One of the most common questions I hear almost daily is, “How do I find distributors abroad?” When the pandemic started and travel restrictions were imposed, the question became, “What do I do now? How do I find distributors abroad without traveling?”
I wrestled with this question while working in the private sector, and I have helped clients answer it countless times using the lessons I learned. The answer, whether pre-pandemic or today, is a two-part answer.
Step 1: Marketing
The first part of the answer is simple and straightforward. Pre-pandemic, some of the most common ways to find distributors abroad were:
- Attending international trade shows.
- Receiving matchmaking services abroad through consulting firms and/or U.S. government trade agencies (federal and state).
- Conducting marketing campaigns to target potential distributors in specific countries.
- Deploying social media and online marketing recruitment campaigns.
- Advertising distribution opportunities on your website and in industry publications.
When the pandemic started, travel restrictions and lockdowns domestically and abroad changed many aspects of doing international business, including how to find distributors in other countries. As a result, alternative ideas were developed to fill this gap. One of the most innovative approaches that has proven to be tremendously successful is participating in virtual B2B matchmaking events organized by U.S. federal and state trade agencies, as well as private trade organizations.
Step 2: Finding Long-Term Success
The second part of the answer is the hard part, because it involves reframing and expanding the original question. The first part is the marketing part of the process and where many companies focus their attention. The expanded question to ask and wrestle with is: “How do I find the right distributors abroad that will produce results on a long-term basis?”
To tackle this expanded question, I like to walk clients through the following scenario: “Let's suppose you attended a B2B matchmaking event and you meet potential distributors. Do you know the profile of your ideal distributor? Do you know how to screen and select the right distributor? And once you sign up a distributor, do you know how to onboard them, develop them and keep them for the long run?” This is the first in a series of articles that will help you answer these questions.
A few years ago, after realizing that a company I worked for had several distributors that were not producing results, I worked on developing principles to identify, screen and select the right distributors, and make sure they stayed for the long run.
First, I developed a matrix that allowed me to map out which distributors needed to stay and which ones needed to go. I call it the Fit/Tenure Matrix. I have used this matrix successfully to evaluate distributor portfolios at companies where I worked. I have also used it to assess clients' distributor portfolios. Additionally, it is a great conversation tool to find out why and how clients selected the distributors in their portfolios.
Fit: It refers to how well current or potential distributors meet your profile for ideal distributors. A Good Fit is a distributor that meets most or all your criteria for an ideal distributor. A Bad Fit is a distributor that meets few to none of your criteria for an ideal distributor.
Tenure: It refers to how long the current distributors have been part of your distribution network. I consider a Short Tenure less than three years. A Long Tenure is more than three years.
Looking at the Fit/Tenure Matrix, in which quadrant are your distributors (or your clients’ distributors)? The ideal scenario is to have distributors in the Good Fit/Long Tenure quadrant. Distributors in this quadrant don't become great, productive distributors automatically. You have to develop them (the fifth article in this series will focus on distributor development). The least desirable scenario is to have distributors in the Bad Fit/Long Tenure quadrant. Unfortunately, I have seen the latter scenario often.
After I moved to consulting, I started sharing with my clients the principles I used to select distributors in the Good Fit/Long Tenure quadrant and developing new principles. In this series of articles, I will share with you the principles that will help you not only to select the right distributors, but also to keep them for the long run (Good Fit/Long Tenure) and develop them into highly productive distributors. Stay tuned!
Questions to Ponder
- Do you know what is the profile of your ideal distributors abroad?
- Do you or your clients have an established process to screen, select and retain the right distributors?
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