Why Old-School Distributor-Manufacturer Meetings are a Waste of Time

By Mike Marks, Co-Founder, Indian River Consulting Group

If you’re a distributor, you’re going to disagree with your suppliers from time to time. If you’re starting to deploy your sales force more strategically, these disagreements are even more likely to come up. If you’re reducing your cost to serve by moving some customers to an inside sales model, for example, suppliers with mandates on outside sales representation may take issue.

Regardless of the reason for disagreement, the No. 1 tool at your disposal is to change the dynamic of the distributor-manufacturer meeting. This is how most of the worst joint-planning meetings go: The independent rep or sales district manager comes in with a PowerPoint presentation that gives you updates on upcoming products and other things, and tells you that you’re missing your numbers. And the distributor brings nothing to the table other than to say, “if you would just do X, Y and Z, everything would be great.”

That’s the old-school way of doing things, and it’s just wasting everybody’s time. What should happen instead is that when a manufacturer comes in for a joint meeting, the distributor should give a presentation to the manufacturer detailing what’s happening in their market, including market economics and updates on major accounts. Ideally, this distributor knows five to 10 times more about the market than the supplier does. If they do, when the vendor rep comes out for a visit, they can give them a bunch of information and a PowerPoint presentation with data that the vendor can take back to their boss to effectively negotiate on the distributor’s behalf.