Area Manager: a key role in the company’s international development.

alexandra barthélémy Published by Alexandra Barthélémy – 15 April 2022

Today, exports of goods and services represent between 25 and 30% of the world’s GDP. When a company decides to expand internationally, 2 strategies, which can be complementary, are available: to establish itself locally in the target countries through a subsidiary and/or to market its offer via a network of local distributors, then led by an Area Manager.

A role as an indirect sales facilitator

It is this posture of animator that best defines that which the Area Manager must adopt in his daily relationship with his network of partners. A commercial relationship based on trust, of course, but above all on a distribution contract whose conditions will have been negotiated between the two parties: territorial exclusivity granted to the distributor in exchange for a guaranteed minimum annual order volume from the manufacturer.

How then can we ensure that the products or services marketed become and remain a priority for the distributor, who may represent several suppliers to his end customers or even be a multi-entrepreneur, i.e. have several activities in parallel? How to make sure that its energy is correctly used, that the messages passed on to future users are the right ones…?

How to maximize your chances of success in a market where you don’t know all the codes?

These are all challenges for the Area Manager, who must be efficient from the very beginning of the relationship with his partner.

The first step is to choose the right distributor, train his teams and give him the right sales tools. The objective is to transmit knowledge and good practices while helping the distributor to transpose them to its market.  Then, it is necessary to embark on a common development plan, to make him commit to this plan and to challenge him at different stages by defining together the KPIs to follow.

This role of network facilitator can sometimes be frustrating for the Area Manager, who cannot do things for the distributor. And no Area Manager wants to reach the final “penalty” of breaking a distribution contract after having invested energy and resources, both human and financial, in the onboarding of his partner. Especially when you know that on average 40% of distribution partnerships fail within the first 6 months…

A necessary capacity for intercultural adaptation

In addition to these purely business challenges, there are cultural issues that require the Area Manager to be highly adaptable and agile. An Area Manager in charge of Europe will not be able to approach a customer based in a Scandinavian country in the same way as a customer with a Latin culture. He or she will have to take into account the specificities of the market he or she is addressing: level of maturity in relation to the proposed offer, standard of living, consumer habits, competitive intensity… all elements that are likely to modify the way of challenging his or her distributor on his or her local business development plan. Finally, he will have to adapt to the size, the organization and the operating mode of the partner structure.

Finally, how can we talk about international business without mentioning the health crisis we have been experiencing since the end of 2019? Difficulty or even impossibility to travel, to visit the distributor’s customers, to train local teams in the field, to recruit new partners at trade shows… New tools, with which the Area Manager has had to familiarize himself or which he has had to put in place, have become strategic in this relationship: Video sales and social selling tools such as Linkedin, of course, but also sales support and remote training tools that can even go as far as adaptive learning solutions to train distributors’ sales forces, which are multiple and at different levels of maturity with respect to the business and product knowledge.

The position of Area Manager is therefore a very demanding one that obviously requires commercial and relational skills, but above all the ability to lead, facilitate and motivate partners right from the start of the adventure…

Moreover, it is becoming a key function for companies whose business development involves international expansion. This is the case for many SMEs, ETIs and even start-ups that must be able to scale their business outside our borders to obtain financing from investment funds.

If you are just starting out as an Area Manager, if you want to improve your skills or those of your teams, please contact us to learn more about our new ROCK training course dedicated to the animation of the distribution network and available in several languages.

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