hate to break this news to product managers out there, but there’s a pretty darn good chance the largest distributors in the land aren’t too impressed with your work.

EW’s editors asked executives at Top 200 distributors the simple question, “Have any new product launches by manufacturers impressed you during the last year?” Of the 109 distributors who answered the question, less than half had anything positive to say about the new product launches they had seen over the past year. And if they did have something nice to say,  it was probably about a new product from a handful of manufacturers, because that’s all the names that came up in this survey. The only vendors mentioned more than once by 50 distributor executives were Acuity Brands, Arlington Industries, Cooper Lighting, Leviton, Philips, Pass & Seymour, RAB Lighting and Southwire. Take a bow, fellas. Everyone else may have  to ask themselves some tough questions about their product launches.

To be fair to product managers, the senior executives at some Top 200 distributors may or may not be the right people to ask about new products launches, because they probably don’t spend too much time out on sales calls, on the phone or at the counter selling new products. And there’s probably a limit to the number of product pitches from local reps they will sit through. Another factor that may tilt the results a bit is the type of products you manufacture. There’s lots of excitement right now with LEDs and three of the four companies that got the most mentions (in descending order) — RAB Lighting, Cooper Lighting, Southwire and Acuity Brands — all won accolades for their LED products.

But all manufacturers can learn from these companies because of how they launched their products. RAB Lighting won high marks from Top 200 distributors for the quality, breadth and what several respondents said were “sensible” price points for its LED lighting products. Several distributors liked Cooper Lighting’s launch of its Crosstour LED wall packs. Said one, “The launch is in process and shows signs of it being a great success, due to the training, effectiveness of the counter displays, samples provided for the sales team, and a strong spiff program.”

One California distributor was most impressed with several products from Southwire. “Coil Packs are the wire reel of the future,” he said. “This has been the most impressive and exciting product to sell. ” He also liked Southwire’s Wire Barrel and Simpull products. “Southwire is the most innovative commodity manufacturer I have had the pleasure to work with in my 41 years in the business,” he added. “They have made it fun to sell a commodity again.”

Here are the key questions new product managers should be asking before pushing a new product out the door.

How does it help the end user on the job? If your product doesn’t somehow make life easier, faster, safer or more profitable for an electrical contractor or other end user, why bother?

If my new product is supposed to save energy, am I clearly communicating the return on investment for an end user? If you don’t have a simple ROI message, the intended audience  will move on.

Are we supporting the product with the right selling or marketing tools? Distributors don’t want to go to the market empty-handed or with materials that don’t make your products easy to sell.  Before the launch, ask your distributors what they will need.

 Are you keeping distributors in the loop on your product launches? There’s nothing a distributor hates more than learning about a new product from a customer who strolls into the counter area with an ad he has ripped out of a trade publication. Make sure your marketing/communications launch plan includes efforts designed specifically for electrical distributors.

Lots of things have changed in this market. But judging from our Top 2002 responses on the state of product launches in the industry, some manufacturers are making the same old mistakes when they roll out new products.