How Are You Utilizing Training?

November 25, 2014

I don’t think any manufacturer out there would argue the importance of training. What manufacturer wouldn’t want to ensure their customers are trained properly on how to use their products or informed on their latest product offerings. Plus, training offers manufacturers a way to further differentiate themselves from competitors, as well as continue to build their brand with their customers.

There are many ways to approach and handle training; from how-to videos and online training courses, to traditional, printed instructional manuals and sales people demonstrating products in the field.  But sometimes there is no substitute for in-person training.

One manufacturer that is leading the way for in-person training is Viega. I should note that Viega is a client of Sonnhalter. The Viega Education Facility, located in Nashua, NH, is a stand-alone, dedicated building for training and I have to say, a pretty impressive facility. It first opened up in 2006 and since then, over 10,000 people have completed training sessions. Viega averages over 200+ days of training per year, with attendees ranging from architects, contractors and engineers to apprentices, distributors and even Viega employees. Currently there are over 13 standard courses covered in two-day, three-day or five-day sessions.

For the majority of industries, continuing education becomes a necessity to staying up-to-date and informed on the latest techniques, trends and technologies affecting their respective fields. Additional training can also offer up the benefits of increased productivity, reducing your liabilities for errors or omissions with updated knowledge of laws and regulations, increasing morale and job satisfaction, as well as reducing employee turnover

Kevin Higginbotham is the CEO of the Evergreen Marketing Group. Evergreen has always been a leader in product training since its inception, and Kevin gives us some insights into what their group is doing to advance professional training using a multi-dimensional approach.

Both manufacturers and distributors acknowledge the importance of training.

How are you utilizing Training?


Manufacturers: Contractors are expecting more from you. Are you delivering?

November 19, 2014

Progressive contractors, I believe, are changing the way they are interacting with their manufacturers. When I ran across this research recently, it verified in my mind that it holds true. I only wish the Electrical and Plumbing markets would do similar research.

hdlogo

HVACRBusiness recently released a new research study, “HVACR Contractors: Trends in the Adoption of Products/Systems & Management Approaches,” (for a free copy of executive summary click here), that highlights new trends on their involvement with manufacturers. I did a podcast interview with Terry Tanker, the publisher, to talk about the results of the research.

Bottom line – 70% are more likely to evaluate additional manufacturers and their products. You can’t depend on your sales rep going to see them personally to introduce a new product. By the time they get there, the contractor may be well down the selection process. Contractors, no matter what kind, are looking for good information, not a sales pitch, but information that can help them do their jobs. If you can do that, it will help keep you in the game.

Here are some highlights.

They define a “High Yield” contractor as being more active in managing their business, have substantial revenues and are experiencing significant growth. In other words, The “A” players in the field.

  • 93% get involved in the early stages of the selection process of new products.
  • Contractors have even greater expectations for products/systems than 5 years ago.
  • Contractors are expecting manufacturers to do more to help them compete and operate efficiently.
  • The selling environment has become more businesslike and competitive.

The bottom line is that these “High Yield” contractors have made significant changes in their relationships with their manufacturers and expect more out of them. Among them the top three are:

  1. Making manufacturers more accountable for their products/systems.
  2. Offer more support.
  3. Make more objective decisions about products/systems/brands.

 


Email Lists: What are you doing to grow yours?

November 11, 2014

I know we all know “CONTENT IS KING” and we focus on putting out good stuff. But we should be just as focused on building the list to whom we’ll be sending all this valuable info. There are so many sources for gathering data from trade shows, PR and leads from advertising. We need to formulate a plan to separate them by market, industry or other criteria so specific targeted messages can be sent with a strong call to action.

It’s a fact that if you have an engaged database of subscribers, you have a captive audience, not only for them to read, but to share. I recently read a post on problogger.net by James Penn entitled, 10 Ways to Get More Email Subscribers For Your Blog that I thought brought home some key points.

Among them are:

  • Use multiple opt-in forms – have 3-4 in your newsletter template. The more you have, the better the chances of them signing up.
  • Offer a freebie for signing up – Give them a report, industry trends or white paper for signing up.
  • Use your most popular posts – They will continue to bring in traffic.
  • Create special reports on industry issues – Use already existing content to create.
  • Ask readers to join your email list – What better way to get people on board.

These are some great tips. What are you doing to increase your email lists?


What’s stopping you from developing a content marketing strategy?

November 4, 2014

If you’re going to create good content, shouldn’t you have some basic parameters in place before doing it? If not, you’ll be writing about everything to no specific audience and the results will be less than desirable.

So what’s holding you back from writing down your content strategy? My guess is you’re not sure where to start. You know that the document doesn’t have to be complicated. It needs to cover some basic points for you and your team to focus on when creating content. It’s also good to share with the rest of the team so everyone is on the same page.

create-a-content-marketing-strategy-your-customers-will-love-in-7-steps-18-638

Slide Credit: Convince and Convert

A recent post by Jay Baer outlines very simply what you need to do to create a strategy in 7 steps. Here are some highlights:

  • Objective - What are you trying to accomplish? Deliver leads, create awareness?
  • What makes you different - You need something that’s going to set you apart. What is it?
  • Metrics - How are you going to determine the success or failure of your efforts if you don’t define a way to measure it?
  • Define your audience - Who do you want to talk to and why?
  • Audience needs - Do some research to find out what their needs are.
  • Content execution - What are you going to write about and when? Where do they get their info as you want to deliver it there instead of them having to go look for it.
  • Content promotion - Once it’s written, use social media to create a bigger buzz.

