Mariana Kasim: Gaining Business Partners’ Loyalty

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BUILDING harmonious relations with a business partner is indeed not an easy job. It is even less so when the business partner is an external employee, whose status is clearly different from regular internal house employees. As a result, many companies fail to build good relations with such business partners.

Hewlett-Packard Indonesia (HP) is one of the major companies that have successful relations with its business partners. Amid the stiff competition among IT companies HP is leading in its marketing. The success is proven by the expansive distribution of its products, such as PCs, notebooks and servers throughout Indonesia.

“We keep on maintaining our business partners so that they can make a significant contribution to our company’s business,” said Mariana Kasim. What she means by business partners are mostly HP distributors.

The company’s management certainly made the right choice in appointing Mariana Kasim as its solution partners organization director, because in the hands of this amicable woman HP products are becoming more popular on the Indonesian market.

Her eight-year work experience at HP has helped her be successful in handling both internal employees as well as distributors, including their distribution networks. Previously, HP PCs were only available in a few large cities, like Jakarta, Surabaya, Bandung and Medan, but today they can be easily found in almost all major cities in the country.

The success story is not only about PCs, but also the company’s notebooks and servers. Currently, the company is extending its relationship with distributors at the retail level. “We want to educate our distributors further by introducing retail business to them,” said Mariana, who was named among the top 12 marketers in Indonesia in March 2008.

Mariana’s success in building harmonious relations is partly due to her considering the distributors as part of the company’s “big family”. Structure-wise there may be differences, but the essence is the same: being a vital part of HP. Being the spearheads of the marketing, the distributors are indeed the most important link to customers or end users. “We always emphasize this philosophy and principle so that they are always motivated to give us their best,” she explained.

HP also assists its distributors in various ways, including in enhancing the promotion of its products so that sales increase. “Usually after a promotion, the market absorption of our products improves,” she said.

She likened the relationship to a marriage in which the couple trusts and respects each other. Each partner in the “marriage” always strives to fulfill the demands of the other partner. This ideal relationship, which is full of mutual responsibility, adds overall added value.

A value proposition is created by the management of HP to make the distributors understand their vital role in the business. “We always emphasize the fact that the distributors are our major contributors, however, even small contributions are also rewarded,” said Mariana, who has an MBA in economics from Oregon State University, Corvallis, US.

Another important aspect in the relationship is closeness, meaning Mariana sometimes has to cancel a meeting to meet with her distributors. She always keeps her appointments with the distributors. “During such meetings they usually express genuine complaints and ask us for advice or about the latest products or launch plans,” said Mariana, who worked in the marketing department of PT Procter & Gamble Indonesia from 1992 to 1997.

Mariana avoids as far as possible communicating with distributors via cell phone or email, because to her a face-to-face communication is more effective and creates a more personal relationship. Hence, loyalty from distributors is also created, she said. To motivate and create loyalty, Mariana also communicates with distributors on non-formal matters, such as congratulating them on their sales success or commiserating when something unfortunate occurs.

“There are many simple ways to create a close and positive relationship with them,” she said.

She said a good relationship was also based on two factors, that is, an open mind and open communication. An open mind clearly means being open to each other on all aspects, while open communication usually leads to solutions when a problem is encountered. Totally open communication also creates win-win solutions.

Mariana explained further that there were three factors to keep relations harmonious. First, never regard distributors as marketing tools, because this kind of attitude will result in losing their empathy and motivation. “Never give them irrational targets, which will reduce their working spirit. A high target should be implemented step by step, not instantly,” she said.

Second, be fair to all distributors, both the successful ones and the less successful ones. Once the company discriminates, it will lose their loyalty.

The third factor is to hold regular meetings or gatherings with distributors to make them feel that they are part of the big family within the company. Gatherings are also good for evaluation. “Involve them in the company’s vision and mission through the gatherings. We always emphasize that only with harmonious cooperation can both sides succeed,” said Mariana. (Burhan Abe)

The Jakarta Post, April 01, 2009

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