Are You Winning at Customer Service?

November 3, 2015

By John Sonnhalter, Rainmaker Journeyman, Sonnhalter

Everybody wants answers, especially to problems, and they expect your customer service department to be on 24/7. This is especially true in the B to C market.

I recently had trouble with a wine cooler that was one month out of warranty and quit. Needless to say, I wasn’t a happy camper and I let the manufacturer know on their website over a weekend. To my surprise, I got an answer within a few hours and they are working with upper management to solve my issue. Now they may just be blowing smoke and we’ll see, but their responsiveness made me cool down a bit.

I ran across a study recently in “How to win at customer service,” that claimed most people just want their questions answered.

Attitudes Toward Customer Service Among Internet Users Worldwide, Aug 2015 (% of respondents)

Here are some highlights:

  • 81% of those surveyed just wanted their questions answered
  • 89% feel more positive about brands that give good customer service
  • 46% tell their friends and family about a quick response time

So what does all this mean to the manufacturing sector? Well the bar isn’t raised too high and we certainly don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Here are some tips on how to serve the professional tradesman:

  • Keep your customer service department open on business days from 7 AM to 5 PM EST. If the contractors are having issues, you need to be available when they are working.
  • Staff your customer service department with experienced people who can answer questions, troubleshoot a problem or forward them onto someone who can.

A post you may want to read, Customer service: How are you handling unhappy people, may be a good read. A good customer service department can help increase future sales by giving them a positive experience

Are Industrial Distributors Missing Opportunities by Not Participating in E-commerce?

October 28, 2015

By John Sonnhalter, Rainmaker Journeyman, Sonnhalter

We’ve had conversations here before about independent industrial distributors missing sales opportunities by not keeping up with the latest technology available.

According to Forrester Consulting, a 2014 study shows that 52% of business buyers expect at least 50% of their purchases to be made online in 3 years’ time. This should be an eye opener for distribution, but some are ignoring the facts. The big boys like Grainger (40% of their sales are from the internet) and MSC Industrial (over 50% of their sales come from online) are certainly taking advantage. Shouldn’t that set the tone for the independents? Forrester forecasts that B-to-B e-commerce will exceed $1.1 trillion and comprise 12% of all B-to-B sales by 2020.

I’ve said in the past that for smaller industrial distributors to survive, they need to use the internet. They can’t count on the business model of contractors coming in at 7 in the morning or around lunch time to pick up what they need. Time is money, especially for them.

Industrial Distribution magazine recently released some research on The state of B2B e-commerce in Industrial Distribution. Here are some highlights:

  • Independent distributors are slow-moving in implementing e-commerce programs.
  • Technical challenges are making sites user-friendly, making it aesthetically appealing and staying ahead of the competition.
  • Primary reasons of not engaging online was lack of demand, technical obstacles and lack of marketing/promotional resources.

Customer satisfaction and the customer experience are the key factors in developing an online presence. Ironically, that’s how the independent distributor built their business in the first place. Now they just need to transfer that to a different platform, not only to keep existing business, but to grow additional revenue.

Figure 4

Source: Industrial Distribution

My worse fear is that the Amazons and the Alibabas of the world are going to make the independent extinct in a few years. I understand that the AD buying group has just instituted a new program to help members deal with some of these issues. It’s too early to tell if it’s making an impact, but at least they recognize the issue and are trying to help.

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

What’s the future of small independent distributors?

Are independent industrial distributors helping Amazon to succeed?

Distributor Strategy: What’s yours?

Aesthetic issues (product descriptions, product images, graphics, logos) 22.1%

Cost 7.1%

Keeping pace with or staying ahead of competitors 18.6%


Eliminate the Silo and Become a Change Agent

October 27, 2015

Today we have a guest blog post from Jeff Naymik, Marketing Director at Nook Industries. This post originally appeared on Nook’s blog Making Motion Work and is reposted with permission. Read the original blog here.

We live in a world of instant communication and yet, we are sometimes not good communicators. Poor communication is usually the root problem for creating silos in many technology-driven companies. Development secrets are usually held tightly and limited to only those in the organization who “need to know.”

When you start limiting the flow of information in your organization, divides begin among associates, departments and divisions. Many mature brands struggle with the problem of departmental silos, while some start-ups introduce products at lightning speed. How can this happen? The reason is communication is their lifeline to survival and success.

Look around your organization for signs of silos. You’ll find:

  • Special projects in every department no one has heard of.
  • Too few meetings to inform senior staff of progress.
  • Poor communication from the top illustrating how your efforts fit into the big plan.

