Manufacturers: Here’s a list of things contractors would like from you

June 10, 2014

men at jobsite

I recently did a series of interviews and podcasts of contractors. The main focus was on what manufacturers could do to better support them in the field. These contractors were electricians, plumbers, HVAC and general contractors. There were some common issues from them that I thought would be useful to manufacturers:

  • Quick response to questions – access to knowledgeable tech people for problem solving.
  • Regular site visits – have your salesman make regular visits. Most contractors say they very rarely see the manufacturers. Great way to build relationships and identify possible product problems or shortcomings.
  • Application training – quick tips on doing a process better/quicker. If not in person, via email.
  • Best way to communicate with them - mobile phone or email.
  • Don’t use/look at social media (Twitter, Facebook).
  • Recognize that they are professionals.

It looks like there are some opportunities for manufacturers to up their game. There wasn’t a contractor I talked to that would turn away a visit from you. That sounds like an opportunity to me.


Customer Loyalty and Retention: What Are You Doing?

May 28, 2014

As manufacturers, we have to serve two masters, the distribution network we sell through and the ultimate end-user. Sometimes we can take these relationships for granted. Remember, they have other options. Here are a few thoughts on how to nurture the relationships:

Distributors

  • Distributors do have a choice in what they carry. Chances are they have your product as well as several competitors on their shelves. So let’s assume for the sake of this exercise that product performance is comparable.
  • What makes their counter guys and sales force sell more of one brand over the other? Yes, you can offer SPIFs, but that at best is a short-term solution to increase sales.
  • I’d say things like ease of ordering and timely delivery might be helpful.
  • What about knowledgable factory people available for product training and troubleshooting?
  • How about making end-user calls with their sales force?

Here’s a unique thought – thank them for their business instead of hammering them to help you make your numbers this month.

Most distributor/manufacturer relationships have a long history. Don’t take them for granted. Sales will come, but distributors are looking for more than a quality product at a competitive price.

My grandmother used to tell me you’d catch more bees with honey than vinegar.

Contractors

Many of the same tactics work at the contractor level.  But here’s a place where you can make a brand difference:

  • If you have their back and they know they can count on you for product/technical support, you’ll make a friend for life.
  • Contractors-like elephants-have long memories, and if you drop the ball too many times, they will find alternative products. Trust me, I’ve seen it.
  • Contractors want to be recognized for the trade professionals they are. Something as simple as sending them an email for example, on National Plumber’s Day, recognizing how hard they work. Wouldn’t you think that would have a positive brand experience?

You know, this stuff isn’t rocket science, it’s more common sense. And it doesn’t have to cost more money, just use good business practices.

My golden rule is to treat people the way you expect to be treated. It works and it makes life a whole lot simpler.


What are you doing to create demand for your content?

May 27, 2014

hourglass

We all are working hard to create content in various forms, but what can we do to create the demand for it? If we build it, it will come philosophy won’t work.

In the b-to-b space where selling cycles can be long with numerous folks involved, you need to address several different issues along the way down the sales funnel, but do you know what they are?

I’ve long been a proponent of sales and marketing working closely together. After all, the objective of both is to sell more stuff.

I’m amazed that folks in the marketing department spend little or no time in the field talking with customers. I always recommend marketing folks spend time with the salesmen in the field, and I don’t mean a day or two. Spend a week or so and you’ll see customers in various stages of the buying process.

More importantly, you as a marketer have the unique opportunity, while in front of a prospect, to ask some really relevant questions that the salesman might not ask.

Questions like:

  • What other types of info would be helpful in your decision-making process?
  • What triggers a buyer to start the process?
  • What kinds of concerns do your colleagues have that we might address?
  • Focus on customers needs and concerns.

Why do I keep harping on getting in front of the customer? Let’s be honest. Most companies don’t know their customers well enough. They don’t know or understand the buying process well enough. They don’t have content framework to communicate with the potential buyer.

I read an interesting article recently by Jay Hidalgo in the Chief Content Officer magazine that outlines 3 steps to create a process to create demand for your content.

