Three Approaches to Buying Promotional Materials

  • Jan 23, 2016

There are three basic ways to approach buying promotional materials.
1) Buy from a sales person who sells his products.  In this method, you find what you want to use then ask several companies to bid.  
     Primary position of this kind of product distributor and its buyers is to focus on selling what the buyer has said they want.  Notable features of this method is that it is an adversarial kind if relationship, even though it may be, friendly.  It is definitely price focused.  Notably, the sales persons main objective is to sell something today.  If the customer does not ask the sales person may not bring up any potentially negative issues.  This is the 20th century model.  Still in common use today.  Many people are very comfortable with this kind of business model where customer and seller remain at arms length.
Both parties focus on the transaction with little concern for the other. To give them credit, some of these sellers are adding Agency services to their product offering.  Some even offer a host of "free" services with purchase.  Open the phone book or serach on line and you will find hundreds in your area.
2) Buy from an on line company.  Primary position of this kind of product distributor is to focus on selling what the buyer has said they want.  The positive side of this source is immediate information about a limited number of products.  However the downside is that the customer service people often know even less about products and sources than the 20th century sales person and worse than that, they know nothing of the customers intended use of the product. Since the driving factor is price, many important details are ignored.  The following paragraph gives two examples we've recently seen when a buyer did not know and the seller did not tell.
In many cases the buyer of the product is not necessarily in legal compliance for the intended use.  Two examples will suffice to explain the gap.  In the first instance, the state of California has a labeling law that says all products distributed in the state must be labeled properly at the point of distribution. For reference that law is called Proposition 65. Some states and counties across the nation are following suit.  Many distributors and manufacturers label the case.  That covers the manufacturer and distributor at the point of their distribution.  However, for the company giving away individual items, the items must each be labeled properly.  Some distributors are not informing their customers of those requirements.
A second example that effects distribution nation wide.  Products that are intended for use by children or may have a special interest to children under the age of 13 will require more stringent testing and special permanent tracking labels on each product.  When it comes to promotional items, which items are considered a children's item is determined as much by use as by manufacture.  That puts the burden on the buyer and user of the promotional item.    The on line sellers focus is on price, size, color and quantity.  Basic knowledge of where and how the product are to be used is not taken into consideration.  Your brand requirements, your audience, your message are pretty much ignored. On line buying has grown rapidly in the 21st century and is still growing. This is a viable source for very small companies who have more time than money and can fly under the legal radar.  Your larger corporate clients may consider legal and social compliance issues important.  
Both of the above methods focus on what you will buy now.  They both ignore essential information beyond the product itself.  They both transfer the work involved in making a purchase to the customer and often transfer the risk as well.
3) However, there is a third method for buying products. Rather than working with a distributor sales rep or on line distributor, work with an agency that acts as the buyers adviser and project manager.
In this type of relationship, the agent learns the buyers needs (even those the buyer may not know about) and then proposes what should be purchased along with the delta/ plus for improved decision making.  Although there are many distributors beginning to offer agency services there are very few that have made the switch from 'selling to customers' to 'advocating for clients'.   


Here is a link to a short article and chart that describes the difference between distributor and agency.