"They are our sales force. Without wholesalers and retailers, we can't make money!" a Business Development Manager said to me recently. He was right! Most manufacturers do not sell directly to the public. Instead, they sell through wholesalers and retail channels to make a profit.
That makes customer service more challenging since every inquiry from a distributor might affect thousands of sales. On top of that, many distributors also sell your competitors’ products. So if they are not happy with your service, they will stock their shelves with your competitor's items. That makes providing great distributor service a top priority.
Here are 5 customer service tips to help you support your distribution channel:
Take a holistic approach
Similar to the customer journey, there is also a distributor's journey. What are your company's touch points with wholesalers and retailers? Do distributors communicate with your order desk, warehouse, shipping, billing, sales, marketing and customer service teams? That means every one of those departments must provide excellent service to your distributors. Are each of those departments trained on customer service? Do they even think they are involved in customer service? Remember, customer service is an attitude throughout a company, not just a specific department that answers phone and email inquiries from distributors.
Help distributors navigate your internal systems or processes
Your distribution contacts do not want to hear about the limits of your inventory systems or how a credit has to pass through three levels of sales team approval, followed accounting authorization and then a 90 wait process for a refund to the distributor’s account. Distributors just want their problem taken care of promptly. Think of yourself as a guide. Help distributors solve problems.
Build relationships with your distribution channel
Have your Order Desk, Inside Sales and/or Customer Service team members do a distributor visit if possible. Have them see a wholesaler or retailer in your area. Seeing their distributor builds empathy. It also helps both your employees and distributor's employees put a face to a name. That build rapport. Better yet, have your internal employees do a ride along with your Business Development Managers, Account Managers or Distribution Reps. This helps your inside support teams build relationships with your outside sales team. That makes it easier for them to work together to help distributors and retailers.
Voice of Wholesalers and Retailers
Similar to Voice of the Customer programs, find out what your distributors need. Is it promotional support, display cases, better store signage? What do retailers hear from their customers regarding your products? As your internal support team build relationships with distributors, they should start asking these questions.
Look for opportunities to help
Upsell from the perspective of helping distributors fill holes in their product lineup. When I train Order Desks and Inside Sales team on how to upsell, the focus is identifying how to help distributors make more money and have happier customers. For instance, suggest accessory products they can carry by using the phrase, "Other retailers have found they can boost profits and have happier customers by offering these high volume accessories.” Or suggest other product lines that generate additional store traffic by saying, "Customers who buy what you already sell also tend to buy... " This will help you increase profits and expand your store presence with retailers.
Make sure you take good care of your distribution channel. Answer their questions quickly, support them, listen to their feedback, build relationships and make it easy for your distributors and retailers to sell more of your company's products and services.