His User’s Guide consists of 3 things:

  • Developing a buyer’s persona (know your customer)
  • Define their buying process
  • Developing a content framework  for communicating with a buyer

He takes you through a process that engaged the combined efforts of sales and marketing resulting in a well-thought-out strategy, and content that will be on target that users will want to pass it on. You can read his entire article here.

 

 


Closing the Loop on Sales Leads

May 21, 2014

broken chainDon’t have a plan to follow or nurture leads?

When was the last time you responded to an ad, e-blast or other form of communications about a new product and never heard from the company after they got you what you requested? Or if you did hear from them, it was weeks or months after the original inquiry.

I bet it’s more the rule than the exception, especially in the B-to-B world. What I can’t figure out is why. Unless your product is so unique, wouldn’t you want to let the prospect know why dealing with you is better?

Yet I see many manufacturers still today that have no formal plan to follow and nurture leads. If they are not going to follow-up the lead, then why are they promoting the product in the first place? It’s a waste of time and money.

Many pass the lead on to their distribution network before qualifying them as to what stage in the selling cycle they are.

Wouldn’t it make sense to follow-up with the prospect…

  • to see if they got the info they requested?
  • to see if you can answer any questions?
  • to direct them to a local distributor?
  • to possibly offer them some other help or info once you determine where they are in the sales cycle?

A lead that has been qualified and then passed on to either rep or distributor gives them a little better feel for what the prospect is looking for and the application. The lead doesn’t stop there; it’s only the starting point.

There are several CRM programs out there that can help you manage, track and nurture the leads. What I don’t understand is why folks are using them. One reason I found is that lots of sales folks don’t like lead tracking and nurturing programs because it identifies some weak links in the selling cycle. In the world of ROI, I would think Sales and Marketing would want to know where new business is coming from so you can do more of the same.

It makes sense if you qualify the lead before giving it out to follow-up with.  You’ll get better results and salespeople might even call on them.

The sales cycle is only as good as its weakest link.


Multi-Channel and Marketing Automation for Manufacturers: Are You Using?

May 20, 2014

Today we have a guest post from Jason Schultz, Director of Marketing for Great Lakes Integrated, a strategic  partner of ours.

Multi-channel marketing coupled with marketing automation is a powerful approach for manufacturing companies. Manufacturers have a unique opportunity to create interest and trust for their products by communicating with their customers and prospects through different types of media and employing automated responses to actions they take.

With manufacturer’s customers and prospects being both in the business to business world and also the business to consumer world messaging and responses need to be different. The automated responses need to be different as well.

Using multiple-channels has proven to increase response and desired actions being taken. Consider using any combination of print, mobile, email and landing pages to engage your customers in meaningful ways. The key is to link all messaging to personalized or static landing pages.

Using landing pages then allows you to gather additional information on the customer or prospects, solicit feedback, allow for registration, set meetings or start a conversation just to name a few. By utilizing a digital engagement you can gather information, analytics and automate the marketing process.

An automated response can come in the form of an email, physical collateral or product being sent, a text message or even an automated phone call. The automated response takes the initial follow ups off of sales and marketing and is a way to ensure your company is responding to the actions of customers or prospects in a timely manner.

Taking this process further, you can implement lead scoring to pre-qualify customers and prospects based on business rules and point values determined by their interactions with certain parts of your communication. Then, only the customers or prospects with the most potential get contacted by sales people to garner new or additional business. Time is not spent on those customers or prospects that have not shown an interest in what you are promoting.

Key takeaways are:

  • to utilize multiple channels to increase the likelihood that customers and prospects will take the desired actions you want. 
  • design and messaging need to be appropriate, relevant and meaningful.
  • digital components also need to be in place that allow customers and prospects to interact; allowing you to track those interactions to determine what is working, what is not and ultimately ROI.
  • use marketing automation to efficiently and effectively respond to customers and prospects; increasing the likelihood of your ultimate success in adding or increasing new business.