Many companies recognize this problem but most don’t know how to address it. The senior staff needs to appoint a cross-functional team of people committed to change, “Change Agents” if you will.

With the backing of the senior staff, this team has the authority to break down barriers of communication throughout the organization. A process needs to be put in place and everyone needs to take ownership.

Change will come through the commitment of proven leaders in the organization as they drive the change process.

5 Ways to Boost Audience Engagement in the Digital Age

October 21, 2015

By Andrew Poulsen, Public Relations Technician at Sonnhalter

1010_4445268In 2015, it’s anything but a surprise that social media has completely revolutionized how companies, agencies and organizations connect with their audiences. Many companies utilize these services to build transparency, inform customers of new products and to keep their audiences in the loop on any day-to-day updates and promotions. While we’ve all seen organizations curate pages on Facebook and Twitter, here’s a look at some newer ways companies are maximizing visibility and profitability through social media.

  1. Livestreaming-Thanks to recent apps like Periscope and Meerkat, livestreaming has become a totally user-friendly experience, and many brands from Red Bull to GE have used these apps to advance their social media presence. Livestreaming apps can drive engagement through a variety of platforms. For example, Periscope, which is driven through Twitter, can be a great tool for streaming live Q and As, behind-the-scenes interviews or new product releases.
  2. Influencer Marketing-A brand ambassador serves as a great go-between for the brand and the consumer. And with the innovation of social media, brand ambassador programs are easier than the more formal programs of the past. Many companies utilize Instagram as a way for social influences to talk about their products. Having these influencers promote your products through their Instagram profiles give the product a much more down-to-earth and less-intrusive style of branding and engagement. The audience also sees the products being delivered often in a much more practical sense than an advertisement.
  3. Have an Active Presence-It’s one thing to occasionally update your Facebook or Twitter profiles with product updates and events. It’s another thing to have a constant and active voice for your brand. Ask your audience questions. Be accountable when your audience has issues. Make the audience experience feel personal.
  4. Social Media-Exclusive Promotions-Announce deals, sales and contests through your social media profiles. Not only will this capture the attention of your existing followers, but it’s an easy way to grow your audience through sharing, retweeting, etc.
  5. Be Mindful of Your Content-While you want your fans to follow all your platforms, you should make sure it’s worth their time to do so. Try to make sure they are getting a unique experience on each platform. While your Facebook could be used for more formal, long-winded announcements, make your Twitter more quippy and digestible. Maybe use Instagram for event photos and behind-the-scenes content.

Comprehensive List of Nation’s Vocational Education Programs now Available

October 20, 2015

By Matt Sonnhalter, Vision Architect at Sonnhalter

Photo courtesy of Viega LLC.

Photo courtesy of Viega LLC.

One issue that concerns all of us who are selling to the professional tradesman is that there is and will be a shortage of qualified tradesman in the future as the 50-plus segment of the market is on the verge of retirement.

We represent lots of manufacturers who realize this and want to do something to spur interest in and obviously get their brands in the hands of future users.

Sonnhalter, a marketing communications firm to the professional tradesman in the construction, industrial and MRO markets, released a database which includes virtually every Vocational education and technical program in the United States. The database, which includes more than 2,000 programs, contains useful and easy-to-read information about each program, including addresses, phone numbers, websites and more.

The database serves as a tool for companies in the trade markets who wish to implement more grassroots campaigns to recruit the next generation of professional tradesmen. With details about each individual program within a technical center, marketing toward students within a specific skill set is easy and convenient. The database is available for download and is designed to be sortable and searchable for a variety of fields, including program type, degree type and other important information.

You can sign up to download a copy here.

Seven Mistakes to Avoid in your Content Strategy

October 14, 2015

Today, we have a guest blog from Machinery Zone on some of the common pitfalls found in a company’s content strategy.


Every construction company with an online presence feels the pressure to create consistent, high-quality content. When done properly, it represents a great way to generate site traffic, build brand awareness and demonstrate your expertise to the world. Every blog post, article and other piece of content you generate is an opportunity to plant seeds that could eventually blossom into a steady stream of viable leads. Are you doing it right? Here are the seven mistakes to avoid in your content strategy.

1) Skipping the editorial strategy set-up phase

Too often, communication projects are missing a guideline. To create an efficient content strategy in sync with your goals, it is essential to set up a solid editorial strategy.

To whom are you going to address your content? What is its purpose?

