners see value in your brand is an investment in your company. These days, it’s far too easy to overlook the little things that keep your distribution partnerships from “getting it” when it comes to your brand and value proposition. To recap, here are five major factors that could be causing this problem:
- A language barrier stands in your way.
- Cultural perspectives influence international customers’ opinion of your brand.
- You don’t have enough customer data.
- You’re wasting time with the wrong distributor.
- You’re not engaging distributors and proving your value to them.
Ready to take a look at specific tactics for maintaining long-lasting loyalty in distribution channel partnerships?