Suppliers are from Mars, distributors are from Venus

I started out as a distributor in this industry in 1997. Back then, the communication challenges between suppliers and distributors were largely a function of technology (or lack thereof). There was no mainstream internet in use to help keep communication flowing in real time so we had to rely on meetings, faxes, and phone calls.

This quickly changed with the advent of the internet and, ultimately, the social web in the mid 2000s. Information went from a trickle to an open fire hose of real time information. I’ve always been fascinated with how this industry comes together to design, manufacture and ultimately deliver products to the end user.

By all accounts, we have a pretty efficient industry model comprised of different camps of people who each specialize in what they’re good at:

Promotional Product Supplier Strengths

  • Manufacturing
  • Quality Control
  • Product Design
  • Importing

Promotional Product Distributor Strengths

  • Sales
  • Marketing
  • Design
  • Fulfillment

Are there cracks here and there? Of course, but that’s not what this post is about.

This post is how we communicate and share information with each other and the role that technology and promotional products software plays in facilitating this exchange.
When we built commonsku, we envisioned a platform that brought distributors and suppliers together in an industry specific setting free of:
  • End users
  • Your cousin Gertrude
  • Distracting cat videos
This allows for free and open communication between all parties.

When it comes to getting business done, I reached out to the community and asked what information distributors wanted to see from suppliers on the commonsku newsfeed (and vice versa for suppliers). In an an effort to summarize the main points:

Distributors are in search of:

  1. Case Studies – Put forth some of the wins that you’ve had with your clients and their clients. I can’t really say it better than Bobby Lehew already has, so I won’t try. Read his excellent criteria for case studies here.
  2. Educational Material – In a nod to the popularity of online video nowadays, distributors put out a strong call for client-friendly videos – educational and promotional – that can be shared with end-users.
  3. Interaction, not broadcasting – commonsku users want exchange, conversation, and relationship building. Distributors already see your ads in their email, in the magazines, and on your website. Use commonsku to talk with them, not blast ads at them.

Suppliers are in search of:

  1. Insight – Invite suppliers into your world. They really, truly want a feel for your culture, your vibe, and how (& what) you like to sell to your end users.
  2. Opportunities – If you’re working on a quote or need to present ideas to a client, ask suppliers to contribute their ideas. They are all experts in their niches and may have ideas that never would have occurred to someone with a more general knowledge-base.
  3. Case Studies – That’s right, those supplier case studies need to come from somewhere, so that means distributors need to pony up. Share your successes with your supplier partners.

The commonsku newsfeed is an active place, filled with industry conversations, product ideas, flyers, closesouts, case studies and whimsical photos celebrating what it’s like to work in this industry. As commonsku continues to grow, the robustness and importance of the content is growing right along with it.

The conversation threads are fascinating and you can read them in full here and here.


commonsku is a web-based business management platform powering the promotional products industry. Find out more at commonsku.com or stop by to say hi on twitter or facebook.