When you’re a small business it’s tempting to try and grow as quickly as you can. If you’re selling physical products, especially products that people still tend to buy in stores (instead of online), you’ll be feeling doubly pressured to grow your distribution channels by taking on any new retail partners you can.

Our advice? Slow down. We know cashflow can be an issue and you’re bursting with enthusiasm to get your product out there. But if you take on too many partners you face a plethora of dangers: not least losing the personality and expertise that you as a business owner are likely bringing to your transactions and your channel dealings right now.

Here’s what we recommend.

Steer clear of telemarketing

When you’re an unknown company you pose a risk to potential partners. You have to reassure them that you offer great products and all the support they need to sell them. Nobody can offer that reassurance better than you, because you know your products inside-out. Your clout as a company owner asking for a meeting is greater than that of some underpaid telemarketer. What’s more, you can put in the hours on calls without spending your precious capitala telemarketing firm will cost you money from day one. And lastly, we believe blanket telemarketing rarely works as well as a few well-targeted phone calls by senior executives, even in enterprise sales situations.

Pick your partners carefully

You can’t support that many, not until you build up your own service staff, stock levels, distribution, and marketing support (point of sale, sales guides, training, signage and the like). But you’ll never get to that scale unless your first partners are successful. Pick a region, or segment your prospective parters by the kinds of buyers they serve. Choose companies that you respect and that will get what you’re about, so they’ll champion your products. Be discerning. It’s like a job interview: the questions should flow both ways. Find out if they’ll fit you, as well as you fitting them.

Appeal to prospects in person

Use all the advantages you have as a startup: visit your prospects face-to-face to show off your products, your personality and your knowledge. Tell them they can call, email or tweet you direct if they have any questions. Show them that they can have immediate input into product development, pricing and promotional strategies due to your exceptional flexibility.

Get direct sales up and running too

Selling online is relatively inexpensive, and that sideline of income can give you time to perfect your indirect sales strategies. A bit of thinking can help you keep your two sales channels distinct and reassure your partners that you won’t take business from themperhaps your direct sales are customised, or you only sell a limited selection online.

You’ve got a great opportunity to build high-quality, exceptionally engaged channel relationships when you’re starting out. Use your advantages.

Posted by John on 15 December 2010