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Contributed By AFFLINK

End-customers are often confused by the terms, "sales rep" and “distributors.” Adding to the confusion, another term we often hear is “manufacturers rep.”  Many of us believe these are all about the same.

Sales reps and manufacturers reps are indeed similar, explains Michael Wilson with AFFLINK, a distributor-membership organization with more than 350 distributors around the country. However, the two aren't the same as distributors.

Among the key differences are the following:


Distributors purchase products directly from suppliers and then store them in warehouses. They own the products. Sales reps do not own the products; they just market them for the supplier.


Distributors maintain a product inventory so that end customers can order directly from them. This usually facilitates faster ordering and delivering of products.

Sales reps do not maintain an inventory. Products must be ordered and then shipped from the manufacturer. How quickly this is accomplished can vary.


Distributors make their profits by marking up the costs of goods they have purchased from a supplier. Sales reps work on a straight commission. 

Customer Involvement

Distributors tend to develop long-term relationships with end customers. Often their goal is to become a part of the customers business operations.

Sales reps, on the other hand, are often brought-in to line-up end-customers for a manufacturer's products. Their involvement with the end customer can be short-lived.

Product Knowledge

This is one area where both sales reps and distributors are reasonably similar. Both must have in-depth product knowledge.


While both distributors and sales reps are independent of the manufacturer, typically, the manufacturer develops a closer working relationship with their distributors. They may offer training programs, discounts, and rebates to their distributors that are not offered to sales reps.

"Something else to consider is access to products during shortages," adds Wilson. "Distributors, especially if they are part of a membership organization, can turn to other distributors if they are out of a product. With a sales rep, if the manufacturer is backlogged and there is a product shortage, the only option is to wait."