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Common Sense Communications

May 31, 2022
Desiree Grace offers some tips on how to build solid working relationships with business partners.
How much communication do you owe your distributors? As a manufacturer who sells through distribution, that’s a loaded question. You might think what you do internally is not their concern. But, what if your internal operations impact them? Do you communicate that? If so, how, when and how much?

If a change in your internal operations impacts your distributors, you should proactively communicate with them. It’s a sign of respect and partnership that will help maintain and strengthen the relationship.

Proactive communications also allows you to control the narrative. If you don’t share information proactively, people have a tendency to gossip, assume, or, worse, make stuff up.

People also need to know what comes next. Do they have a new point of contact? Are lead times changing? Should they bulk up inventory to prepare for your new ERP changeover? Whatever is happening in your organization that might impact distribution, a good manufacturer partner helps the distributor prepare and plan by sharing relevant information.

How should you share? A phone call if the information is personal or complex, or there may be nuanced questions that require a thoughtful answer. An e-mail if the information is brief and to the point. A press release if the information is major. How would you want to receive the information if you were in the distributor’s position? When to share is also important. Do you want to control the narrative? Is the information time sensitive? Get ahead of the situation and communicate proactively.

Does the distributor need to know every detail? No. Certain things are inappropriate or proprietary. You should share how the mutual business is impacted, and the future plan. This allows business to continue, without disruption, mutual customers to be served and relationships to be preserved. Solid and proactive communication is critical to any public relations strategy. Follow these simple guidelines:

  •  What happened, is happening, and will happen, in brief.
  •  How the manufacturer will manage the above, in relationship to the distributor.
  •  What the distributor needs to know, do, understand going forward.
  •  Answer any questions or concerns quickly, succinctly, professionally.

The end result will be business continuity, trust and maintaining your professional reputation. In a market where many manufacturers are considered substitutable by distributors, you can differentiate yourself from other manufacturers with good external communications. You can build better distributor relationships by communicating clearly, and expecting the same respect in return. If you deliver it, you will also receive it.

Lastly, some of you may be thinking, “If I share information with my distributors, it will get shared with my competitors.” More than likely, your competitors already know, high-level, what you are doing. Your own salespeople are probably sharing the information. If you have a deep-seated distrust of your distributors, maybe there is a bigger problem you need to investigate.

In business, as in life, you generally earn what you invest. If you invest the time and care to proactively communicate with your distributors, you will earn a return on that investment that cannot be measured strictly in dollars and cents, although it will translate to that over time. You will earn trust, confidence and true partnership. Evaluate your external communication practices, and if they need improvement, take action.


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