A Distributor Asks: I recently started doing business with a large company. This company was unhappy with their prior distributor partner, which prompted them to find me. However, even though I am now doing some work for them and we have built a good relationship so far, they continue to do business with the other distributor. How do I ask them if we can be the ones to provide these products for them, too?


Whenever an end user invites me to take over an account, I always ask why they were unhappy with the previous distributor. I literally ask this question: “What did your previous distributor do or not do that caused you to consider working with me?” This question sparks a conversation with the prospect, and we learn about each other’s businesses and discover if we’re a good fit. 

My experience is that buyers fire their distributor for three reasons: price, poor service and miscommunication. If a customer is shopping for a new distributor for better pricing, I don’t take them too seriously. If the customer is shopping for a new distributor for the other two reasons, I see this as an excellent opportunity and I pursue the relationship. If we wind up being a good fit, sometimes the relationship starts slowly and then builds over time.

I realize I’m the new guy, and the customer has to witness firsthand that I can be trusted with their brand and their money. I never push the relationship because that’s my selling style, so I focus on providing value and differentiating myself from the previous incumbent distributor. As time goes by and the customer becomes more and more comfortable with me, I’m in a better position to ask for more work. I hope this helps.

Avery Manko
The Manko Company
Mendenhall, Pennsylvania
PPAI 221758, D4

It’s all about creating valuable partnerships that are more than just best pricing. The fact that you are fair, reliable and show you understand their needs is what is important. If you are not getting the respect and position you deserve, then ask yourself if the amount of time you put into this relationship is worth it, or if your time is better spent on other accounts.

Bruce Felber, MAS
Senior Account Executive
The Image Group
Holland, Ohio
PPAI 103424, D11

About five years ago, we started to set up our larger accounts on loyalty rebate programs. These rebates can be used as credits toward future orders. This program has been a huge win for our clients and for us. Maybe something like this would work for you.

Rick Hawk
Senior Account Manager
BSN Sports
Farmers Branch, Texas
PPAI 793293, D1

Yay for getting that business! I’m always a fan of sending the buyer a nice spec or personalized sample of a great product or, “Thought of [company name] when I saw this product,” or, “What do you think of [this item] for [next big event]?”

Also, remember they came to you because of the lack of good service from another company. Focus on your service quality with them and even if it takes them longer to hand over all business, it will likely be worth the wait, proving to them how awesome you are over time. Quality over quantity!

Tara Austin Burns
Owner and president
Kingsport, Tennessee 

We’ve been in a similar position several times. What typically works is, after an order is delivered—one currently in production or the next one placed—follow up to make sure everything was received, was correct and they are happy with the quality and service. Assuming they say “yes,” then ask, “What will it take for us to earn the rest of your business?” Just be prepared to answer how you are able to scale (ideation, funding and service-wise) to meet their needs. I would assume that would be their only hesitation, or they would have shifted everything to you already. Again, this has worked for us!

Thomas B. Rector, MPA
CEO and founder
Indianapolis, Indiana   

A Supplier Asks: Distributors, would you prefer to send a purchase order directly to a supplier or sign into a supplier’s website and order directly from their site, or have the option to do both? What are your thoughts on using an electronic PO on the site?

A Distributor Asks: Between supply-chain disruptions, fickle customers and other day-to-day issues, how many of you have a quality control component to your purchase orders? This week alone, I sent and received about 30 emails regarding PO changes for a specific customer’s order.

Email your response(s) to Question@ppai. org for the chance to be featured in a future issue of PPB magazine.

Danielle Renda is an associate editor at PPAI.