A company’s success in a new region is determined in part by how quickly it can get its products on shelves and into the hands of consumers. And when it comes to keeping shelves stocked, one local partner, in particular, plays a significant role: distributors.
What Is A Distributor?
Distributors are an intermediary between a business and its direct-to-consumer retailers. These organisations are the businesses that acquire products in bulk and then sell and deliver them to smaller entities such as supermarkets. In this way, distributors are both customers and employees.
That means that, unlike wholesalers or resellers, distributors typically have a more involved relationship with companies. Beyond sales, these businesses can also provide other services such as warehousing, creating distribution channels, and providing fleets for transportation. In some cases, distributors are the ones who deploy the people who stock market shelves with your product.
Distributors also take a more collaborative role when it comes to inventory management. Where your neighbourhood grocer does not influence the inventory, distributors work with companies to ensure demand in a certain region is met.
What Is Distributor Training?
Distributor training programmes involve courses that revolve around logistics and inventory management. Typically these programmes teach distribution partners best practices for inventory management for improving order fulfilment.
Aside from lessons for optimising operations, distributor training also covers the basic commercial selling principles of your company. This includes the dos and don’ts of how to sell your product. For instance, never sell it below SRP.
Why Is Distributor Training Important?
Training at every level of the supply chain is important for maintaining a uniform standard across all your sales channels. As entities who are responsible for getting your products out to consumers, training distributors becomes even more important–especially since distributors won’t have the same access to information as the company it purchases from.
While there are distributors that are as large as the supplier, many more are much smaller. These partners won’t have access to the same wealth of knowledge as a company with hundreds of employees and a presence across different regions. Some struggle to coordinate their goals with external partners.
Therefore, distributors recognise the value of learning from a larger, more experienced business and appreciate companies that make the effort.
More than a way of teaching partners how to sell products, training secures loyalty and keeps your company top of mind when the time comes to order products again.
Comprehensive training also benefits everyone across the supply chain, down to your end consumers. Distributors who are actively engaged in selling a product bring in 1.4 times more revenue.
By helping distributors learn how to manage healthy inventory levels, you ensure customers can get their hands on your product when they need them.
Best Practices for Distributor Training Programmes
Customise around your learner’s needs
Distributorships vary in size, maturity, and the customers they serve. Some are large and cater to malls and supermarkets, whilst others handle small convenience stores. Some have been in distribution for years, while others–especially in more rural regions–may just be getting into the business.
This diversity means a one-size-fits-all approach will not be ideal. Distributor training programmes that take into account different capabilities and concerns help improve the outcome of the training.
Make the benefits clear
Convincing distributors to spare time for their staff to allot time to training can be difficult. Some may see it as disruptive, or struggle to identify the concrete benefits of manufacturer-led training on their own business.
Use relevant metrics to speak for your programme. The more clearly you can connect how these strategies can affect KPIs like fill rate, the easier it’ll be to encourage distributors to support your training.
Create accessible content hubs with a Learning Management System (LMS)
Distributors come from different locations. This makes it very difficult–and costly–to arrange live sessions with your entire distributor network.
Uploading training materials onto an LMS decentralises training. Distributors are given the freedom to catch up on courses, or review material when the need arises. Online platforms also allow them to access information remotely–an indispensable feature as one of the responsibilities of salespeople from distributors is to regularly visit their retailers.
Track and monitor completion
Without the right push, completion rates for eLearning courses can be low. It’s not that learners do not want training. Without constant nudging, courses and lessons can fall behind other pressing, day-to-day tasks.
Encouraging third-party learners such as distributors to finish their courses can be even trickier. Companies can help drive engagement and completion by establishing accountability. Assign point people from your own customer development team to follow up with distributors after a certain period of time has elapsed. This data can be easily sourced using the monitoring and reporting tools provided by a specialist LMS.
Break data into chunks
Because of the nature of distributorship, much of the material of their training courses will revolve around supply chain, operations, and logistics. These aren’t the light topics that can be consumed and digested within a day.
Make the programme more approachable by breaking information into smaller chunks. Learners will be more likely to opt into four to five-minute videos on order fulfilment than an extensive hour-long lecture.
Consider making the courses fun and engaging. Introducing fun elements, games and competition not only keeps learners more interested in the topic, but evidence shows retention of information will also be higher, making it more effective training.
Ask for feedback
Feedback is integral to any training programme. It allows you to identify where you can streamline, improve the content, and how to minimise the cost of training. Open, two-way communication also make training seem like a team effort, rather than a mandate or an order.
These channels can even become a new way of collaborating with your distributors. Their feedback can reveal weaknesses in your inventory management strategies and thus opportunities to improve your service and gain a stronger foothold in the region.
Conduct follow up training
The workforce of a distribution business, just like in any other company, will change over the years. Similarly, your own business practices and goals will evolve and shift. New strategies can arise and challenge your approach to distribution.
So, distributor training programmes aren’t a one-and-done affair. Even the knowledge of long-term partners will need to be refreshed once every few years. New learners will need to be taught again, and you can’t rely only on your distributors to effectively pass down your business ethos.
Establishing and maintaining a foothold in a region requires synergy between a company and its distributors. For that to happen, distributors will need strong training from suppliers to ensure operational efficiency and standards are upheld down the supply chain.
At Wahoo Learning, we can help companies and their partners strive towards mutual success with our bespoke LMS and training programmes.