“I’ve been branded in my own company as, ‘Chester is a distributor guy.'” That’s how Chester Collier, senior vice president for global distribution at Walter Surface Technologies, starts our latest podcast. He gets it. It’s exactly why I wanted to have this conversation; he has built an incredible network of relationships across industrial distribution channels with a wide range of distributors and marketing groups. He is all about value creation in relationships, which can be in scarce supply today thanks to disruption and increasingly transactional relationships in the marketplace.
We need more “distributor guys” strengthening supplier relationships and the value proposition of distribution. We talk about that and a lot more.
Collier is not afraid to challenge conventional wisdom. He acknowledges the disruptive impact of Amazon Business and how they have carved out part of the market served by distributors. “But what Amazon has done is to help the industrial distributor tremendously, because if they hadn’t disrupted the supply chain, distribution wouldn’t have changed,” he says. “When we look at all the major players today, right down to the independents, none of these would probably have a robust website and e-commerce platform. It’s the same with competition; you need those large, middle and the smaller types of distributors, because each of them serves a different need, drives and makes everybody better at what they do.”
I asked Collier about the state of sales in distribution today and industrial channels. We also discuss the changing roles of marketing groups, as well as the changing roles of sellers. “I think the relationship means different things to different people,” he says. “But as a manufacturer, if I’m working with my distributor, and I’m talking to that end user, then I want to build a connection, I want to build a relationship. We can call it a trusted advisor, we can call it consultant, whatever we want, but I need to be able to build that because that’s a differentiator.
“And I think it’s the same thing with that distributor salesperson — they really have to focus on that. And I’m sure you’ve seen the articles: ‘Relationship selling is over.’ ‘It’s not relevant anymore.’ … I do not believe that for one instance. You know, I think if you don’t have that relationship, then it comes down to where do I buy my product, and where’s the best price? So, I think that relationship makes a difference. But it’s also good for the customer if you build a relationship, because then they say, ‘Hey, I can give this guy a call, if I have a question or if I have a problem.’ I can’t quite do that if I’m buying it from a digital site that doesn’t have a robust customer service level to it.”
We wrap our conversation with a discussion on leadership, where I ask him to expand on what he shares on his LinkedIn profile page. I’ll share that here, and hope you listen to our conversation to hear his further thoughts:
“I have 2 firm beliefs in Leadership:
“First – It’s all about the relationship. It doesn’t matter what you are selling, who your competition is or even the price. Business is about relationships, and when you understand this, you understand what needs to be done. Build a strong relationship with your customer, and success WILL follow.
“Second – Leave no one behind. Operating as a team means you support EVERYONE on the team, not just the leaders and superstars. Divide your time and energy amongst everyone, and leave no man behind. Show them the way, lead them into battle and make sure you take everyone home with you. That’s what leadership is all about, and that’s what drives elite teams to go the extra mile!”
Listen to the podcast here.