Accelerating Sales With and Through Distributors


This course provides both the strategic and practical implementation foundational knowledge required of manufacturer sales organizations to accelerate sales with and through distribution. The course analyzes the forces leading to adoption of, and shaping channel strategies.  As always, the customer’s perspective forms the starting point of the course.  The manufacturer’s point-of-view is analyzed with respect to selection of direct selling versus working with distributors.  Differences in distribution channels and their strategies are discussed.  And practical skills required to sell with and through distributors are presented and practiced.  Cases include understanding channel economics’ impact on strategy, dealing with channel conflict, and evolution of channel structures.

Recommended for:

This broad-based course provides the common language, tools, techniques and process platform for all the others intended for all selling professionals:

  • Sales representatives, key account and sales force managers in charge of developing and executing sales strategies involving distribution channels.
  • Product managers, marketers, and sales force support people responsible for developing sales programs, sales collateral, economic value calculators, proposals, etc. for channels.
  • Customer service people, logistics people, and others whose responsibilities bring them into direct or indirect contact with channel partners.


Participants will be able to:

  • Identify and communicate value as defined differently by different members of the channel structure, as well as the impact each channels partner has on customer value.
  • Develop and execute customer-focused sales strategies to sell with and through distribution.
  • Adapt strategies to address and take advantage of the major forces driving the multi-organizational marketing system.
  • Customize a standard selling system to increase sales effectiveness in working with distributors, including:
  • Developing the multi-organization value model
  • Using creative thinking techniques to create win-win-win outcomes
  • Writing effective joint presentations
  • Developing effective joint proposals
  • Managing channel conflict
  • Negotiating with distributors and customers
  • Handle difficult goal conflicts more professionally
  • Develop strategies to meet sales goals, ethically


The two-day seminar meets from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. each day. It combines lecture and discussion, real business and industrial examples, case studies, and exercises. The class size is intentionally kept small to provide ample time for extensive discussion and interaction. Participants are encouraged to bring specific account situations to examine and work on during the seminar.


Our two day format uses lecture, interactive exercises and case studies to cover the following ten topics:

I Understanding the Forces Shaping the Eco-system

This section of the distribution-selling course will define the forces and trends shaping the modern eco-system.  These forces include electrification of buying, the shift in power to customers, the criteria buyers use to demand direct or indirect involvement in their buying center work, the different distribution organizations that are emerging along with their economics and strategy choices, and the decisions manufacturers must make in developing and evolving channel structures. The internal organizational implications of distribution strategies will also be discussed.

II Defining the win-win-win scenario

This section of the distribution course will discuss what customers seek from distributor-manufacture relationships,

what distributors define as success and set as goals, as well as success from the perspective of the manufacturer.  In this section a three way value model (customer-distributor-manufacturer)  will be developed.

III Evolution of the buying center

Building on the first section’s discussion of the new forces shifting power to the customer, this section discusses the implications for each members of the multi-organization marketing system.

IV Different distributor strategies

This section will define the different forms of distribution and manufacturer reps that are available for a manufacturer to choose partners from. Differences between the goals and strategies of various forms of distribution and the goals and strategies of the manufacturers are also discussed. This section features the Manna case on the economics of distribution.

V Manufacturer’s strategic options

This section begins with an analysis of the pros and cons of direct selling versus working through distribution.  The Precision Electronics case is used to illustrate the differences between Reps versus Distributors.  And the conditions in which each type of distributor is most appropriate are presented and discussed.

VI Channel Conflict

Channel conflict is not only inevitable, it is unusually desirable—if you don’t have channel conflict, you are probably not optimizing your business.  The Hassler & Howard case is used to illustrate channel conflict issues and how they can be managed.

VII Techniques for creative collaboration with distributors

The essence of selling in the B2B world today is having something to add to the customer’s buying center’s deliberations.  This in turn requires identification of problems that you and the distributor have relevant expertise on as well as creative ways to view the problems and solve them.  This section presents creative problem solving tools and how to work with distributors to apply them.

VIII Negotiating

In your multi-organization marketing system, each player—customer, distributor, and your company—can have both common goals as well as conflicting goals.  The job of negotiation is to arrive at a win-win-win outcome.  The Ugli Orange case is used to illustrate how.

IX Internal organizational issues

One of the most important aspects of implementing the win-win-win solution is to lead your internal departments in modifying their typical practices to accommodate the specific needs of your multi-organizational marketing system.  This section discusses common issues and strategies for addressing them.

X Working with distribution in the selling process

The selling task is quite different when working with distributors.  This section covers the required special skills including:

Buyer focus
Creating and making joint presentations
Developing a joint proposal
Developing a sales plan
Identifying and satisfying different types of reps
Non-verbal communication skills
Selling through and with manufacturers’ Reps


Dr. Wesley J. Johnston

CBIM RoundTable Professor of Marketing and Director, Center for Business and Industrial Marketing and J. Mack Robinson College of Business, Georgia State University; ISBM Distinguished Research Fellow

Dr. Wesley J. Johnston is the CBIM RoundTable Professor of Marketing at Georgia State University. He is internationally recognized for his research and case studies on managing sales people in relationship sales situations. He has lectured on sales management strategy in over twenty countries.

Dr. Johnston is considered one of the leading experts in the United States on key account management. He has conducted seminars in the Middle East, Asia, Europe and Australia. Some of the companies he has worked with include Ryobi, Honeywell, DuPont, Arkema, Alfa Laval, UPS, Skanska, Ruhrgas, Siemens, and Scientific Atlanta.

 Dr. Karl G. Hellman

Executive in Residence at CBIM, has over 20 years’ experience as a sales and marketing consultant for companies such as Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, UPS, Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, and Telefonica. In addition to his book, The Customer Learning Curve, he is well published in the marketing world and has authored articles appearing in: Marketing Management, Journal of Business and Industrial Marketing, Association of International Product Marketing and Management, Marketing News, and others.  Karl has a BA in Economics from Beloit College, a Masters in Managerial Economics and Decision Sciences from Northwestern University, and Doctorate from Georgia State University.  Karl’s doctoral dissertation topic was, “Optimizing investments in Key Accounts.”