Michael van der Woude
With 500 million people in 27 countries, the European Union is a huge market. It is also a challenging one because of language barriers and differences in business culture. Establishing national distributorships is vital to long-term success. Put the odds in your favor by following these five steps when selecting a distribution partner.
Step 1: Create a distributor profile
Identify distributor characteristics that are important to your company. For instance, do you need distributors with a sales force? Servicing capabilities? Do you need a generalist or specialty distributor? What geographic coverage is required? And what about training capabilities? All of these points should be addressed.
Step 2: Find distributors that match your profile
Searching for distributors online is daunting. There are thousands of medical device distributors across Europe, and their Web sites may be in a native language and not even show up in English searches. Some Web sites have distributor lists, but it may make more sense to get local assistance in Europe to do this research.
Step 3: Make an introduction by calling first
Once you have identified five to 10 distributors in a country, call them and introduce yourself and your company, and outline your goals. Summarize the benefits of your product, and offer to e-mail information by attaching PDF documents or providing Web links. Be polite and formal. Most Europeans are not as casual as Americans when it comes to business communications.
Step 4: Interview the short list of distributors
Follow up with the interested distributors and ask what types of similar devices they already sell, how long they have been selling, the percentage of sales that comes from your area of specialty, and how they would promote your device. Also ask for references. Arranging meetings at an international conference or on-site visits are recommended before making a final decision.
Step 5: Be patient
Don’t expect all of this to happen in two weeks. The process can easily take several months. However, spending time on the front end of this process will lead to long-term partnerships and maximize the sales potential for your device in Europe.
Michael van der Woude is a Partner with EDM Services, a division of Emergo Group, that helps manufacturers find, evaluate, select, and manage distributors worldwide. Emergo Group also assists with regulatory approvals, quality system compliance, clinical consulting and in-country representation worldwide. Emergo Group and EDM maintain offices in North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. For more information, see their listing in the online Consultants Directory or go to the company’s Web site.