Want to expand? Here are 3 tips to do just that.

Anabela Correia, CEO of a now international surgical device company, shares her insight into working with distribution partners to achieve success, and grow into new markets.

Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash

The path to technology commercialisation is one that is well-documented and well-worn: unmet need leads to an idea, proof of concept built, asset protected, business plan developed, funding obtained, strategic partnerships formed, and the branded product is launched into market. These days anyone with the right idea and the right guidance can become an entrepreneur.

The one step in the commercialisation process I’ve often seen overlooked is the importance of managing stakeholder relationships and communication. The benefits of a strong relationship with stakeholders should not be underestimated. When I say stakeholders, I’m referring to anyone that has an interest in your product, investors and shareholders being the most obvious right through to customers, end-users, service providers and your team. For the purpose (and brevity) of this article I’m going to focus on distributors as selecting and maintaining the right distribution partner can be critical to commercialisation success.

  1. Take them from a partner to a true stakeholder. Over the years I’ve negotiated many distributor agreements, some making it through to execution and others not. In my experience what’s worked best is where there has been a shift in the distributor model taking them from a partnership to a true stakeholder. This begins in the due diligence phase with an upfront offer to buy-in to the company allowing for a shared responsibility for the product and sales. Have them invest in your success. Where you succeed, they succeed. I would caution this with saying that in negotiating the terms make sure that you have genuine interest from both sides, clear milestones and are working towards mutually synergistic outcomes.
  2. Establish clear communication channels early. Engaging distributors abroad to enter international markets is a common approach for technology start-ups and those scaling up. A distributor will have a good understanding of and access to the market, a well-established customer network as well as the on-ground resources to support your product. You can gather a large amount of this information about your potential distributors and start to build a relationship with them by scheduling an initial face-to-face meeting. While this can be costly upfront, I’ve found that meeting and engaging with them early in the process will save both time and money in the long term. These meetings also enable you to provide clarity and set expectations around ongoing communications. Scheduled regular discussions can help them feel supported to sell your product, avoid misunderstandings and enable more efficient decision-making and problem solving.
  3. Make them feel like they’re part of the team. Anyone that has worked with me or for me will know that I work by the Team Play concept. The most effective team is one that works together understanding their own strengths as well as the strengths of others. This is no different for distributors. Work to their strengths and help them to understand yours. It’s difficult to sell a product on your own so use their market knowledge, customer network or whatever their strength might be to your advantage while sharing your in-depth product knowledge with them. Make them feel supported in-market and equipped to sell your product by providing them with the training, materials and resources they need. Give them access to the relevant team members within your own team and have them build and manage these relationships. Everyone in your team should understand their role and that they can all play a part in building a strong relationship with a distributor.

The most successful distributor relationships that I’ve experienced are the ones that go beyond a business transaction and are built on trust, communication and teamwork. Our distributors that feel supported and motivated to sell our product have helped us to establish early sales of our medical device in 5 countries. We’ll take these learnings as we prepare to undertake our biggest challenge and launch into the US market.

Dr. Anabela Correia, BBioMed Sc, Ph.D is the CEO of Livac Pty Ltd, an Australian surgical device company, and Director of Technology Commercialisation at Inner Maven. Anabela is an experienced CEO and entrepreneur, having worked in teams to secure capital, deliver device and diagnostic technologies to market and negotiate successful agreements with multinational device and pharmaceutical companies. She has combined her business acumen and passion for medical technologies in roles including technology transfer, R&D tax, venture capital and as a corporate advisor. Leading the strategic development and subsequent expansion of Livac Pty Ltd and Inner Maven, Anabela attributes her success nationally and internationally to her focus on staff development and multi-stakeholder engagement.

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