Why a Distributor is a Partner, Not a Customer

In the ad specialties industry, very rarely will a supplier deal directly with the end-user/recipient of a product. The established hierarchy is from supplier to distributor to end-user. Because I never deal directly with the end client, there are a lot of unique challenges that arise from this relationship. Let’s look at examples and reasons why a distributor is a partner, not a customer.

One large challenge I face, as does anyone who deals with a similarly structured hierarchy, is to create a relationship of value with the distributors in my field. The value that you provide to your contacts must exceed that of which they can gain elsewhere. What are you providing your distributors to help them succeed? Because that is the crux of the matter right there- you have to make sure that they are successful, in order to be a success yourself.

Do you provide free spec samples, webinars, blind pricing sheets, customer friendly catalogs/websites? If you aren’t, you may wish to consider doing some, if not all of those. You need to invest in those distributors in order to make the relationship work. You can’t have the return in ROI without the investment.

Instead of thinking of the distributors in your industry as customers, who have to be sold to, think of them as partners that need to be equipped. Give them the tools that they need to succeed and they will grow, with that growth in turn developing you. Partners are different because they carry with them an intrinsic value. Partners can be trusted much more than a regular customer with both the materials that you give them and the investment that you make. As your partnership grows, so will the trust involved. Partners also bring with them the connections that they have. In times of necessity, those connections may be the tipping point that wins you the deal or even fills a need of your own.

So, how does the principle of creating partners apply more generally to all industries? Well, all relationships can be treated as partnerships. For example, your customers will always be your best advocate or your worst critic, depending mainly upon how they are treated. Treat them as a partner (listen to their objections, provided stellar customer service, find out more about their needs) and they will be an advocate on your behalf. When you make the relationship more than a transaction, the customer will notice, and will discover a value that will hopefully transcend into loyalty.

All in all, just follow the golden rule: Treat others how you would like to be treated! That principle has always held true for me.

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