Distributor and Principal love, hate relationship

In business to business sales environments, often both the sales process and sales relationships are of a complex nature. Sales cycles are long, decision making units are big and there are a numerous dependencies between products and services of different companies - including competition. Few things seem to be simple.

The relationship between distributors, customers and suppliers is an example of this complexity. Distributors need suppliers (principals) and often suppliers need distributors. It would be natural for them to work together. But as in other relationships,, money and money issues can drive a wedge between even the most loving partners.

Principals and distributors are not married. They did not vow "till death do us part." On the contrary. Most principals and distributors are dating only. Each partner is free to date others and at the same time. In few occasions principals and distributors are engaged. And even then... there is an "understanding" or condition that affairs outside the relationship are allowed.

If this were two people, there would be an above 99% chance that this relationship would fail. Emotions running high, jealousy, distrust, insecurity, anger.  Is it fair that one partner gets to date more and more beautiful partners than the other? Is it fair that the other takes a bigger share of the money? I thought we agreed that you would only date this person? Why are you not thinking more of me?

Our most professional and rational thinking is no match for the emotions triggered by the actual behavior of both partners in a distributor-principal relationship. Even the best liaison officer at either side is not immune for the pressure and challenges of others in their respective organization, emotionally expressing and often rationally articulating that the other party is a ... 

Managing either distributors or principals is a though job on either side. It is a challenge to stay on course. More than in any other relationship, expectations need to be spelled out and managed accordingly. Both internally and externally. 

Thick contracts don't buy trust. What does is organizational behavior in line with what was mutual understood. As such stakeholder management, change management, people management are key competencies rather than technical, product or pricing (commercial) skills. 

As in most relationships, it is about soft skills ;-)