A question we’re often asked is how to find distributors. So we’ve asked Judith Kee, Partnerships Manager at SciLeads, to answer some of the most common questions drawing on her 30 years of experience in this area.
- Which countries do I need distributors in?
- Where can I find distributors?
- How do I onboard them?
- How do I keep the relationship going?
Question – Which countries do I need distributors in?
The first thing you need to do is identify the gaps that your direct sales don’t cover and this will help you quickly determine which territories you require distributors in. Start by ranking your target countries by market size and work your way down the list – one way would be to look at how much funding each country is getting for an application.
Countries such as India, Italy, and Israel only allow local companies to apply for tenders so these would be priority countries to get a partner for. If you have strong competition in a particular country then having good local support will give you an advantage and a unique selling point.
Obviously, make sure your product can be distributed freely and/or meets the necessary regulations before reaching out to that country – think about export requirements eg can you store and transport reagents continually at the required temperature.
Question – Where can I find distributors?
Below are some ways to find distributors once you have picked the territories. I have also added some pros and cons for each of these.
Distributors who sell complementary products
Have a look at similar or complementary products to yours and then check out their distributor network. Find a company selling a complementary (but not competitive) product to yours – it could be similar but a different price point or a product that is used in the same application as yours. For example, if you sell image analysis software then locating people who are already distributing for the microscope companies would be a good fit. Take a look on their website under ‘support’ or ‘local sales’ and see the distributors they are using in each country.
Ok so now you want to consider how your product could fit within their current portfolio – is it a higher or lower end product that would complement their current offering? Could it be something that is needed for the same application? Such as a protein purification kit that is used before Biophysical Analysis.
- Pros: You are adding to their current portfolio so they will already have the relevant training and customer base.
- Cons: By increasing their portfolio, you could be diluting their focus on each product.
Distributors who sell competitor products
Ok so this one is riskier, but if you find the distributors of competitor products then you could approach them and ask them to sell your product instead.
- Pros: They already know your application area so should require less training. They will have already established a reputation in the field and have a network of customers/interested buyers.
- Cons: You will need to prove that your product is better and easier to sell than what they already have!
Ask your current customers
This is the ideal scenario – by asking a customer that you have a good relationship with if they have worked with a local supplier in your required territory. If they know anyone then they can help you make the initial introduction and give you some background information on them.
- Pros: Word of mouth is a great way to not only get tried and tested recommendations but it can make the outreach and new connection easier to do.
- Cons: You may not have any customers to ask.
Of course, if you don’t have a customer in that country to ask, then that’s why you need a distributor there in the first place!
Advertise for them
Tradeshows are a great resource for this as many conferences are well attended by distributors – such as Pittcon, Medica, Analytica, and SLAS. You can add that you are looking for distributors in any marketing campaigns you do before and at the show, and if you don’t have a booth at the event, you could simply wear a shirt saying ‘looking for distributors’.
Or, if you already have a distributor in mind, then you could send them a list of the shows you will be attending and ask if they are going to any of them.
Make sure you also advertise on your website and social media channels that you are looking for distributors. I recommend also doing a paid advert on LinkedIn so you can target the specific locations where you want to find distributors.
- Pros: Identify people who are actively looking to add to their portfolio.
- Cons: These distributors might not have expertise in your particular field and will need more training.
Question – What is the best way to onboard new distributors?
Ok, so now that you have signed up a new distributor, how do you get them up and running? Remember, the goal of any distributor relationship is to make it as easy as possible for them to sell your product, stay at the front of their mind, and position your goods as more profitable than others. This includes providing presale leads, after-sales support as well as offering deals and discounts where possible.
As with any business relationship, make sure you have a good contract in place and set targets so that the business outcomes can be regularly assessed. However, don’t feel you need to secure exclusivity straight away; trial periods work best to learn about the region, distributor, and the market. Try if possible to experience a couple of customer visits with your potential distributor prior to formally signing them up and incentivize them with a good deal off the RRP.
It can be good to continue to work directly with any reference customers as it will help you keep your ear to the ground in that particular market.
Training and Support
In your initial training, you will need to make sure they are familiar with the product features and that they know how to correctly demo the product (if applicable). Ideally, this training would be in person if possible, and you should also provide training videos and/or documents that have step-by-step instructions too.
Make sure you give your distributor access to a demo unit – you could heavily discount it and then that’s a small sale too, but make sure you stipulate that they can’t resell it unless it’s 12 months old. I highly recommend assigning a dedicated Channel Manager and a technical support person that your distributor can reach out to easily – by ensuring queries are responded to promptly it will help to keep business flowing.
Sales and Marketing
Give your distributor as much sales and marketing support as possible, but involve them in the process so they are making an effort on their side too.
You will want to make sure your products are added to their website correctly – with high-quality images and descriptions. Make sure you monitor this going forward to check the information is always up to date and your product is being communicated correctly. It is a good idea to include stipulations in the contract about how your product should be represented and include brand guidelines for use of logos etc (if applicable). Of course, add the distributor to your own website too.
You will want to give them a helping hand to make money from the outset by providing them with some warm leads; but I would advise against continually sending them lists of leads as the expectation will be set that they don’t need to prospect themselves.
Working on a joint initial outreach campaign is a great way to have some control and visibility, but also helps them to see how to prospect for your type of customer. Schedule a time to visit your distributor early in the relationship – Send an email to say ‘Hi I’ll be in X institution next week, are you free to talk about our new product?’. We find people are more likely to book meetings when it comes directly from the manufacturer but it’s never a problem if the distributor arrives at the meeting instead – ask the distributor to translate your email into the local language if you don’t speak it.
What are your tips for distributor management?
Distributors are an important part of your network and so you will need to continually monitor their progress and ensure that they have everything they need to sell your product effectively. I have added some tips below to help this relationship progress smoothly:
- Make sure you are in their inbox on a regular basis to stay front of mind.
- Schedule monthly/quarterly catchups to review the progress.
- Have regular training programs and specific distributor launches for NPIs – don’t forget about your distributors when new products are launched – train them up as well as your own people.
- Have annual distributor meetings at your HQ where they can network with other distributors – and network personally with product managers and engineers.
- Review their website regularly to ensure they are keeping up with your latest products and branding.
- Have a support portal and keep it updated – FAQS, Reference customers, product materials.
- Create joint visits to customers or have a joint booth at specific shows.
- Have a regional roadshow – if a distributor sells multiple products for the same application/technique – eg cameras and microscopes – they can invite their prospects to evaluate them all at the same time.
- Provide scalable incentives to align with growth plans – awards can help with motivation/mindshare and inter-distributor competitiveness.
- Keep in their mind or they’ll move on – invest time into the relationship and travel to the region for dinners and social events to build up trust and loyalty