Jeff Bier’s Impulse Response— Distributors: Adding Value?

Submitted by Jeff Bier on Wed, 08/26/2009 - 15:00

A couple of months ago I wrote a column about the frequently unpleasant “getting-the-box” experience.  This month I’d like to rant about a separate but related topic: the frustration of dealing with distributors. 

I’ve always thought that the point of a distributor was to get products into the hands of customers.  But in my experience, distributors are often more of an impediment than an enabler.  For example: A few weeks ago BDTI needed to buy the software development tools for a well-known embedded processor.  The processor vendor’s website referred us to its distributor, providing an email address. As directed, we sent an email to the distributor requesting a quote on the tools. We quickly received an (automated) email saying that our request had been routed to the “super-quick-response group” (I’m paraphrasing here) within the distributor and we would be contacted shortly.  How promising that sounded! How our hearts beat faster in anticipation!   

Anticipation gradually turned into frustration, however, as we waited day after day for that follow-up contact. We eventually went directly to the processor vendor, whose salespeople sent us the needed quote within hours.  Meanwhile, a month later, we still haven’t heard back from the distributor. 

Then there was the time earlier this year that BDTI was hired to help an up-and-coming start-up company select a processor for a consumer product with the potential to sell millions of units. As part of the selection process, we needed pricing for the processors under consideration. We called the three candidate processor vendors and explained what we needed and why, and two out of the three gave us an informal quote over the phone. The third vendor, however, sent us to their distributor. Who wanted an NDA. And then wanted some additional paperwork. And then ended up wasting a bunch of time before finally, grudgingly, providing us with a fraction of the information we had requested.

How does this help anyone?

Is there a problem here, or are my recent experiences a fluke?  Let me know—send me email at

Jennifer Eyre White of BDTI contributed to this column.

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