The notion that a multi-channel approach with automation is difficult to execute and maintain is just the opposite. Today’s technology allows marketing support partners to take your campaign and feed it into the system. The system/technology then handles the deployment and execution of the different types of media and the automatic responses to customers and prospects (not to mention the gathering of all data and analytics). If you are new to this method of marketing, try a small test campaign and compare it with current efforts. Then make the determination for yourself.


4 Tips on How to Get Your Company the “Right” Kind of Customers

May 14, 2014

Most of us try not to be all things to all people, especially in the B-to-B world. For those of you who are, I feel bad for you.

If part of your criteria for new business is “anyone with money” or “I hope to get paid,” I have to believe you’re not running a growing or profitable business.

We’re in the competitive niche of marketing and have taken the position of not being all things to all people. We have defined our niche as helping manufacturers who want to reach the professional tradesman and promote it appropriately.

Here are some tips that have helped us grow and prosper in our competitive space:

  1. Hire us to be effective, not efficient.
  2. We help clients become profit leaders, not market leaders.
  3. Category knowledge – intellectual capital.
  4. Don’t be afraid to focus – be afraid of mediocrity.

Make your value proposition clear because relevance and differentiation do matter.

You and your company only have so much time. Why not spend it on clients you choose? Remember, bad clients can drive out good ones! If you stay true to your positioning, new clients will find you.

 


Are Full Line Print Catalogs Dead?

May 13, 2014

Catalogs

Interesting question, isn’t it? Back when I started in the ad business (back in the stone ages), the full line catalog was not only your bible, but one of your largest marketing expenses. It would take months to develop, and as soon as it was printed, some items were either added or deleted from the line thus making the catalog obsolete. Sound familiar?

Of course the web changes all that, and with the advent of databases, it’s easy to keep your catalog current and for users to search for the products they need. I’d say that over the years, as companies added a digital catalog, print runs started to decrease on average of 25-30%.

Recently though (last 7-10 years), printed catalogs have been declining even more. Think of all the trees we’ve saved and the number of printers we’ve put out of business.

I recently read an article in Industrial Distribution magazine’s online edition that cited a study done by United Stationers that shows that end users preferences have changed to online.

Now you may ask what does a study by an office products company have to do with the industrial and construction market. Well let’s not forget that they also own ORS NASCO in the industrial sector and Lagasse Sweet in the Jan/San sector. I have to believe  the office products trends are not so much different from the markets we play in.

The study also showed that smaller, more single-category-focused printed pieces are on the rise.

Contractors and MRO professionals – they are/were still apprehensive about giving up printed material. I think that’s changing a bit. Let me clarify my statement.

Yes, the old timers (55 and older) probably prefer a printed book. But you might be surprised, at even that age group, they want current info and aren’t afraid to go on the Internet to at least find something. Let’s face it, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to use Google.

Now distribution might be another story. Countermen, for sure, prefer the printed piece for day-to-day inquiries. If you don’t believe me, next time you’re in a distributor look at some of them.

Most of these contractors not only have access to computers, but have tablets and smart phones on job sites where they can access info immediately. So I’d feel safe in saying that most of us have some sort of online presence.

So if you buy into my premise, here are a few things you can do:

  • Create a digital strategy and fund it with the money you save from not printing all those full line catalogs.
  • Create single category pieces whether they are product or market focused.
  • Create good meaningful direct mail pieces that will inform and inspire your target audiences.

Do I think the print catalog is dead? No, but it’s on its last legs.

What are your thoughts?

 


Have Your Videos Gone Viral?

April 30, 2014

I guess in a perfect world, all videos would go viral and thousands of people would be flocking to your website. Don’t get me wrong, that would be nice, but that’s not my strategy.

I guess I take a different approach. I’d rather have hundreds of the right people see my videos and act on them as opposed to millions who may see them and do nothing. The purpose, in my mind, is to get people to notice and then engage with us because of what we said (content). In other words, bigger is not always better.

In my opinion, you’re better off making a series of very short videos (keep each to one thought or idea). Ideally under 2 minutes is what I tell folks to shoot at.

buyers

Here are some thoughts on content.

