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Featured Article—March, 2006

Moving the Supply Chain – Success may rest in what comes from you….

By Don Kusterer, Care Line Inc.


In many instances, the supply chain for many products involves third-party distribution, i.e., stocking and sales of your goods are through a wholesale distribution company, independent of your own company. Many companies see this effort as either a blessing, or a curse; like a finely tuned car, it becomes turbocharged to achieve a higher speed, or slowed to a lesser degree by a speed-limiting microchip.


What makes the difference? In the best performing distributors, the distributor representatives act as an extension of your sales force. You see little or no difference between your own salespeople and your distributor’s sales team. To achieve this synergy, you must find ways for your distributor salespeople to do their assignment easier, more efficiently, and more profitably (with your products). This includes their ability to easily work with you.


What we have found most significant in working with top distributors, is our ability to provide a high level of mentoring and coaching of their salespeople. In addition to our sales group, we provide a staff of outstanding customer care representatives, up to date sales methods, share our product knowledge on an individual basis, and make sure we help them individually through competitive selling situations.


We know that communication is essential and use email to provide timely product announcements and offer assistance in troubleshooting through regularly published ‘frequently asked questions’ (FAQs).


We value the relationship we share with each, and understand that we share the responsibility for their overall success with our products. This means we need to be easily accessible to return phone calls, leave a detailed voice mail response, offer the opportunity for short, personal meetings, and use business meals as an opportunity to share our experience. It is up to us to be persistent in this communication even if we find there is no immediate response from them.


What can you do with a poor performing relationship? In the case of mentoring and coaching, there will be times when some salespeople don’t care enough to take your advice. In that case, it may be time to move on. You may find that doing the task yourself will send a strong and definitive message. Or, you may find it’s a leadership issue. Share your knowledge. Don’t push them into the sales opportunities, walk along side them and work as a team. In communication, you may find that not everyone is as proficient as you may be with email; the fact is some distributor reps may not even have an active email account. Look for the communication medium that serves them best on an individual level; adjust to their needs wherever possible.


Tip: Be observant, clarify, and share your knowledge; it isn’t powerful until you give it away.


Don’t forget to ask yourself, “How easy is it to do business with me?” While incentives, training and cooperation work, the best motivator may be what you do and the commitment you have to seeing them succeed.


Don Kusterer is Vice President of Sales for Care Line Inc. (Greenbrier, TN), a manufacturer of custom kit products for hospitals and other healthcare providers.


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