So who is the customer? I believe that the answer lies in following the dental handpiece relationships. Rarely are there ongoing direct communications and business relationships between the manufacturers and the dentists using their products. The manufacturers’ ongoing business relationships are with the distributors. The distributors’ relationships are with the dentists as the customer, and with the manufacturers as the vendors. When manufacturers sell products through distribution, they must keep in mind that the products will only be sold if the distributor has or can build trusting business relationships with the dentists, and if the distributors have similar relationships with the manufacturers. In my experience, when manufacturers begin talking about dentists as their customers, distributors are less likely to embrace promoting that manufacturer’s products. The trust is gone.
To build the spirit of partnership with distributors, manufacturers need to develop product training programs, promotions, and business practices that benefit the distributors. This, in turn, builds an understanding with distributors that “this manufacturer has my back.” Manufacturers can focus on taking care of their distributors. The distributors, with their established client relationships, feel good about promoting that manufacturer’s products. It is more efficient and effective for manufacturers to get their distributors excited about selling their products than to view the distributor as a barrier between them and the dentists, and trying to control each sale by maneuvering around the distributor.
Distributors, of course, have responsibilities to their partnerships with the manufacturers as well. This includes participating in manufacturers’ educational and training events so they’re prepared to present products with adequate knowledge of them. They also need to be candid with manufacturers when they’re not promoting their products so the manufacturers know what they need to do to earn the business.
When there is a true partnership between a manufacturer and distributor, everyone wins. The distributors get great support from the manufacturers, so they look good in the dentists’ eyes. The manufacturer’s sales and market share grow. Dentists appreciate and benefit from the partnerships, too. When a product problem occurs, dentists only want it fixed and don’t care about whose fault it is. Working together, the distributors and manufacturers can work quickly to resolve issues.
Over the past 30 years, Dave Anderson has worked with one of the largest distributors of dental products and services in the U.S. in sales, sales management, marketing, office design service, and business management roles. He has also worked with one of the world’s largest dental equipment manufacturers for a number of years. In these capacities, Dave has worked closely with dentists, and has an understanding and appreciation for the challenges that dentists are faced with when making purchasing decisions.