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Whose Responsibility Is Product Application?

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Countless articles have focused on different areas of the manufacturerdistributor relationship in material handling. They tend to concentrate on market penetration, quantity and quality of distributors, education and training, electronic order entry, multiple product line issues, communication and financial concerns.

One question often goes unaddressed: Who is responsible for the product application after the sale?

The misapplication of products usually occurs when the distributor is implementing a “special” or “modified standard.” The problem rears its ugly head during the start-up phase of installation. The installer or electrician calls the sales representative and lets him or her know that the product is not functioning properly. In turn, the sales representative contacts the manufacturer to let them know about the problem. That’s when the “YOU” game begins.

Distributor: “YOU have a problem with YOUR product.”

Manufacturer: “YOU didn’t tell me the product would be used like that.”

Distributor: “YOU didn’t ask me.”

Manufacturer: “YOU should have known.”

Distributor: “How are YOU going to fix YOUR problem?”

Manufacturer: “It’s not my problem, it’s YOURS!”

Understanding that both parties rely on, and appreciate, one another, the game quickly changes to a financial dance during which neither party admits any wrongdoing but agrees that the customer needs to be supported. The manufacturer will do its part by supplying the correct material. The distributor will hold up its end by providing the additional support and installation required.

After the problem is resolved, there is usually a negotiation that takes place between the distributor and manufacturer. This is when both parties get to whine about how much money they spent fixing “YOUR” problem.

In the manufacturer’s eyes, once the product ships, the responsibilities of the product application are in the distributor’s hands. When there is a problem, the distributor feels like he must “prove his case” before the manufacturer gets involved. The problem can become more confusing if a manufacturer’s representative is involved in the sales process.

Communication Leads to Solution
So how do we resolve this issue? Good old-fashioned communication. It is important that the manufacturer and distributor both understand the product application.

Manufacturers have detailed processes that are well-documented for pre-sale procedures. These include territory guidelines, price-discounting structure, order entry, payment terms and advertising policies. They need to include an “application procedure” for all “specials” or “modified standards.” An order should not be accepted without this information.

Nobody likes to add work to their routine. Especially salespeople! However, they need to understand that it will save them time and money on the back end of the sale. Keep the process simple. Automation works great for the information you need on every sale. However, allow the salesperson to communicate via sketches or word description as well. A “form” that contains limited space or choices may cause the salesperson to leave out critical information.

The competitive nature of the material handling business does not allow for mistakes. Products must be applied correctly, the first time. Every time the “YOU” game is played, it directly impacts the bottom line of both organizations. Make sure both sides are part of the material handling solution.

15a_Scott Lee Meet the Author
Scott Lee is president of Conveyor Solutions Inc., located in Schaumburg, Illinois, and on the Web at www.conveyorsolutions.com.

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