Working a show

You’re doing everything you can to get more sales, but just can’t seem to break through. A great place to start can be at a trade show.
SSN Staff  - 
Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Let’s face it; we are in a competitive business. More often than not, it is what differentiates you from the competition that leads to winning or losing business. Whether you are striving for market dominance or you simply want to increase sales, you need to be disruptive in your market. To break free of the pack and move toward market dominance, you need a plan.
Well, I have a good one for you. The next time you find yourself at a trade show, don’t just walk the aisles and admire all the great products and services available. Get in there and find a manufacturer channel partner. The channel starts with the manufacturer, moves through us and all the way down to the customer. Starting a channel partnership moves you to the value-added side of the buyer-seller relationship by giving you greater focus on your customers’ solution needs.
Manufacturers are all-too-eager to find a quality partner that can help take their product places they can’t take them. Sometimes this is a regional part of the country and/or sometimes this is a vertical (niche) market. It is always easier to find a manufacturer as a channel partner when you have a niche or vertical that isn’t being paid attention to, but represents a unique opportunity for both you and the manufacturer. A niche in this case is either a similar group of companies or the area you focus most of your selling efforts on.
All the very best companies operate within a niche. You might even be in a niche and not know it. Take a moment and think about your company’s customers. What market(s) are most of them in? Is it banking, industry, education, retail or is it the southern part of your city or state?
Before you enter a channel partnership, you need to know what your customers buy from you most. Is there room to add a better product or maybe even a new product altogether? What are your customers always asking for? Faster and better service, higher quality, better pricing? Which manufacturers best fit that profile? Do some quality research on these manufacturers and listen carefully to their story; maybe they have a niche you’ve overlooked. Again, that’s why you’re at the trade show.
There are three things you should look for in a channel partner: 1. A quality product. If the quality is bad, the manufacturer won’t be in business too long. 2. Product availability. Are they just-in-time manufacturers or do they have plenty of product on the shelf? Both have pros and cons. 3. How do they support their dealers/integrators? If anyone can be a channel partner there is no real advantage. Do they have a marketing campaign? Where do they send their leads? You want those leads. What support will they offer you on customer visits? What happens when the product fails? This is technology folks, products can and will fail.
Attracting the Manufacturer
Test for shared vision. No one knows your customers better than you, so have a clear definition of who you sell to and be prepared to describe your successes and challenges. Tell them what you can do for them and what they can do for you. You may want to create a mini-marketing plan and include a product S.W.O.T analysis even before the next show (Google SWOT).
Deal Structure
Discuss benchmarks. How many units do you think you can sell? Manufacturers love that stuff. If you live up to those commitments, what’s in it for you? Talk about timelines. Nail down specific customers and discuss what that means. Be clear. It’s better to get the sticky details out of the way so you have a clean shot at success under your program. It might be advisable to have them sign an NDA.
In the end, there are no hard and fast rules to creating channel partnerships. In fact, my company has several, and as much as we strive for consistency we are equally flexible. This is especially true for new or emerging products.
Collaborate on marketing pieces specific to your niche such as producing a joint white paper.
The Reward
Remember your success is their success and this ensures an evolving product line and opens new doors for both companies. If the fit is right, this relationship will quickly move from the show floor to the field, so be prepared to map out a careful plan. After all, when you start winning all that new business you better be prepared to meet the demand. In business, we call this a good problem.
Eventually you will become a formal part of their marketing, thus increasing their commitment to your marketplace and your customers. Doesn’t that sound great? What are you waiting for? There is a whole trade show and endless opportunity in front of you right now. Go explore and come away with a lasting relationship.

Andrew Wray is executive vice president, marketing, at Infrastruct Security. He can be reached at