What Are You Doing to Keep Contractors Coming Back?

April 27, 2016

By John Sonnhalter, Rainmaker Journeyman, Sonnhalter

The biggest challenge manufacturers face today is the ability to keep contractors interested and engaged in their brands. It’s much easier to keep an existing contractor than going out and trying to convert a new one.

In a recent eMarketer article they talked about how B2B International surveyed 266 U.S.- and Western Europe-based B2B marketers from a variety of industries in October and November 2015. The market research firm found that 62% of respondents said building market share remained the top challenge among others.

Leading Business Challenges Faced by B2B Marketers in Western Europe and the US*, 2014 & 2015 (% of respondents)

But how do you build market share without building relationships with those you sell to? Contractors are looking at solutions, not new products! If your product can help them do their job better or quicker, then you have a winner.

What can you do? One way is helping them identify pain points in their daily routine. A common one is getting new business leadsOwens Corning has a great website where on the one page it focuses on getting the user to the right contractor.

Another pain point for contractors is training employees, both old and new. Most good contractors are limited on growing their company because they can’t find qualified people to do the work. Dust off those YouTube videos and training tips and tricks and offer them to contractors. They can be offered online and you can incentivize the recipients for taking and passing the course. What better way to build brand loyalty from both the contractor and the worker.

There are plenty of ways to build market share and one of them is loyalty. You need to get and keep them engaged and always answer the question,  “What’s in it for me?” Word gets around (contractors talk to each other).


Are you ready for the true digital natives?

April 20, 2016

By Rachel Kerstetter, PR Architect, Sonnhalter

The Millennial generation has been a hot topic for managers and marketers for many years now; in fact you used to call us Generation Y. Not everyone agrees on the exact years for each generation, but it’s generally accepted that Millennials are those born between 1980 and sometime between 1998 and 2000. Generation Z is the next upcoming generation with birth years in the 1990s through 2010. Predictions are already being made about the generation of kids born after 2010 as well!

People used to call Millennials “digital natives” due to our comfort using the internet and technology in general. But the generation after is what I would consider truly digital natives.

Millennial Technology Experience

Take me as an example. I’m a member of the Millennial generation and I can trace the growth of technology through my formative years. I recall changing the channel on the television using a dial and improving the picture on the tube TV by repositioning bunny ears. I used DOS and the first laptop computer I ever touched had a black and white screen. I looked up phone numbers in the phonebook and had to take typing classes in school. But we also caught on as technology advanced by leaps and bounds. I think that’s part of why the Millennial generation is so quick to learn – we had to adapt quickly.

Generation Z Technology Experience

The next generation that communicators should be preparing for is Generation Z. Those who knew how to use a mobile phone before they could sit in the front seat of a car. Those who stream music, TV and movies as the norm and consider DVDs to be “old” technology and don’t know what the “Save” icon really is.

The need for visual and video content is apparent now, but this generation will consume content differently and we need to be talking to them the way that they want to be talked to. Now more than ever, people have more control over the messages that reach them.

Everything travels fast, which enhances the need for real-time marketing and virtual communication. In our B2B space, we’re often protected and can learn from the mistakes and triumphs of others because we don’t start talking to this generation until they enter the workforce, so pay attention now. Watch the consumer brands that communicate to a younger demographic. You’ll notice an increase in visual, real-time communication, but don’t think that means your brand needs to get on SnapChat or Instagram to communicate with the new generation.

Infographic via Fluent

Infographic via Fluent

Video

By and far, mobile, visual, app-based social media is being used for interpersonal communication among peers. Instead, this group is turning to video on YouTube as well as on Facebook. This is an area where you should be upping your game now. Video is such a valuable content marketing tool for your brand as it is. Refresh yourself on 6 Tips For Using Video To Tell Your Story and make sure you’re working video content into your integrated marketing plans.

Live Conversations

It may seem strange to bring up live conversations when talking about a digitally native generation, but technology makes live conversations even easier. Livestreaming, video chatting and other services facilitate an in-person conversation without actually being in person. Check out our recommendations for using livestreaming.

Start Now

Don’t let the next generation of your B2B audience sneak up on you. Take the lessons you’ve learned from communicating with tech-savvy Millennials and the observations that you make on communications with digital natives in Generation Z and implement them in your marketing communication plans today.


Why Content Marketing Can Work for You

April 19, 2016

Guest post by Amanda Subler, Public Relations & Media Manager for Content Marketing Institute (CMI)

CMI_DocumentaryPoster_2048x1152 (1)Last year I traveled the U.S and Europe producing a documentary about content marketing for my company Content Marketing Institute. We visited Moline, Illinois the home of John Deere. We traveled to Washington D.C., to visit Marriott’s Global Headquarters. We went to Salt Lake City to visit Blendtec, the home of one of the largest blender manufacturers in the world. (Ever heard of Will it Blend? YouTube videos?) We even flew all the way to Denmark, to see how one of the country’s largest banks is transforming financial television.

