Written by: Subir Palit
About the author: Business leader | Motivational Speaker | Former COO, CMO | Current Country Head – Greenply Industries. He has over three decades of experience in marketing in consumer electronics and building materials industry
There’s a saying,
“Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future”: By: Chaplain Ronnie Melancon
Repurposing this quote and using this in business context to understand the importance of trade channel partners one may rephrase it to
“Show me your trade partners and we can predict the future of the organisation”.
In today’s world how companies sell has become as important as what they sell.
The right choice of channel partners impacts and benefits the business by boosting sales, creating new revenue streams, increase productivity and profitability.
Business dynamics, tough competition, strain on margins and emerging technologies is forcing managers today to scrutinize every aspect of their operations, as the right choice of channel partner often results to an untapped opportunity for cost savings and increasing thru-puts.
Trade partners can be the key differentiator in delivering value to the customers. They can be effective in adding to the total value proposition, better addressing the customer’s needs and in further differentiating the total offering from the competition.
Surprisingly, when it comes to prospecting and finalizing new channel partners, most organisations either have a flawed system or have no system at all. The selection process in many organisations are left to the junior most members of the sales team and the basic requirements and prerequisites are often overlooked and discounted by the superiors.
I am shortlisting in the form of a mnemonic, “STRENGTH”, eight key considerations which may help while choosing a potential trade channel partner. I have chosen a mnemonic as this may aid in recall and memorization.
Let’s decode these 8 parameters -:
One of the most important consideration while on boarding the trade Partner is their financial backups to handle company’s present volumes and future growth objectives. What does the prospects three years balance sheet reflect? Their history of transacting in terms of years with other company’s? Number of years in business? Clarity on succession plan can also be critical.
A market smart and trained sales force is a must. Their sales team has to be familiar with the manufacturer’s product and service’s and should be able to demonstrate the product usage whenever required. In case of a entity, being appointed as a distributor they should have adequate manpower to cover the market systematically as required.
Do they have the necessary infrastructure required like warehouse space, transportation facility and adequate backend facilities like ERP packages etc. They must have the investment capacity to handle today’s volumes and also ready for the anticipated growth of volumes in future.
What skills and background does the firm and their staffs have. What are their success stories of the past, which brands have they dealt and promoted in the past and delivered results? An experience entity will take less time in building the link with retailers and customers.
A benefit any company can get while appointing a trade partner is encashing the good relationship of the channel partner with its existing customer base of resellers or even consumers. The new partner can quickly promote the product to its existing base. It makes sense also to study the existing span of the prospect both in terms of physical reach and addressability.
It’s really an intangible asset which cannot be seen but exists. The reputation of the firm and the trust it enjoys with its customers can be invaluable. The goodwill of the firm is enhanced considerably with a good after sales support back up and feedback mechanism. Service satisfaction, fairness, positive attitude of staffs etc are few more desirable attributes. It’s important that the owner also has a good personal reputation in the market and with his financiers. Ref checks are also desirable from bankers.
The ideal situation would be if the firm’s top line and bottom line are both growing in tandem. If the turnover has remained static or have grown less than industry norms and simultaneously have had no positive impact on the bottom line. Then one needs to dig deeper and find out more before on boarding the prospect. However, this information is not easily available specially if the firms are small time operators and, in many cases, they feel uncomfortable to disclose such sensitive information.
A growth in turnover does not necessarily guarantee that the everything is ok. However, it can be an indicator of the firm’s mindset and the team’s volume confidence index.
Last but not the least that can impact the outputs and overall performance is the overall hygiene factors and values. These factors are mainly the policies of the firm, supervision, work environment, compensation, transparency, timeliness of payments and credit history. How well the business practices and philosophies of the firm mesh with those of the principal.
Appointing a good channel partners enables organisations to leverage the market opportunities and respond to customer needs in collaboration thus resulting in much more efficient and effective outcome than they could have done separately.
One of the biggest mistakes many times companies make while finalising a new channel partner is not being selective enough and act in a hurry to meet deadlines for filling the network gaps & white spaces.
When this happens, the poorly selected partners drain the resources, hurt brand reputation and fail to deliver on promises to the company and clients. Companies are forced to spend much time on them often neglecting the partners who are performing well. As a result, the good performing partners starts feeling that they are not getting enough attention or resources from the company and start looking for newer opportunities and avenues.
The agreements with the new partners are normally for a defined period and reviewed every year. It may be an exclusive or non-exclusive arrangement.
The successful relationships are bilateral and both parties have power to shape its nature and future direction over time.
The one possibility with a business partnership, as with any close relationship, is that there are chances of conflicts arising at some point of time. It can arise from a host of roots and causes, but generally it occurs when two parties have opposing approaches to a situation or issue. Reasons can be of difference of opinion, working conditions, unrealistic expectations, poor communication or non-compliance of statutory norms.
Conflicts can cost a great deal of time, money and loss of opportunity. All conflicts need to be managed and sorted out before it becomes destructive and reaches a dead end. Conflict can be avoided if steps are taken early through discussions and can be resolved by applying a series of thoughtfully applied steps.
Summing up, it needs to be understood that trade partners engage with an organisation mainly because they earn profit from selling their product and they see also an opportunity to grow their customer base, goodwill and progress along with the company to the next orbit.
On the other hand, the companies need to treat the trade
partners not just as numbers on an invoice. Beyond the financial transaction, the relationships are built on fair dealings and trust. Long term stable association between the two is one of the keys to better business growth and increased market share.
“Great sales leaders are relationship builders who provide value and help their customers win” – Jeffrey Gitomer.