www.inddist.com January/February 2015 / INDUSTRIAL DISTRIBUTION 35
automated and highly visible “Find a Distributor” website tool. At
any given moment in time, without interference, these suppliers are
seamlessly and transparently handing off website visitors to their
local distributor partners.
Lovejoy’s website ( www.lovejoy-inc.com) would be a classic example of the Transparent Partner sales approach. A “Find a Distributor” button is featured prominently on nearly every page of the
website, with the tool getting thousands of page views per month.
It is in the interest of distributors to reciprocate the trust and
loyalty of the suppliers behind Transparent Partner websites, so as
to encourage the behavior to continue. Not only do Transparent
Partner websites actively send distributors new sales leads on a
good faith basis, but they are also active in setting the bar towards
protecting the distribution channel’s long-term business model.
Having at least one solid Transparent Partner supplier site in a
distributor’s portfolio provides an excellent case study or reference
account when approaching other suppliers to request website
Who Are Opportunists?
A large percentage of supplier website strategies fall broadly into
the “Opportunist” realm. Such sites take an intentional hands-off
approach in regards to forwarding sales leads. These sites may have
a “Find a Distributor” tool, but the tool may not be featured prominently or work well. They may also promote a “Request a Quote”
tool, which would serve to encourage potential customers to submit
sales inquiries direct to the supplier alone.
When pressed, Opportunist strategists will often state that they
do not want to be asked to pick favorites between their distributors. What Opportunist strategists generally won’t say is that,
by not playing favorites, they’ve already picked a single favorite:
Without a transparent automated “Find a Distributor” tool, the
Opportunist website is undeniably encouraging potential customers to pick up the phone to call the supplier directly. Such intent
undoubtedly raises questions regarding Opportunist suppliers’ willingness to send phone sales leads to local distributor partners. How
many sales leads will an Opportunist supplier forward versus keep
for themselves? You will never know.
One major underlying reason why so many suppliers, even
those who have historically been very distribution-centric, use the
Opportunist strategy is because they’ve discovered their traditional
distributor partners either haven’t noticed or don’t care about what
they are doing online. (“If nobody cares, why shouldn’t I make my
website more self-serving?”)
Fortunately, Opportunist strategists are generally highly rational
actors, and, faced with a clear business case, may consider adopting a
more Transparent Partner website sales approach. This type of suppli-
er strategy transformation will not occur without distributors caring
enough to address their concerns with suppliers head-on.
Following dialogue, if Opportunist suppliers cannot be convert-
ed into Transparent Partners, new supplier relationships should be
Who Are Competitors?
Suppliers who execute a web strategy committed to selling their
own products directly on their own supplier websites are Competitors. This strategy openly competes against the distribution channel,
but those who have adopted this website strategy may still claim to
distributors that, by selling products at an inflated full retail price,
they are still affording distributors margin to sell at a lower cost
What a Competitor supplier isn’t saying is that, by selling openly
online, the supplier is demonstrating a ready willingness to take any
and every potential end user direct. This is a very powerful signal to
any customers, large or small, that they can pick up the phone and
start negotiating with the supplier direct.
Furthermore, even when selling at an inflated full retail price,
a Competitor website is also undeniably directly targeting what is
generally regarded as distribution’s most lucrative customer: the
one-off counter business customer.
Unfortunately, suppliers who are practitioners of this distribution
hostile web strategy are generally not receptive to adopting either
a Transparent Partner or Opportunist sales approach. While it is
possible that dialogue with such suppliers will yield fruit, many of
these suppliers are already fully committed to an overarching dis-tribution-indifferent business model, and see distribution first and
foremost as their competitor.
Unless there exist compelling reasons not to, business with Competitor suppliers should be minimized.
Search engines may be changing the way customers discover products and product information, but that doesn’t mean that distributors cannot and should not take a backseat to the changing times.
Distributors must lean in and react! By distributors knowing what
supplier partners are doing, and encouraging them to be more
open and transparent in regards to funneling web sales leads back
to their long-trusted sales partners, the distribution model evolves
with the times and continues to benefit all those who choose to
participate: end users, distributors, and suppliers alike.
Elliot Wilson is the General Manager of Lovejoy, Inc., a 4th generation U.S. manufacturer and supplier of mechanical couplings and
power transmission components.