But one of my favorite trips was to Warsaw, Virginia, where a little fiberglass pool seller used content marketing to not only save their business, but gain international fame and even go from selling to manufacturing their own pools.

Marcus Sheridan and his partners at River Pools and Spas were in big trouble when the recession hit in 2008. Suddenly, (no big surprise) no one wanted to buy pools anymore. For three straight months, they were overdrawn on their bank account. As Marcus says, he didn’t know what they were going to do. “Every consultant I talked to told me to close our business.” That’s when Marcus discovered “content marketing.”

The first thing he did was write down every single question he and his partners had ever gotten from a prospect or customer. Then they committed to answering every single question in blog format consistently on their website. He even answered the one question every single pool sales person is afraid to answer until they are sitting face-to-face in your living room: How much does a fiberglass pool actually cost? That single blog post has received well over 2 million views. By consistently answering every single sales question, River Pools went from being fourth in their market to the number one seller of fiberglass pools in the country. They get calls from people all over the world wanting to buy pools from them. It helped them build such a powerful brand, they have just moved from selling fiberglass pools to now actually manufacturing their own pools.

How did they do it? Marcus and his partners recognized early that with the advent of the internet, the traditional sales model was no longer viable. You can no longer afford to withhold information from your prospective customers until you can actually pitch them face-to-face. People looking to make any sort of purchase, especially such a large investment as a pool, are doing research online before they ever consider contacting a company about the purchase. When people start their search for a new pool, River Pools is the number one resource that pops up. Marcus and his team provide ten times more information than any other pool seller. Prospects are sold before they even make that initial phone call to River Pools. Content has become such a powerful sales tool, that last year, River Pools sold about 90 pools and 90 percent of those were sold before they even went on the sales call. Why? Marcus’ team is not afraid to give clients all the information they are looking for, including an actual sales proposal (which is unheard of in the pool industry), before ever stepping foot in a prospect’s house.

Was it hard for a couple of pool guys to learn a completely new skill set, essentially learning to be writers? Heck yeah. As River Pools co-owner Jason Hughes says, it was really hard at first, but he found the more he did it, the better he got at it. His advice for others is to just start small, just post something-get it out there. There’s no way it can hurt you. He says “if it applies to a pool company, it can apply to anybody. If I can do it, anybody can do it.”

So what are you waiting for? Do you have a list of questions from your prospective clients or current customers that you can answer? If you’re too afraid to answer those questions, you need to ask yourself why? Are prospects getting these answers from someone else? Are they getting it from your competitors? You could be missing the opportunity of a lifetime for your business.

I’ll leave you with this final thought from Marcus on the power of content marketing, “The moment we stopped saying we’re pool sellers and said we’re the best teachers in the world about fiberglass pools, and we happen to install them ourselves, was the most prosperous day of our lives.”

You can see more of Marcus’ story in the documentary, The Story of Content, at timecode 23:27.

 You can learn more about the documentary and download a screening guide at TheStoryOfContent.com

About Amanda

Amanda Subler is the Public Relations & Media Manager for Content Marketing Institute (CMI), overseeing all PR and media relations for the company. She also produced CMI’s new documentary on the rise of content marketing, The Story of Content. She’s a former award-winning journalist, spending 11 years in local TV newsrooms as a producer and executive producer.


Banner Ads: Less is More

April 13, 2016

By Scott Bessell, Idea Builder, Sonnhalter

It must have been a “data jockey” who allocated the minimal, odd-ball spaces on websites for what are known as banner ads. Message purveyors have the challenge then to effectively communicate messaging within the confines of 320×50 pixels or the endearing long and thin 120 x 600. It’s as if they (the space allocators) didn’t want ads on the site to begin with! Clearly a necessary evil. Well, hail capitalism! Banner ads are what make the web (afford) to go around!

So, the challenge is what do you say and show in such cramped spaces?

Looking keenly at what is being done lately, I’ve taken some cues from the retail side of the creative craft. I’ve noticed that, for the most part, when consumer product is being presented they usually offer up only ONE saleable feature. This soap gets you cleaner, this car is faster, this food makes you healthier, this candidate will solve this problem. You get the picture.

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Serve me up your best. If I’m interested I’ll follow through and get the details. Those examples offer ONE thing they want you to digest and act upon. I am asked too many times to try and get as much information into these tiny limited spaces as possible—even when it’s not possible. If I may, how many times are you drawn to the blabber mouth at a party? Tune them out right? Same thing!

As with all other mediums, banner ads must be created with their limits in mind. Whether the ad is static or animated, it’s crucial to minimize content since you’re dealing with minimal space. You may have heard the saying about fitting so many pounds of something into a much smaller capacity container.

Gallery images via moat.com


How to Get the Most Accurate Estimate

April 12, 2016

By Robin Heike, Production Foreman, Sonnhalter

83_3231574Estimates are crucial in planning your budget, they are a statement of the approximate charge for work to be done, submitted by a business firm ready to undertake the work.

