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B2B Sales Distribution Channel Options: Lessons learned from a CE Manufacturer – Case Study: Novero

Viewpoint by James D. Roumeliotis

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If you are involved in B2B and are in manufacturing then your firm needs to carefully assess the most beneficial B2B distribution channel. It goes without saying that this should be done along with strong marketing support. A reasonable sales promotion budget should be put aside in order to foster brand awareness.

This also should include choosing among distributors, agents, retailers in addition to the firm’s own sales force (aka ‘direct model’ of distribution). The main advantage of a direct sales force is “control” and the ability to give direction to the sales team. The major disadvantage is overall cost.

Take the case of Novero. The following example highlights what can happen when the pieces of the puzzle do not gel coherently.

Novero, headquartered in Düsseldorf, Germany, is a manufacturer of premium and contemporary Bluetooth accessories. It was founded in 2008 via a management buyout from Nokia’s Mobile Enhancements division.

At the launch of their initial products, Novero had outsourced their sales team. This route delivered mixed results, directly proportional to the quality of the candidates hired by the outsourced sales and marketing services firm.

On the other side of the coin, Novero did not allow sufficient time (~ 4 months) to play out, or devote sufficient marketing resources, to making this approach work. On a short-term basis (>3 years) with uncompetitive products, high overhead, and lengthy sales cycle of outsourcing the sales team, the project was doomed from the start.

When Jarrod Stark, Director of Sales at Novero for North America, was asked which distribution channel to-date was the most effective, he replied:

“The distributor we signed up with, which specializes in consumer electronics and O.E.M partnerships, has been the most effective by far, and I would have gone with them from the start. The problem is that when we first started looking for distributors, Novero wasn’t willing to give them the necessary margin. It capped the ‘distributor margin’ at 12% globally, meaning that the higher percentages that certain distributors charge (off of wholesale) was a non-starter.”

He further added, “That distribution margin isn’t high because the distributors are being greedy, it’s the reality of a market where retailers demand significant MDF (market development funds) co-op programs and where sales commissions, warehousing, logistics, billing, and operational costs all need to be paid.“

Following lackluster sales, Novero relented and was finally able to put together a workable deal with its present distributor – at which point it shed its entire sales force.

However, it’s important to point-out that a manufacturer should avoid contracting with a distributor that uses more sub-distributors and layers in more costs. Since they carry so many brands and manage so many SKUs, products can get lost in the mix.

In 4 months time, Novero’s North American distributors were able to have their products in two big box stores in both the U.S. and Canada, as well as in about two dozen independents in both countries.

It’s not enough for any manufacturer such as Novero to simply focus on placing their products on the retail floor. An additional challenge is with ‘sell-through.’ Products can be placed on the shelf, but with inadequate marketing or advertising, and with products that haven’t generated ‘buzz’ on their own, overall product sales can remain below expectations.


The Novero’s Case teaches that if a manufacturer does not have a branded name in the market place then partnering with a well-known reseller and/or a major distributor is a viable option. This should allow a firm to gain entry in the market place quickly and presumably at an optimized cost.

“So, where does Novero go from here?” Jarrod Stark pointedly asked.

“Steady as she goes. We’re concentrating on promoting the products that have the most traction at retail, build out our retail network, leverage social media sites to generate buzz, develop stronger sales partnerships, increase our online presence, and work with our retailers and distributors to respond more effectively to their feedback.”

One must keep in mind that resellers are usually selling other vendors products – and perhaps competing products. That said, manufacturers should be quite selective on who they choose as a reseller/distributor. The selection criteria should be by geography, customer type, industry or value proposition.

Needless to say, choosing separate reselling partners avoids overlap coverage.

As for compensating the resellers and/or distributors, they require a list price discount or volume scaled prices for the products that need to be sold. This reduces the manufacturers’ margin in the short-term, if not for long-term gain. These include promotion, training, returns, tradeshows/events, resellers’ activities, and marketing collateral. They are merely a few areas that should be factored into the overall financials to determine the actual profitability.

Controlling the flow of products and services from producer to customer requires careful consideration because it can determine success or failure in the market place.

Distribution strategy is influenced by the market structure, the company’s objectives, its resources and its overall marketing strategy. To take this scenario lightly is to put the firm at risk no matter how seductive or unique the product offers are. Careful planning and thought should go into the details to achieve the objectives, which should be clearly articulated from the start.

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Contemporary Sales Approach: The consultative salesperson as the ally

by James D. Roumeliotis

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Today’s approach to marketing & sales must be smooth and sophisticated. Pressuring people and the “hard’ sale are relics of a bygone era. The films, ‘Boiler Room’ and ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ highlight the former pushy tactics.

Although I realize that a more suave sales technique is needed to woo the customer, the stereotypes of brash sales forces persist on a small scale. Think of cultures where the words “Hello my friend…” are still considered coins of the realm. Culture is partly responsible for the nature of this marketing style, and the other reason is a lack of regulatory procedures.

Let’s face facts. Business is about sales. No sales revenue, no business. You can have the greatest products or the finest service. If no one recognizes this and the offerings do not convert into receipts, there is only a limited time you will be allowed to remain open unless you are running an NGO. Speaking of NGOs, even they need to raise money. Their sales pitch might be different owing to the nature of their organization’s activities, but it is still a sales pitch.

The Sales Function

What makes sales an interesting subject is the nature of how the sale is conducted. When client need and desire are matched to the offering, the products or services sell themselves. The sales force become the bridge; provide information or even counsel. They should in theory also become part of a positive experience. This principle should hold true in any organization, public or private, large or small.

