Solutions-based distribution companies, sometimes known as ICT distributors, make up a major link in the commerce chain, helping vendors and manufacturers get products to market. They serve as a valuable middleman for small-to-enterprise retailers and installers, who can utilize the distributor as a “one-stop-shop” rather than attempting to forge partnerships with dozens or even hundreds of retailers and manufacturers.
Many distributors source from hundreds of suppliers, allowing retailers and installers to manage a few key relationships to source solutions that meet most if not all of their needs.
In fact, solutions-based distribution is such a huge part of the IT market that GTDC member data shows distributors manage some 50,000 individual customers monthly in the U.S., with an estimated 150 million + items and 100 million + software licenses moving through distributors.
The good news is this means you’ll likely have plenty of options when you look for a solution. The downside is, choosing one can be difficult, with dozens of variables that sometimes apply to specific ITC niches.
If you’re looking for a distributor, the key to remember is that you are looking for a partner. Your solutions-based distribution company has to work with you to meet your and your end-customer needs.
It’s crucial that any distribution company offer a range of brands to meet the needs of diverse clients and offer a complete portfolio. At the same time, your distributor functions as a partner. It’s essential they have expertise in the brands they sell because you will often be leaning on them for support, for decision-making, and for product-fit or solutions-fit.
Here, you can look for certifications and qualifications offered by the brand itself as one of the simplest and easiest proofs of expertise. It’s also important to discuss brands with the team, ask about why they were chosen, and look at what the technical team does for each brand.
While retailers won’t often need real technical support, most installers, contractors, and renovators will. Technical support involves help from a team with technical support and qualifications to design custom solutions around the end-customer. This can include creating a specs list, sizing systems or solutions for the client’s space, and looking at installations from a holistic view. For example, a technical team should walk into a room and review support, power supply, audio needs, connector needs, ideal screens based on viewing angle and brightness, etc.
This kind of support allows you to offer custom technical solutions to clients, to ensure installations meet client needs, and consistently deliver hardware solutions that work in a space, without having to invest in an out-of-scope technical design team inside your own organization.
Accountability is key to any partnership. For solutions-based distribution, accountability pertains to deliverables, warranty, and terms of service.
You have to know your partner is capable of delivering to meet project needs. This means sourcing a distribution company capable of delivering to projects within your organization’s scope. You can confirm delivery timelines, expectations, and process inside the Terms of Service in the contract but it’s crucial that the organization itself have the suppliers and network to meet needs at your organization’s scale.
Products, implementations, integrations, and installations should all be covered by warranty. In some cases, your distributor will fully install products. In others, they will simply deliver for installation by your team. Warranty should cover any work provided by the distribution company as well as the hardware, with coverage on top of that offered by the original manufacturer. Why? It’s crucial that you get immediate assistance should anything go wrong.
How can you verify accountability? Review the contract and terms of service, check any case studies available, and consider getting a feel for the company and their reputation by looking at websites, social media, and forums.
A Supply Network
Distributors should be able to scale up and down with your organization and its needs, make changes to supply based on demand, and rotate stock as needed to maintain sales. Achieving this typically means leveraging a network of suppliers and retailers who can offer stock at different volumes, shift new products in or out, and swap out items in the same brand for others to improve sales.
Check the supply network with the organization and discuss it with them. Some solutions-based distribution companies make supplier network information public, others don’t. It’s also important to discuss policies surrounding product rotation, scalability, and support.
Monitoring and solutions management are increasingly important for end-customers, who most-often don’t want to have to invest in teams to manage their own internal solutions for print, IT management, etc.
If your end customers want or benefit from managed services, your distributor is the best place to source them. Make sure your distribution company offers managed solutions such as Managed Print Services (MPS), which you can use to offer value to customers.
Any solutions-based distribution company is going to function as a partner for your organization. The distributor’s job is to remove the need for your organization to invest in services outside your core, such as investing in and managing hundreds of trade relationships and agreements. They take over this area of business, affording you the ability to quickly leverage supply, with custom design, technical support, and value-added services. Most importantly, your distributor is essential to your providing value and may be critical to your delivering on projects.