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Building Trust and Communication in Dealer – Distribution Partner Relationships

Channel relationships are born out of a natural desire to create and sell winning products and to garner greater market share from the competition. There are tremendous opportunities for both the manufacturer and distributor to create stellar business relationships and capitalize on the joint advantages that neither one could gain alone.

However, current market forces call for more than just “making widgets and selling widgets.” Nowadays, the real competitive advantage lies in information sharing and increased capabilities that can help create a competitive edge over the competition. In the current scenario there is a greater need for manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers to stay connected and work together to fulfill customer orders. Traditionally, it has been the role of the manufacturer to create products while the distributor markets it. Today, Marketing becomes a dual role for both the manufacturer and distributor; brand positioning and messaging must be consistent and the supply chain needs to be strongly aligned in implementing a common marketing and sales strategy.

Trust plays an important role in ensuring that this relationship stays healthy and profitable. A recent study conducted by the Industrial Performance Group, a Northfield, Illinois, firm that specializes in supply chain and distribution channel management, reported that lack of trust was what led to unprofitability and lowered performance in channel relationships.

According to the study, manufacturers often felt that distributors weren’t entirely committed to their product, or weren’t on the right track with the marketing and sales strategy. Distributors felt that manufacturers were being territorial and competing with distributors by selling directly to end-users. The problem then revolves around two issues – Trust and Communication. Without either, the sales cycle becomes more complex and meeting customer needs is harder to achieve.

At Bluff, we have proactively taken steps to address these issues so our dealer/manufacturer relationships can flourish based on trust and common shared goals. We have worked to ensure our dealers benefit from partnering with us. Bluff’s Internet presence and brand value have grown, and as a result, customers have come to recognize the brand and often contact us directly. Bluff conscientiously steers prospective customers toward our material-handling dealers. Our customer service team works diligently to ensure that if a dealer already has a relationship with a prospective customer, then there is continuity of service with that dealer. If the customer does not have a dealer, then we pass them onto a strategic partner in their geographic location. Bluff maintains strict adherence to the adage “honesty is the best policy”.

When market conditions created an environment in which the only way to stay competitive in yard ramp sales was to offer them directly in addition to selling through our channel partners, we emailed and called our strategic partners immediately; and in some cases flew out to our partners’ locations to have candid discussions. Maintaining direct honest communication allows both parties in the distributive partnership to win. It is how we do business. Bluff is a great partner to work with and we would like to keep it that way.

Better channel relationships can lead to increased sales performance, higher profit margins and satisfied and loyal customers, which means growth for everyone involved in the supply chain. For this, we must have better trust and communication and find a common ground on which to do business, build and grow – mutually.