A contemporary salesperson should be a listener more than a talker. The offering must be tailored to fit the customer’s needs. When it is handled in this manner, the customer makes an “intelligent” buyer behavioral decision.

A smart and well-trained sales team recognizes that understanding human psychology and diplomacy acts as a form of persuasion.

Liked v. Valued

As in any profession, most sales people appreciate being liked and trusted by their clientele. The key I have found is the concept of value. When clients sense that you value their needs, you understand the principle of caring. Do not make any client feel that they are just part of “turnover”. Authenticity must be genuine. Anyone can tell a fake from the real McCoy.

Bought vs. Sold

Marketing strategist Seth Godin states in his blog that there are products that are “bought”, and there are products that are “sold”. “Some things are bought – such as bottled water, airplane tickets and chewing gum. The vendor sets up shop and then waits, patiently, for someone to come along and decide to buy.

Other things are sold – such as cars, placement of advertising in magazines and life insurance. If no salesperson is present, if no pitch is made, nothing happens.”

Seth goes-on to stress: “Both are important. Both require a budget and a schedule and a commitment. Confusion sets in when you’re not sure if your product or service is bought or sold, or worse, if you are a salesperson just waiting for people to buy.”

If a company’s products or services need to be “sold”, there are different sets of challenges to overcome. These include:

– Clarifying how the products or services can make prospective clients’ lives better;

– Creating and expressing an emotional connection to your niche audience/prospects – whether it’s cool, innovative, or rebel etc.

– Indicating to your audience/prospects what they get to lose by not acquiring the products or services.

When it comes to a product or service being “bought”, not much effort is required in convincing prospective clients that they should purchase, but that they should buy yours. Even perceived necessities need to be marketed and sold – It’s just that they have a different focus.

Sales Online

The Internet and social media have had an effect and changed the way customers are buying. Their selling process has been reduced to a mere buying process; although the consumer continues to seek guidance in their purchases.

This is where the “value’ factor plays a role. Sales staff should always look for ways to offer solutions to keep their customers satisfied. It is thought that a quarter of all Online shopping is made by frequent “shopping lovers” whose influence spread the word to others about joys of online shopping whenever they have the opportunity. They represent an ideal target for retailers who should not be taken for granted.

Think Zappos!

Pull vs. Push

Push marketing and pull marketing are different yet complementary marketing methods for promoting a business – most notably online.

Push marketing is more traditional methods of advertising – essentially, you are pushing your message to your audience, regardless of whether they want to receive your message or not. Push marketing focuses on product features and awaits the audience to respond. Examples of push marketing include email marketing, website advertising, and cold calling.

Pull marketing is more proactive, pulling the customers toward your brand/product with targeted messages they care about. Pull marketing is all about brand building. Examples of pull marketing include media interviews, public speaking, and word of mouth advertising.

Consultative Sales = CRM

What differentiates a consultative sales process from a traditional presentation of features and benefits is the relationship that is established between the prospect and the salesperson at the beginning stages of the sales cycle. Traditional product salespeople rely mainly on their product and service expertise and may not pay enough attention to the relationship aspect. For an effective consultative sales conversation to develop, a prospect must believe that the sales consultant has practical and credible expertise and someone that the client wants to work with.

The contemporary approach to selling is when the sales person guides the prospective customer in making sound purchase decisions – someone seen as an ally and adviser. This can be accomplished by keeping the following in consideration:

– Clearly identify the prospect’s needs – does the product or service proposed fill-it?

– Is the price offered deemed value for the money?

Ensure a long-term relationship by achieving customer satisfaction.
To do this requires some skills – either instinctively or acquired through training and practice. This includes:

– The capability to understand what the prospect wants;

– The knack to recognize, through ample product knowledge including features, which of the products and services are deemed most appropriate for the prospect;

– The ability to convey the specific benefits gained by using specific products and/or services that are meaningful to this customer;

– The capacity to deliver the “package” (products or services). Focus on the desired results expected by the prospective client.

Luxury Brand Management: Selling the Intangible

Selling luxury products or services in a sluggish economy is no easy task. Focus on the affluent. Simply put, such consumers buy no matter what the state of the economy.
Next step is not to sell them on the product or service per-se but rather on what the true meaning of luxury represents:

• Self-expression
• An exceptional experience
• Made/formed with authenticity
• Craftsmanship & quality
• Created/produced in small numbers – rarity factor
• Emotional bonding
• Upscale mystique
• Status and prestige

This is what affluent buyers are looking for. All high-end purchases must have a storyline, pedigree or heritage. Pressure of any kind is pointless here. Think Ralph Lauren. RL sales teams never pressure clients. Ralph’s “dream” has either made the sale or it hasn’t. The sales team is just there to advise and be of assistance. Shared beliefs, attitudes, and values between sales team and client can push the sale forward because it is one of bonding and mutual recognition of being part of the “club”.

Any one who understands the points of being an “brand ambassador” knows what I am taking about here.

The Bottom Line

As in all professions, sales techniques continue to evolve and adapt to the nature of the times in which we live. Great service, good pricing and loyal relationships have become yesterday’s sales standards. Using the consultative sales approach and providing clients with value-added solutions is compulsory in today’s business arena.

Salespeople should evolve as businesses do. Today’s clients demand a partnership arrangement. Since all of us are also clients is it any wonder?

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