  • Focus on a problem your customer might have from their perspective (what happened if the problem isn’t resolved?)
  • Provide tips to solve it.
  • Utilize the video medium to show examples or illustrate a solution. Here’s your chance to be creative.
  • Make sure they know your company has the solution to solve their problem.

So don’t worry about becoming famous with a video that goes viral. Set your sights on videos that reach your target audience and addresses a solution to one of their problems.

If you like this post, you may want to read:

Why Videos are Such an Important Way to Reach the Professional Tradesman

B-to-B Marketers: Are you Taking Advantage of Online Videos?


Trade Shows: Are You Telling a Compelling Story?

April 29, 2014

I don’t know about you, but we go to lots of trade shows during the course of a year, and I sometimes scratch my head as I walk by some of the booths and say,“What were they thinking?”

Either they haven’t had a new message in years or they are talking so much about me, me, me that I wonder why anyone would walk into their booth. I’m not talking about small companies either. I’m sure some of them have seven-figure trade show budgets. I always wonder what kind of metric they use (or are forced to report to management to justify ROI)?

Trade show booth exampleSo let’s step back for a minute and assume that you have a great product, customer service to die for and a sales staff that understands and can articulate your value proposition. My question is, “Does your trade show booth tell a compelling story of why folks should be doing business with you?” If that value proposition doesn’t stick out and scream at potentials, then you may be wasting valuable time, talent and resources that can be put to use elsewhere.

Your pre-show checklist should include:

  • Defining the show objective based on the target audience that is attending the show. Highlight what’s in it for me, the customer.
  • Defining the types of leads you want to come out of the show with. (Remember, quality over quantity.)
  • Defining how to qualify them as to where they are in the sales funnel.
  • Communicating your trade show objectives with the folks that will be working the booth. Let them know what is expected of them.
  • Have post-show follow-up all ready to go before you go to the show so it can be implemented as soon as you get back. Thank you note, phone scripts and who’s doing what.
  • Review the content you’re sending out after the show so it corresponds with what the prospect is looking for (product info, distributor, local contractor).
  • When sending something, make it be something of value – a copy of your latest e-book, a competitive crossover chart. Something that will help them do their job better and make them feel good about you. Sales will follow.

Trade shows are so expensive, and to make the most out of them, you need a plan.

What kinds of things are you doing to maximize your trade shows?


40% of Salespeople Aren’t Making Their Numbers. Can Marketing Help?

April 22, 2014

I recently read an article in eMarketer.com that dealt with sales stats in 2013, and that almost 40% of the sales forces weren’t making their numbers and it floored me. I sure wouldn’t want to be running a company based on sales of XXX and then the sales force under-delivers by that large of a difference-Yikes!

2013 wasn’t a bad year for the economy (we’ve seen a lot worse), and I can’t help but wonder what their issues were in closing the sale. One of the biggest reasons given was the sale ended in a “no decision.” What does that mean?

Here’s an interesting graphic:

It sounds to me like either the leads weren’t qualified correctly or the salesman didn’t do his homework in determining where the prospect was in the sales funnel. It also sounds like there were multiple decision makers in the process and possibly they all were not included in the sales pitch. A few other things bother me as well:

  • What I can’t understand in this report is that 31% were unable to effectively communicate value to a prospect – yes, you heard me right.
  • 26% had content that wasn’t aligned with the buyer
  • 20% didn’t have the necessary content or resources for selling

This sounds like a great opportunity for marketing to step in and help fill the content voids they are talking about. It also begs the question of whether these results were from a traditional selling model versus that of one using social media as part of the mix.

If you had good content that was searchable on the internet, chances are the right people will find that info long before they identify themselves to you as a prospect and get a lot of their basic homework done first. You’d be able to show your expertise in a market segment so they think of you as an industry expert, which will help set you apart (value of your brand) when they finally decide to contact you. Marketing can help answer those questions ahead of time if we know the different stages of the selling cycle and what’s important to address at each level.

Am I missing the boat here or do you agree?


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