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The changing role of distributors as a communication channel

No longer just supply chain managers, disties now provide an essential support network

Man signing paper on a table with laptop next to him

The role of a distributor is changing. It's transforming from simply managing the supply chain to providing end-to-end support for resellers. Distributors are also becoming the voice piece for vendors, helping them decipher what end-users are asking for.

But clearly more needs to be done. According to our recent research, over half of IT security resellers don't think distributors are supporting them enough, which makes it clear distributors need to be much better at being the key communicator between vendor and reseller. Ultimately, it will make distributors more trusted across the board.

Communication with partners

The journey to becoming the voice piece starts with understanding the partner's business inherently. Having knowledge of the products that end-users are asking for, where they have had successes in the past and what their business is already selling are the three most important things to understand from the relationship.

Getting to know this valuable information can only happen through ongoing conversations with partners. Distributors that know what their customers are asking for and where they've celebrated success in the past will be able to refer to these success stories during their pitches. They'll be able to offer the right product at the right time.

For example, when selling in a new vendor or vendor's product to a partner, the sales team should take the time to organise initial conference calls with partners they think may be interested, basing the conversation around the successes they've had. They can then pitch the vendors and technologies based upon exactly what their end-users are interested in, rather than taking a stab in the dark.

The next step is technical validation through a web demo to make sure the product is as good and as relevant as a distributor is saying it is. The validation stage is to make sure the product really will work for the end-users.

The final stage is a conversation around the onboarding programme, because not everybody has the same groups of customers to target particular products at. If a partner predominantly has technically-led salespeople, that's going to be a different conversation to one aimed at a purely sales organisation that maybe doesn't have the technical expertise.

The entire process is about understanding the reseller's business as much as possible. Instead of one-size-fits-all, it's vital to tailor the approach and the onboarding process to make sure partners are getting what they know will result in sales. It shows to the partner that the distributor is actually listening to them.

Communication with the vendors

Feeding back what a distributor has heard from its partner network to the vendor is a major part of what makes the sales channel work. If vendors aren't taking onboard what a distributor, its partners, or even the end-users are saying, they will soon find they won't have as many customers on board.

Using a collaboration platform where the vendor can see each stage of the sell-in process, including feedback from partners, is also key. At Alpha Generation, we use the detail and analysis within our systems to create a collaborative workspace for each of the vendors we work in. We have four silos set up, each representing the different stages of our sell-in process, with the first stage being the most important for the vendor to pay attention to. We make notes when we talk to a partner, so everything is documented and the vendors can see the feedback we're getting.

As is the case with the relationship with the partner, the next key stage in the vendor process is onboarding. And that's where it's essential the distributor actually understands the business of the partner and is able to pass that insight onto the vendor.

For example, a vendor may want to pitch into a partner it thought could become an opportunity, however, thanks to a close relationship with the partner, you may know that it only has one customer relevant to the vendor's business. With this knowledge, you would be able to push back on the vendor and to ensure that they're not wasting the partner's time.

Quality not quantity

If resellers are to feel better supported in the channel, distributors need to take this approach. Having a clear communication network with the vendor and with partners that can pass on information about what their customers really want is becoming an integral part of a distributor's role.

Gone are the days when distributors were expected to chase after as many partners as they possibly could to get a vendor's product or service on their books.

It's now much more important for partners, whether resellers, MSPs or systems integrators, to provide end-users with what they want, or at least advise on the different options. That means the entire supply chain - the vendor, distributor, partner and customer - needs to wholly understand what every part of the chain really needs - and the distributor needs to be at the centre.

Chris Walsh is sales director at Alpha Generation

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