For many years I sold, installed and supported ERP software written specifically for wholesale distribution clients. I lived, ate, slept, breathed distribution. I worked in every aspect of the company including, sales, purchasing, accounting and customer service. One of the age long conversations was about keeping manufacturing and distribution as separate entities. When manufacturers started selling direct to the end user, breaking the distribution chain, there were lots of problems and lots of companies very upset. It is virtually impossible for a distributor to compete directly with a manufacturer. Typically the manufacturer did not have the infrastructure in place to support a direct sales team.
Fast forward a number of years. I have left the software industry and moved in the trade show exhibit, retail, museum and event space. We are a distributor in that industry. We research and source the best of the best products in the industry. We keep on top of trends so that we can best service our clients and prospects and help them look the best they can. We feel this allows us to be objective in product recommendations and can truly listen to our customer or prospect to recommend the best possible solution without being tied to a specific brand or product line.
As part of our offerings we provide printed graphics, fabric, vinyl, sintra and many other substrates. We work with a few providers but all of the providers that we use DO NOT sell direct to the end user. We have a couple of companies that call on us quite regularly to try to get us to sell their printing. We always tell them the same thing.
When our client's job is on your production floor, what is to stop a sales rep from seeing it and thinking, hmmm I should be calling on that client, I can give them better pricing. We had a rep that I personally knew from college try to get me to buy from them. We sent a couple of jobs to them because of my relationship with her. A couple of months later, she emailed me asking me to price a shipping case. She sent me a picture of a case with OUR logo sticker right on the case. I questioned her and told her that this was clearly our client. She said she was given this account when she started with this company.
If you have read any of my posts you know how important trust and relationships are to me. So, she wanted me to sell her products, but yet she was selling her products to our customers. How does this make any sense? Why would I ever trust having my customer's work in their facility for their reps to poach?
There is another company that has wanted our business. We have had similar issues with them. We decided to give them a shot and to quote a job. We sent them the details and we got "the" phone call. He said, "Lori I had to call you about this quote request. This company is a current client of ours and we are bidding on this job also." Do you think we got that business? No, I am sure as they knew we were bidding they undercut their pricing to be sure their price was less than ours. As much as I love saving a customer money, we are in business, like everyone, to make a profit.
I just found out that one of our long time product providers in another industry is also selling direct to the end user. I am deeply saddened and disappointed by this. I will be digging deeper to find out the truth on this one. We have been led to believe that they only sold through a distribution channel.
So I put this right out there to all of you companies that are selling direct to the end user and through a distribution channel. Until you decide which you are going to be, we are not interested in doing business with you. We will compete with you. And, I will be bold enough to say, we will win many of those deals.
If there is one thing in business that I despise more than anything else is companies that are deceitful.
Lori Hanken has been in sales and marketing for over 30 years. She is passionate about service and providing value to her vendors, prospects and clients. Lori is currently co-owner of Total Displays with her husband David. They help people look great at events, trade shows, in retail, museums and develop long partnerships with customers and suppliers. If you would like to learn more, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Connect with her on LinkedIn here.