Michael Sprague, the director of eBusiness Development, Enterprise Solutions, for Thomas Industrial Network, offered his insight on how manufacturers and distributors fall short of clearly understanding each other and the real-world consequences of miscommunication. He can be contacted at msprague@thomasnet.com.
Modern Pumping Today: What is a typical example of how manufacturers and distributors fail to communicate?
Michael Sprague: Recently, I met with the president of a large bearing manufacturer and his data manager. We were discussing their process of working with large distributors. We were assured by the data manager that communication and support  wasn’t a problem, and that she had been providing complete catalog data and pricing files for years. However, she had no idea that the format and structure of the data didn’t match the distributor’s systems and needed to be manually adjusted. As a result, only 20 percent of the bearing manufacturer’s products were actually loaded, and 80 percent weren’t being represented at all. I watched the blood drain from the data manager’s face as she realized that her company had missed out on untold sales opportunities as a result.
MPT: How common is “the manufacturer-distributor disconnect”? How does it affect a manufacturer’s bottom line?
Michael Sprague: Unfortunately, this scenario happens every day with manufacturers and distributors in the industrial market. Thomas’ conversations with them illustrate some major obstacles to creating and sharing critical product data. Both are hard-pressed to locate and centralize their data, much less keep it up-to-date and digitized.
Also, providing this information in a format that distributors can use is a challenge because each distributor has its own unique data and structure requirements. Another problem is that most distributors aren’t staffed to convert manufacturers’ information into the format they need. As a result, much of the data never gets loaded and manufacturers’ products never get offered. Distributors who can’t provide them must contact a manufacturer, who in turn must assign an engineer to develop an individual drawing. This delays distributors’ response time by several hours, even days, and can cost them a sale.
MPT: What strategies have you found that minimize miscommunication?
Michael Sprague: Manufacturers who can centralize and easily share complete information on every product, including attributes (for example, horsepower, rpms, torque), dimensions (length or width), pricing, part numbers, and CAD models and drawings, have an advantage over their competitors. These companies are in the best position to improve sales revenues, streamline processes, and increase the efficiency of their channel partners.
MPT: What are some of the services Thomas offers to improve manufacturer-distributor partnerships?
Michael Sprague: We’ve created the Enterprise Solutions Group, which specifically addresses the problems manufacturers have managing and then sharing, or syndicating, their product information with their channel partners. The foundation of these solutions is Thomas’ Navigator Platform, an exclusive technology that houses each manufacturer’s master set of accurate, validated, and current product data. Manufacturers can share this data and provide it to their distributors and other channel partners.
Thomas’ team of engineering experts work hand-in-hand with manufacturers to define and organize their detailed product information and make sure the format meets the individual specs of each distributor. As a result, distributors can easily load the product data into all of their sales and support systems so that it is accessible everywhere.
MPT: What advantage does this service offer?
Michael Sprague: Increased sales from full representation of a product line is the most obvious advantage, but another huge benefit is the cost savings due to increased efficiencies. Consider the value of the time saved, and the improved process of extracting and sharing data.
MPT: What industries are affected by the manufacturer-distributor disconnect? What questions should manufacturers ask themselves?
Michael Sprague: These issues affect every industry, large and small alike. If you are a manufacturer it is well worth an exercise to ask yourself if you are aware of how much of your product data is actually loaded and represented by your distributors. Do you spend time and money to get your product data into your distributor’s hands only to find that a small percent of your products are being represented? Are you providing your product information in the distributor’s required format? Do you know what that format is? Do you feel like you are missing out on sales opportunities because of incomplete product representation by your distributors?
MPT: On the other end, what questions should distributors be asking?
Michael Sprague: Do you find yourself having to re-format and manually edit your manufacturer’s data whether it’s from an electronic file or even worse, product spec sheets and catalogs? Are you missing out on sales opportunities when customers come to you for products and you cannot find them because the manufacturer’s data was never delivered properly?
If you answered yes to any of the questions above, it may be worth taking a closer look at your manufacturer-distributor relationship and the strategies you currently employ to share product information. ■
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