Channel Marketing Research – Understanding the Gatekeepers

Channel marketing includes distributors, retailers, dealers, and agents.

They are your gatekeepers.

They often decide your success or failure, if you use channels to deliver and or retail your products.

The channel decides to whom, when, and how often they sell your or competitors’ products.

The channel is influential in the sale when,

  • The product is new.
  • The brand is unknown.
  • End users seek advice.
  • The product is complex.
  • The product needs service.
  • Prime retail shelf space is limited.
  • The channel is in a premium location.

Recommending Your Brand, Not the Competitors' Brands

You want the channel recommending and selling your products, not your competitors’ products.

You want to know what drives them to recommend your brand or your competitors’ brands.

The channel is your indirect sales force, but you don’t control them.

A channel working for you is a competitive advantage. A channel that ignores you or works against you is a severe competitive disadvantage.

Understand the Gatekeepers

You need to understand the channel just as well as your customers and prospects.

You want to influence channels to recommend and sell your product to end users.

To understand channel marketing, you run depth interviews.

You interview salespeople, sales managers, executives, and owners in distributors, retailers, dealers, and agents.

Personnel in channels are often subject matter experts.

Channel personnel are experts about industries, categories, products, services, and brands. Experienced channel respondents often have deep insights and perspectives about your industry. They see and deal with a wide range of suppliers and end users.

Channels are also your customers.

You want to know what brands the marketing channel recommends, why they recommend the brands they do, and how your brands compare with competitors.

How to Conduct Channel Marketing Depth Interviews

Use qualitative marketing research. Telephone depth interviews work well for channel interviews. People in channels are busy. Channels are scattered across the country or region.

Use channel marketing interviews to

  • Find out what brands they recommend and why.
  • Find out about important trends.
  • Assess channel marketing program ideas and concepts.
  • Improve products, services, and channel marketing programs.
  • Find out about best practices.
  • Get new ideas.

The Channel World

The channel lives in a different world than the supplier or producer.


Retail salespeople gravitate toward products that sell easily, and they gravitate to hot products that sell often. They recommend products they know and understand. Ones they may use. Ones on which they receive training. Ones on which they earn commissions or spiffs.

Retail salespeople recommend products with good support. They recommend products that don’t have problems; products customers don’t return.

Retail salespeople recommend and sell products their management tells them to sell. Their bosses decide product priorities, paychecks, and promotions, not you.

Retail salespeople are often young, and sometimes don’t earn much, and some are not on commission.

Value-added retailers often sell products to clinch a service sale. Service produces revenue and profits for the value-added retailer. They sometimes sell products on thin margins or loss to get the service contract.

Often, independent retailers and dealers worry about suppliers appointing new retailers or dealers in their territory, or going direct to end users. Market share and margins can shrink when suppliers appoint new retailers and dealers in a territory.


Distributors sell volume in a territory. They deal with warehousing, transport, ordering, large inventories, and account support. Distributors balance their own profit needs with the needs of retailers and suppliers.

Distributors sell and push products that sell well, gravitating to the easiest sale that produces the most volume and biggest profit.

But they must also keep their suppliers happy, especially if it is a big brand with a protected territory and produces profit. Distributors with a single brand and limited customers are dependent on the goodwill of their suppliers.

Distributors with multiple brands, diversified profits, and many customers have power when negotiating with suppliers. They balance suppliers, and use them to serve specific end-user segments. Channel conflict is common.

Channels are busy. They have limited time. They have limited shelf space, inventory space, and capital.


Use marketing channel depth interviews at each stage of innovation and development: discovery, development, and commercialization.

Interview the channel often, at least twice a year if your industry is fast moving and changes quickly. Or interview the channel when you introduce new products, services, and marketing programs.

Talk to retail personnel when they are away from the retail store. Or when they are on a break. You want them to focus on the interview without distraction. If you interview them while they are working, expect interruptions. Customers and the boss demand attention.

Discover how to get channels to recommend your brand before they recommend your competitors’ brand. Interview them, and gain insights for your channel marketing programs.

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