Whether you are a small fledgling brand, a medium sized company or a large heritage brand you have sales expectations and goals. Unless you are one of the rare brands like Roboworm that are selling product as fast as they can make it, you have at some point tried to figure out why sales didn’t meet expectations.

You may be able to point to a number of factors that contribute to lackluster sales, but I would challenge you to make a comprehensive analysis of all of the forces at work, or in some cases at rest, before drawing conclusions. For the sake of this discussion let’s take variables that we can’t control off the table and focus on the sales ecosystem.

In fishing tackle and other consumer goods businesses, the sales ecosystem includes manufacturers, sales reps, distributors, independent dealers, big box stores and consumers. Despite the fact that all of these business entities are working together toward a common goal of selling your products, what never ceases to amaze me is how many excuses are made and where the fingers are being pointed when sales expectations are not met.

Is it the sales reps’ fault for not signing enough dealers? I can’t count the amount of times I’ve heard a manufacturer remark that a rep group isn’t doing enough. For the record, it’s proportionate to the number of times I’ve heard sales reps complain that a manufacturer is doing things that are counterproductive or even detrimental to growing a robust dealer network.  

Is it the distributors fault for not pushing your product to enough of their independent dealers, or is it because the sales associates in the big box stores aren’t pushing it to customers?

It may be fair for a manufacturer to assume that when they sign a rep group, land a distributor with hundreds or even thousands of independent dealers or close a deal with a big box store that product is going to start moving. The misconception is that those deals, in and of themselves, are going to drive sales. Sure those partnerships may give you an initial bump in sales, but those sales have a tendency to level off and eventually languish unless driven by some other force. Let me clarify that point. The role of distributors, independent dealers and big box stores is not to drive sales, it is to serve as a channel or pipeline to facilitate sales.

So who is responsible for getting your products off the shelves?

Before I answer, I will tell you that each member of the ecosystem has a different perspective on this, and there are a number of misconceptions that result in assigning blame to the wrong party.  

Manufacturers, especially younger brands, have a tendency to think that adding a rep group or a distributor is going to solve all of their problems. The reality is that they can be amazing partners that have the ability to help you increase revenue exponentially, but signing a rep group, a distributor or even a large chain of stores is not a turn key sales solution. To get the most out of a partnership with a rep group, distributor or dealer of any size you must nurture and support them as if they were an extension of your company and part of your own staff. If that were the case you would be supplying them with ongoing product training, providing sales tools, coming up with promotions for both sales teams and consumers and working on a marketing strategy that not only builds brand and product awareness, but also drives customers to your dealers. After all, if customers are not walking into dealers to buy your products, there is no sell through and without sell through dealers will have no interest in ordering more of your products.

Before you start blaming any of the people or entities that play a role in your sales ecosystem take a deep look inward and list all of the things your company is doing to support them. If you want to increase sales, start nurturing your sales ecosystem by managing your rep group as if they were your own in house sales team, working directly with distributors to analyze sales and develop strategies to engage, train and incentivize dealers and invest in marketing to drive customers into their stores because nothing drives wholesale orders more than retail customers.

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