organizations using third party sales channel partners typically will have distributor gatherings for training, trade shows or special events e.g. anniversaries or new factories. These types of gatherings are usually meant to motivate the channel partners and try to win extra mind share. Participation is usually voluntary and will involve a PowerPoint parade, a distributor complaint session and some sort of rubber chicken meal. Distributor meetings build camaraderie amongst channel partners, update them on new products and provide a much needed a chance to broaden relationships with the manufacturers internal staff.
I have been exposed several times in my career to manufacturers that conduct a somewhat differentiated event, a distributor council. These events are typically by limited invitation only. The purpose is to share insights, forward plans and best practices in a smaller group that will provide more forthright constructive feedback. The goal for the manufacturer is to win the hearts and minds of the distributor principals (owners). You want your best partners at these meetings-not your best friends-your best partners: https://www.jimthomasintl.com/blog/channel-partners-when-used-as-a-buzz-word.
Best practices for Distributor Councils are built around:
Who should participate? Corporate officers that are customer facing including the CEO, Distributor owners/partners that work with multiple manufacturers. Exclude persons involved in the day to day business. These meetings are not operational. Rotate distributor membership in 3-4 year terms. Don’t mix your North American distributors with overseas distributors. There are different topics, cultures and languages to master that may dilute the meeting between the manufacturers domestic and foreign partners:
Who builds the agenda? Manufacturer with distributor input.
Who leads the meetings? Both-try to split the topics. Have some distributor only time so they can discuss any benchmarking issues without manufacturer “interference.”
How often to meet? In person at least 1X/year with a six month conference call check in. Quarterly updates are nice with progress reports on action items.
Where to meet? Rotate sites. It is particularly good to have a site with a local distributor nearby to help with meeting coordination and knowledge of the area. Host it at the manufacturer location every 3-5 years so that partner principals see the manufacturer investments in plant and people.
How to allocate costs? Manufacturer pays for all local meals, transport and meeting costs. Everyone pays for their own travel.
How long to meet? 2-2.5 days live. Conference call should be much shorter-have agenda-video call is best.
Realize that these meetings are meant to support the Field Managers and gain mind share. Use it as a tool to build relationships and respect between the parties-it can truly be a company differentiator. The tone should be as that of a partner: friendly, communicative and collaborative.
Do you want to have a free fifteen minute discussion so we can discuss creating or updating your Distributor Council? Sign up on my web site or contact me directly by phone.