Managing distribution partnerships digitally with a new model

05.10.2023 Many Swiss exporters rely on distribution partners to sell their products abroad. To help make this collaboration successful, researchers from Bern University of Applied Sciences and the University of Applied Sciences of the Grisons teamed up with the export promotion organisation Switzerland Global Enterprise to develop a new, digitally supported management model for SMEs

International distribution partnerships are crucial to the success of Swiss SMEs in the export business, because the exporting SMEs are often too small to establish their own sales offices. In the context of an Innosuisse research project, researchers from Bern University of Applied Sciences (BFH) and the University of Applied Sciences of the Grisons joined forces with Switzerland Global Enterprise to investigate how the collaboration with distribution partners can be optimised and supported by digital technologies. The result is an innovative advisory tool with which Switzerland Global Enterprise supports exporting companies.

Selection, qualification, motivation and evaluation

DThe model developed by the researchers addresses the four crucial aspects of selecting and working with distribution partners in the export business. The first step is to select the distribution partner in the export country. The search for a partner can be active as well as passive. In a passive search, the exporter draws attention to himself by spreading information about his company and products on the internet and on social media, in the hope that potential distribution partners will approach him. The selection also includes analysing the company’s internationalisation strategy and defining the division of tasks between exporter and distributors. After the selection, it is important for the partners to undergo qualification and training, because only sales partners with the right know-how can sell successfully. E-learning platforms, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality are examples of IT applications that can systematise knowledge transfer and thus facilitate the qualification of partners. But knowledge alone is not enough: the next step is to motivate the distribution partners. This involves initiating loyalty-strengthening measures and encouraging proactive selling by providing clear targets and incentives. Finally, evaluation is a substantial component of managing international distribution partnerships. Ongoing, mutual evaluation of the partnership is about monitoring the success of both parties and making adjustments at the exporter’s or the partner’s end, as necessary.

Boosting efficiency and effectiveness

By carefully optimising the four sub-processes with the support of digital applications, companies can significantly increase efficiency and effectiveness in managing their international sales partners. The Innosuisse project shows how the use of modern technologies coupled with a strategic approach can significantly improve the collaboration between exporters and their international distribution partners, leading to greater customer satisfaction and ultimately to successful international business.

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