What are you looking to accomplish?

What is your editorial line and tone?

At what frequency will you publish articles?

These questions will enable you to establish a work methodology and an editorial calendar. Measure your results along the way and adjust your actions according to your analysis, but remember to stay true to your core strategy.

2) Pushing forward commercially focused content

Sales pitches and presentations do not create emotional brand attachment. If you want to see a rise in customer loyalty, offer generous and (almost) disinterested advice and tips to your readers. Share and spread your knowledge. When you educate your customers, they see you as an expert. They trust you and, consequently, they are more likely to buy from you.

In order to produce successful marketing content, it is important to ask yourself:

Is my content truly original, does it offer any added value?

What content will be valuable to my audience and to my clients?

Instead of focusing on selling a product or a service, offer useful, educational content to your audience. Be simple, clear and concise. Forget about technical jargon. Adopt appropriate language and learn to popularize technical concepts. Be interesting and entertaining.

3) Overlooking your target audience

You are a specialist in the construction industry. You host a blog that is appreciated and recognized by professionals in your business sector. But are these professionals really those you want to sell your products or services to?

Knowing your target audience is key to successful marketing content. It is essential to analyze your Google Analytics statistics and clearly identify your clients, those who you are really interested in.

Who are they?

What are their needs and desires? What problems do they encounter?

What vocabulary do they use?

The more you will help your audience and offer solutions to the challenges they encounter, the more they will enjoy, comment and share your content on social media and become your ambassadors.

4) Publishing low-quality content

Long sentences, lack of keywords, poorly explained jargon, major spelling errors, copy and pasted text from the company brochure. These are the main characteristics of poor-quality content.

No matter how exciting the topic is, a poorly written article will not capture the reader’s attention. It can be difficult to read onscreen, create misunderstandings and exasperate industry experts. Worse, it can discredit your expertise.

5) Omitting content promotion

You’ve focused on writing an excellent article and posted it on your blog. But if you do nothing to promote it, no one will know just how great it is!

An effective content strategy does not only address content creation. It also involves distributing, promoting and optimizing content.

Carefully select your communication channels. Rather than dispersing yourself on every existing social network, focus on those on which your audience is present and active.

For example, if your target clientele consists of industry professionals, optimize your presence on Twitter and LinkedIn. If you are selling products where visuals play a major role in conversion rates (house building, gate installation), concentrate your efforts on social networks dedicated to images such as Pinterest and Instagram.

6) Neglecting existing content

You are planning to redesign your website? Before you delete everything, identify which content deserves to be saved, updated and optimized.

Quality content is always of interest to the reader and can be recycled. Obsolete articles may simply need to be updated with recent key figures. Also, when writing a new article, consider making a link to other content-related articles.

7)  Failing to optimize content for search engines

The content you provide to your website visitors is the key to success, not only from a conversion point of view, but from a ranking point of view.

Your main goal should always be to satisfy your audience. However, properly optimizing your content by following a few simple SEO rules, ones that will not compromise the quality of your article, is essential to improve your ranking on Google.

For instance, search engines are more likely to offer better ranking to longer blog posts over 250 words. Work your target keywords in the SEO title, the URL, on-page headline and throughout the content without overkilling it. Add ALT text to your photo and invite your users to share their experiences. A post with an actively engaged comments section is a clear signal that the page has value.

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Think Outside (Your) Box

October 13, 2015

By Chris Ilcin, Account Superintendent at Sonnhalter

Ask yourself and a few other people in your organization to name your top-selling product. If anyone answers with a product number, you’re doing it wrong. Don’t think like your catalog or even your current customers. Think like the customer you don’t have yet.

A potential customer doesn’t know you or your company and certainly hasn’t memorized your product numbers. They may not even know that they need your product yet.

All they know is that they have a problem, and they’re desperately looking for a solution.

Help them find it – and you.

Start by not thinking about what you make, but why you made it. What purpose does it serve? What niche it fills? Or, what issues it helps resolve?

Use the answers to those questions as the basis for white papers, success stories and as key words in press releases, websites and YouTube videos.

Put all that out there, and when a customer with an issue starts searching for an answer, your crumb trail of keywords will lead them to you. Make it so that where your marketing efforts don’t bring your product to a customer. Have their search bring them to you.

The best part about turning the tables like this is that it can be a refreshing change of perspective for your entire organization. It makes everyone get out of their silo and put themselves in a customer’s shoes. That can affect not only marketing and SEO, but also product development, customer service and morale.


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