What’s a Customer’s Lifetime Value To You?

October 28, 2014

For all of us in sales, it’s all about now. Making this month’s/quarter’s numbers. While there’s nothing wrong with this, we all need to step back and look at the total value of a customer. We need to realize, that even though we got this sale, it doesn’t guarantee the next one.

I know most manufacturers sell through distribution networks and often you don’t know who the actual end users are. But for those of you who offer something other than consumables, there are ways, e.g., warranty cards, that will give you access to the user and related products.

So what are you doing about keeping that lifetime customer? First of all, we need to not take advantage of or assume that all future orders are a lock for you. Remember, they do have other choices.

We need to have the mindset to earn every piece of future business. What can you do to foster and nurture those customer relationships so when the next purchase opportunity comes up, we have the advantage?

Here are some post sale things to think about:

  • Follow-up with them to see how they liked the product (first-time buyers) and did it perform like they expected? If not, resolve the problem or take back the product. Ask them to rate the product online.
  • Keep in contact with them via email. Touching base on industry issues or giving them a sneak peek at a new product coming out.
  • Help them find solutions to make their job easier, even if it doesn’t include your product for that application.

By engaging with the customer, you’re building the three key factors of know, like and trust that will give you the edge next time.

 


Manufacturers: Do You Have a Loyalty Program?

October 21, 2014

We all want to capture more business, and the best source of that is from existing customers. If you were a retailer, it would be much simpler to develop a program. But if you’re a manufacturer who sells through distribution channels, your challenge is where do you put your efforts … at the distributor or end user? You’re between a rock and a hard place.

From a distributor’s perspective, all manufacturers are trying to get more time and attention. If you’re an A or B line item, chances are you’ll get some time. Here are some challenges to consider:

  • When you do, what kind of plan are you presenting?
  • Is just like everybody else, or does yours stand out from the crowd?
  • And what about the cost? You know it’s coming out of your margins, not the distributors.
  • Do you incentivize for total sales or for incremental sales once they’ve met last year’s numbers?
  • How do you get their sales force excited?
  • Do you incentivize the distributor or the salesmen?
  • Tracking program – make it simple so you’re not spending all your time figuring out who gets what.

End users aren’t as loyal as they once were. Most will change brands at the drop of a hat or for 5 cents.

There are some iconic brands out there that have worked very hard to build that trust and loyalty over many years, and for the rest of us, we are envious. But even these brands have to fight for incremental sales outside their core “loyalists.”

The younger tradesmen, for the most part, have little brand loyalty unless they were brought up through an apprenticeship program or trade school where your products were used.

So if you’re considering doing an end-user promo, here are some things to think about:

  • What’s your objective? Is it brand building or product related?
  • Are you developing an end-user database? If so, what do you plan on doing with it?
  • What’s the offer? Is it memorable? Can you tie it into other branding activities?
  • Are you involving distribution to help create the buzz?

Manufacturers, you do have your challenges. I’d like you to share programs you’ve seen that have been effective.


Customer Loyalty: Does it Exist Anymore?

October 15, 2014

I know we all want to have customers that only call us and never quibble about price. I guess we need to wake up. Years ago you could build customer loyalty, but today I really wonder if it holds true anymore.

If you’re a manufacturer who sells through distribution, you have a double challenge—to keep both the distributor and user happy. The question is, where do you spend your time, the distributors or users? I guess the answer to that question will be different for all of us, but I think we all agree we need to spend the time building loyalty where it will make the biggest impact on sales.

My guess is for those who are looking to get to the professional tradesman, the best way to do that is to have a strong relationship with the distributors, who in turn have customer loyalty with the tradesman.

Yes, there are some iconic brands that have a great end-user preference, and hats off to those that have. But those numbers are a small percentage of the total. These folks, while we will envy them now, will, I believe, have a similar issue down the road when all the oldies (50 plus) get out of the business and the younger generation doesn’t value the loyalty card as much as the older generations.

No matter what avenue you choose to foster loyalty, there are some basic guidelines that need to be considered:

  • They need to know, like and trust you - Without that, you will have an uphill battle, and it will take time.
  • Make them your top priority – Back it up by having someone treat them like a key account that they are.
  • Spend time with them belly button to belly button - You can build a relationship via emails.
  • Not everything you’ll do results in a sale - Help them out whether it’s tech support or customer visits. Make them look like a hero.
  • Under promise and over deliver - Folks remember those that go the actual extra mile.
  • Show them you do care – Customers stop doing business with people because they have the perception of indifference. Send them a handwritten note or a copy of an industry article that would be relevant.

I’d be curious, for those who sell through a distribution channel, where do you focus your efforts? At distribution or the end-user?


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 152 other followers