When Your Customers Belong to Someone Else: Creating Demand Through Distribution Partners

Creating Demand Through Distribution Partners | Macleod & Co. The Holistic Marketing Agency Minneapolis

How do you grow your customer base when they belong to your distribution partners?

With a Holistic Marketing program that ensures everyone’s goals are met.

Distributors and brokers are still very much a reality in foodservice. While the model is becoming slightly friendlier to the little guys, fundamentally, it’s still difficult to reach your end-user customers without a large budget that funnels through large distribution partners.

Holistic Marketing turns this very model on its head.

Distribution networks are successful when they’re large.

As a result, they need to be self-serving to grow their reach. This is the primary benefit to the brands they carry.

But at the same time, this scale requires acutely streamlined operations that are not conducive to getting lesser-known or artisanal brands out in front of their customers. These smaller brands take more resources, mainly time and money that are a premium in distribution networks. Not to mention turnover among sales reps that can set you back to square one with a customer — several times a year.

Your opportunity lies in the individual sales reps as the engines driving the distributor.

They have a level of autonomy that allows them to do what’s best, so they, too, are going to be self-serving to some degree. This is good for distribution partners because a sale is a sale. It’s also good for you, because a sale is a sale.

Your key is to unearth how can you make it good for them. Because they will split hairs: is it easier to sell this over that? Will I make more money with that instead of this?

You must make the salesperson see more value in representing your product, even for a short time. Then you win, the distribution partner wins, and the salesperson wins. Not to mention the customer and the diner.

How can you compete with the larger brands and turn your salesperson into a brand advocate?

Here’s an example of a situation we encountered with one client.

As an agency, we were frustrated with the lack of customer data our client had due to (happily) growing distributor relationships. We needed to know some basic information they weren’t able to provide.

  • What products were moving fastest in what segments?
  • What products created upselling opportunities?

We created a program called “We Sell, You Profit.”

The program allowed our client to have complete access to chef customers of distribution partners. We wanted to know:

  • Who are they?
  • How do they use the product?
  • How can we implement upselling strategies?

Sales reps are paid to sell, not to upsell.

We had to find a way to reward the reps for upselling. This was key in growing the business for our client.

To participate in this program, sales reps simply had to register their customer with our client and then request that samples be sent directly to the customer. At this point, the sales rep’s work is complete. Our client fulfills the samples and follows up with the customer. As long as the sales rep is employed by the distribution partner, all products the customer orders from our client generate commissions for the sales rep.

The sales reps are happy because they get paid commissions on sales they weren’t involved in. Our client is happy because they get direct access to chefs who are using the product. We get direct access to the customer, the rep is making money, the distribution partner is moving more product, and turnover at the distributor isn’t an issue. Everyone wins.

A Holistic Approach

Holistic Marketing told us that we needed to get direct access to the chefs. Analysis of the distribution network sales cycle showed us that our opportunity was not with the distributors, but with the sales reps. We had to find a way to get past the reps and to the chefs.

Our strategy to pay sales reps for work they hadn’t done was a calculated risk we knew had to be taken to get direct contact with the chefs — but it was also money that we’d have gladly paid for the opportunity to upsell.

By optimizing our messaging and aligning our client’s goals with the sales reps goals, we created a plan that rewarded sales reps and sold more product to chefs.


About the Author: Tanya Korpi Macleod is the founder of Minneapolis-based Macleod & Co. After more than 25 years of marketing and advertising experience in the U.S. and Europe, Tanya noticed that chasm that often exists between an organization’s theoretical marketing “plan” and its realistic ability to execute it. This led her to pioneer in the concept of “holistic marketing,” which redefines marketing as the complete process of bringing a product, service or company from inception to maximum ongoing profitability. Her mission is to show organizational leaders that a holistic mindset not only promotes a healthier culture, but a more profitable business.

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