Manufacturer's View: Winning Big Means Keeping Distributors In The Loop

For good reason, manufacturers want and need to keep company secrets closely guarded. But in doing so, distributors can be left with gaps in information. Klein Tools CEO Mark Klein discusses how to keep both sides of the relationship open.

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This article originally appeared in the July/August print edition of Industrial Distribution. To view the full digital edition, click here.

Hockey season is over and it has me thinking about the impact of power plays in business. The relationship between manufacturers and distributors is a bond often overlooked. In both business and hockey, having an extra “player on the ice” can make a huge difference, but if not executed well, can be a missed opportunity to score.

As with hockey, training is everything in customer relations. Team members (distributors) are on the front lines of the customer experience and everyone’s bottom line; however, they often aren’t given full access to a company’s playbook. For good reason, manufacturers want and need to keep company secrets closely guarded. But in doing so, distributors can be left with gaps in information.

Keep Distributors In The Know

Manufacturers need to start considering their distribution team as part of their sales team. For example, what materials, FAQs or training is provided? The closer the distributor is to the sales team, the easier it is for everyone to win. Not only can the sales team teach a lot to the distributor, but the reverse is also true. Distributors are a great way for the sales team to learn what potential and current customers are saying about the company and products. Information around why purchasing decisions were made can help improve the distributor’s sales knowledge and the manufacturer’s ultimate success.

Equip With Customer Motivations

To further understand purchase drivers, Klein Tools recently launched a ‘State of the Industry’ survey asking union and non-union, experienced and apprenticed electricians why they buy tools. It found that replacement is the most common driver of new tool purchases, as well as:

  • More than one in three electricians (35 percent) indicate the primary reason for buying new tools is a tool is no longer usable or it is worn out, and two-thirds (65 percent) indicate this is a reason overall. 
  • Non-union members are more likely to replace tools based on need, while union members more heavily rely on word of mouth to guide their decision making about purchasing new tools.

Get In The Buyer’s Mindset

The survey also found that recommendations within the union community go a long way. Union members (28 percent) are significantly more likely than non-members (13 percent) to purchase tools because of a recommendation from a friend or colleague. This is important information for distributors to consider when they are discussing new products. It’s easy to tell if a customer is experienced or new, but do they know if a customer is union or non-union, or if they are adjusting their sales tactics effectively?

It’s also beneficial for distributors to know what features electricians are looking for in the tools they select. 

  • Six in seven electricians find durability (87 percent) and a high level of performance (87 percent) to be very important or important when purchasing a specific tool. 
  • Five in six electricians find safety (83 percent) to be very important or important when purchasing a specific tool. 
  • Four in five electricians find efficiency (81 percent), being trustworthy (81 percent), and being a good value for the money (80 percent) to be very important or important when purchasing a specific tool.

It’s crucial for distributors to know and explain why products are priced the way they are and what accounts for the differences. Is it the quality of materials, unique design, warranty, etc.?

  • Nearly three in five electricians (57 percent) would not purchase a specific tool if it were too expensive. 
  • Non-union electricians (64 percent) are significantly more likely than union members (48 percent) to not purchase a tool for this reason.
  • Nearly one-half of electricians (48 percent) would not purchase a specific tool if it has a poor warranty. 

Finally, distributors should factor in qualities around ease of use. The Klein survey found that one-third of electricians (34 percent) would not purchase a specific tool if it were too heavy. Non-union electricians (40 percent) are significantly more likely than union members (25 percent) to not purchase a tool for this reason.

Distributors play a crucial role in the success of a company. In order to be successful, manufacturers need to invest in training this team just like they do internal sales teams and other employees. The more distributors are made to feel part of a specific brand, the more customers will understand the attributes of that manufacturer’s products–making it a “W” for the entire team.

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