The short answer is yes. But this would rank right up there as one of my top 10 boring-est blog posts if that was the only answer I gave.

If you rely on independent channels to distribute and sell your products now is a very, very good time to really look at the way you’re engaging them and how you help them be successful. 

Sharing their pain now will lead to benefits tomorrow. This post may sound like common sense. But as the old saw goes (and my experience) – common sense isn’t so common.

Work Hard to Make Your Customers Successful

Many channel partners are small businesses. There are a few that are very, very large but if you’re selling through a channel, many the companies you rely on to represent your brand and connect with your end users and final customers are small to medium-sized businesses. This means they feel the pain of tough business times as much, if not more, than you. And your job is to find a way to get them to connect and engage with your brand. And when they have a choice of which product to buy – will it be yours? It may if you think differently about the programs you design to influence their buying behaviors.

Your channel partners will support those vendors and suppliers who helped them stay in business, helped them get new customers, helped them reduce costs and helped them be better businesses in the future. As a partner in their success, you need to dig into the market right now and find out what needs your distributors have and how you can help address those needs. 

Creating a strong incentive/loyalty program that drives performance for you – and helps drive business for them is critical. But don’t just do what you’ve seen done before. Be different.

Focus on Them!

How to do that? The first step is to check your ego at the door.

Don’t assume because you NEED their loyalty they WANT to give it to you. You’re not their only suitor. But if you’re smart you just might be the only suitor that actually listens and responds to their needs.

Ask them questions (don’t judge the answers just yet.)

  • What is their point of pain dealing with their vendors – all of them – and you in particular?
  • What does their business need? Don’t ask about lowering prices – ask about employee turnover, accounting issues, tax support, other business activities. (Remember – don’t judge the answer yet.)
  • What are their customers saying? What help does their customer base need?
  • What can you do for them?

Once you understand their pain you can find ways to connect what you do to what you can do for them.

Maybe offering SMB services at discounted prices through third-party partnerships will drive them toward your offerings? That would be more valuable to them in the long run than simply dropping the price 10%. Don’t assume just because you manufacture widgets you don’t have a way to help with their employee turnover problem. As a manufacturer or vendor – you may have more clout than a small business would and could help them access resources they wouldn’t normally be able to.

In my work with distribution channels I have found too often programs targeting price lead the discussion. And end it.  “Buy more and I’ll drop the price.”

But look around – everyone is saying the same thing. Try putting yourself in their shoes.

Here’s the real issue:

They need less help buying your stuff and more help selling their stuff.

Don’t follow the traditional path.  Ask yourself…

“Does my loyalty initiative focus on what I need or on what they need?

Start looking at loyalty as a “giving” program – not a “taking” program and I’m sure you’ll find more partners willing to help you out as well.