What kind of medical device distributor do you really need?

Obtaining CE Marking certification is a crucial step for medical device companies seeking to commercialize their products in the European Union. But in the rush to comply with European regulatory requirements and get all required documentation in order, some firms overlook the fact that their devices, no matter how innovative or beneficial, cannot sell themselves.

Manufacturers sometimes do not take enough time to properly research and evaluate medical distributors that play a key role in successful European market sales. This can and does result in lost business opportunities and disappointing sales rates.  Before you begin your search for medical distribution partners in Europe, ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Which markets should I start in? The traditional, larger markets (Germany, UK, France) or smaller-tier European markets such as Poland, Portugal or the Czech Republic?
  • Who are your current competitors in your selected markets? 
  • How does your device compare to competing products in terms of quality and cost? 
  • How simple or complex are reimbursement processes in the markets you’re targeting?

Which type of medical distribution partner?

Once you have identified where in Europe you plan to market your device, you must identify distributors best suited to support your business plan. Key considerations include:

  • Is your device relatively simple or complex?
  • Will service and maintenance be required often?
  • Are you initially targeting only one or two countries, or multiple EU markets?
  • Is your device new to the EU market, or is it more of a high-volume, low-margin product?

Based on your answers to the questions above, you can develop a profile of your specific distribution requirements in order to screen potential partners. The process of finding a suitable distributor should be undertaken carefully and deliberately. Yes, the Internet is an amazing tool for market research, but there is sometimes no substitute for talking to a potential partner over the phone or face-to-face. Partnerships rarely succeed without strong relationships. 

Pan-European versus national distribution

One distributor for each European country is ideal; German distributors can often cover the Austrian and Swiss markets, but should have branch offices in both countries, not just sales staff supported by their headquarters in Germany. Scandinavia, too, can sometimes be covered by a pan-Scandinavia distributor, but again, you should ensure that such a partner maintains actual offices in each market to support business development. Swedish and Danish distributors often organize sales forces in all Scandinavian markets.

While “master” distributors may offer international networks through which you can sell your product, you should ensure that each country the "master distributor"  purports to cover is not simply a sub-distributor, adding another layer to the end-user cost and diluting the information you want sales people to master. Distribution companies are rarely pan-European, although some claim to be. Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), which take on other company's products, are usually pan-European, but here, too, you must evaluate each subsidiary individually before granting exclusivity. Easier is rarely better.

Now that you know what to look for, you have to go find the candidates that fit your requirements. If you want to go morein-depth on this topic, download our white paper on finding medical device distributors in Europe.  We'll talk more about fidning the right distributor to work with in our next post. 

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