Managing agents and distributors - Sales Management

There is no simple magic way to maximize sales through agents and distributors. The principles of managing wholesale distributors(Chapter ), and also those for developing key accounts (Chapter ), all have very practical application when managing a network of agents and distributors.

Your agents and distributors will look to you mainly as a provider of support and assistance, particularly in respect of:

  • resolving all problems that arise in connection with orders (often concerning:product availability, packaging, labeling,quality, dispatch, shipping documents)
  • providing a two-way link between your company and the distributor, exchanging information relevant to the distributor–principal relationship (such as knowledge of developments outside the distributor’s market that might benefit the distributor)
  • imparting product knowledge to the distributor and their sales team, who will look to you for a level of expertise they cannot expect to acquire as a multiproduct marketing organization
  • training in selling skills to enhance the performance of the distributor’s sales team(particularly for your products, but with spin-off benefits for other products represented)
  • assisting in developing management systems that can be adapted for use by the distributor in their own company, with benefits for all parties through improved control
  • planning marketing and sales activities designed to increase sales and profits, in conjunction with the distributor, using your more specialized knowledge and multimarket experience
  • providing direct sales support by presenting products to key accounts in the foreign market alongside the distributor’s sales team.

Market activities

While visiting markets and working with your agents or distributors it is likely that your main discussions and activities will fall into the categories of:

  • communicating
  • planning
  • motivating
  • performance monitoring
  • training.

Within the earlier chapters of this text we have covered all these topics, and your experience and expertise in these areas will Tell for export market management. Our export markets invariably operate to different cultural norms than ourselves, and we must be the chameleons, adapting to their local culture while propagating ‘best practice’.

While in the foreign market, on what is usually a rather short visit, you will be under great deal of pressure (much of it self-generated)to accomplish a variety of tasks and objectives. During your extended working day time will normally be spent in meetings with your representative, customers or end users, and perhaps monitoring performance in the market place (field checking distribution).While with the distributor or agent some of your key activities will usually include:

  • reviewing sales performance
  • providing feedback on company and general distributor performance (such as your export performance compared with that of other home market exporters, your share of imports to destination market,and other available data supporting estimates of performance)
  • presenting new products, advertising plan sand promotions
  • providing appropriate sales and management training
  • planning annual (or other periodic) sales and marketing programmes (or rolling forward current plans)
  • reviewing achievement against current plans and programmes
  • developing action programmes to counter deviations from current plans
  • assisting in distributor sales team and sales management recruitment
  • assisting in major sales presentations with local key accounts
  • developing goodwill for the company and products.

Field work

Of course there is more to do on a foreign market visit than just hold meetings in annoyance. Field work with the agent or distributor’sales team, or sometimes alone conducting distribution audits, is another important market activity function. There are several aspects to field work, including:

  • making sales presentations with agents and distributors (particularly with key accounts or where the prestige of a direct visit from the manufacturer may clinch deal)
  • conducting field sales training with members of the agent’s or distributor’sales team
  • conducting field distribution checks (for products distributed through retail outlets)on known customers and on a random selection of outlets (to measure actual distribution versus potential distribution)
  • assessing market reaction to your products, prices and promotional activities, and collecting and collating information useful in the planning (or corrective action) and performance monitoring process
  • seeking and identifying new opportunities for your company to expand its range of sale activities
  • problem solving (trouble shooting) where identified problems have not been handled by the agent or distributor, or where he or she needs your specialist assistance
  • visiting distribution outlets (sub-distributors,wholesalers, specialist stockist's, etc.),distribution depots, after-sales servicemen
  • monitoring competitive activity (pricing,distribution, product range, distributor effectiveness, promotional activity, sales performance, acceptance, etc.).

The experienced international marketer may be involved in all these activities without thinking; new representatives may want to develop personal checklists to remind themselves of the factors relevant to their particular products and markets.

Those sales managers who transfer from domestic market operations into the export function will find that they are well prepared if they have a broad competence in the subject matters covered in this text and the companion volume, The CIM Handbook of Export Marketing (Butter worth-Heinemann).

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Sales Management Topics