In order to get a more accurate approximate estimate, you’ll need to provide the following:

  • A detailed list of what the end “product” is expected to be or what you want to accomplish. This lets us know what you want and helps us stay on the same page.
  • Any and all support info at the time of the estimate. It can be difficult to build changes into an estimate, so providing everything you can when the estimate is requested helps you get the most accurate estimate.
  • A timeline that provides for adequate time to complete the work.

Estimates are calculations of what time/monies will be needed to fill a blank page. Just like filling this blank page it is not always that easy!


Go Hands-On for Quality Trade Show Interactions

April 6, 2016

By Matt Sonnhalter, Vision Architect, Sonnhalter

One of the most underutilized components implemented by exhibitors at trade shows is the “hands on” demonstration of their product/solution. Professional tradespeople make their living working with their hands, so it should not be a surprise “hands on” product demonstrations are a favorite for this audience.

Typically trade shows like to talk about the quantitative stats…number of attendees, number of exhibitors and number of speakers. But instead of focusing on the number of people walking up and down the aisles and attending these shows, maybe we should be focusing more on the quality of the interactions between trade show attendees and the exhibitors. One of the more effective quality interactions would be the “hands on” product demonstrations and skills competitions at trade shows. In general, booths that have some sort of demonstration/activity for their product tend to have more traffic and activity.

The first quarter of the year tends to be a busy time for trade shows targeting the professional tradesperson. I recently attended the World of Concrete Show and was amazed at the number of hands on areas. The parking lots of the Las Vegas Convention Center were packed with manufacturer tents highlighting “hands on” demos with everything from cutting and drilling, to polishing and breaking up concrete.


In another parking lot across from the convention there were as many as 4,000 spectators in attendance to watch a number of masonry skills contests, including the SPEC MIX BRICKLAYER 500, SPEC MIX TOUGHEST TENDER, MCAA Masonry Skills Challenge and the MCAA Fastest Trowel on the Block.

It was amazing to see the passion, enthusiasm and support shown by the attendees watching these tradespeople showcase their skills! All of these areas outside the convention center consistently had more active traffic compared to the normal booths inside the exhibition hall.

Now there are a number of factors that go into making a successfully trade show, but hopefully when you are planning your next show a hands on demo will be part of it.

 


Wanted: A Harvard for Skilled Jobs

April 5, 2016

Today, we have a guest post from Jeff Selingo, author of “There Is Life After College,” which comes out on April 12th.

Nearly 40 percent of American workers hold a bachelor’s degree. College graduates are found in virtually every profession. Some 15 percent of mail carriers have a four-year credential, as do one in five clerical and sales workers, as well as, 83,000 bartenders.

Getting a bachelor’s degree is what going to college means to most Americans and is so ingrained in our culture that students who don’t march along are often admonished, questioned  and considered failures.

The decades-long march to college-for-everyone at 18 has actually closed off rather than opened up options for teenagers and twentysomethings.

As recently as the 1970s, a teenager had a number of options after graduating from high school: get a good-paying job right away, enlist in the military, find an apprenticeship in a trade or go to college.

A teenager today really has only two of those options still available: the military or college. Less than 1 percent of Americans serve in the military, so most go to college right after high school. In the early 1970s, less than half of high school graduates in the United States went on to college the following fall. Today, nearly 66 percent do.

The goal of universal college has actually done more harm than good because it banished anything that smacks of job training to second-class status.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not encouraging 18-year-olds to skip out on further education after high school. But not everyone is ready for a traditional American college experience at 18, nor does it align with the interests, skills, and mindsets of some teenagers.

We need more than just one pathway to good jobs in the U.S. What we need is a place like Harvard—both prestigious and rigorous—that will attract students who have talents and interests to pursue skilled jobs critical for the economy that don’t necessarily require a four-year college degree.

As I traveled the country the last two years talking to employers of all sizes and in all sectors of the economy for my forthcoming book, what I heard most is the worry they have about filling so-called middle-skill positions in advanced manufacturing, healthcare and information technology.

Nearly half of the American workforce has these jobs today, but many of them are filled by aging Baby Boomers who will soon be retiring. It’s expected that as many as 25 million of all new job openings in the next decade will be for middle-skills jobs.

Employers told me they have a healthy supply of talent for their white-collar office jobs that usually require at least a bachelor’s degree and sometimes a master’s or Ph.D. But if manufacturing has any hope of making a rebound in the U.S., there is a desperate need for younger workers with technical, hands-on skills that require training after high school.

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Today, only 52 percent of young people have either a two- or four-year degree or an industry certificate by the time they reach their mid-twenties. The goal of universal college has actually done more harm than good, because it diverted attention away from any real discussion of a robust apprenticeship program, and it has banished anything that smacks of job training to second-class status.

There is evidence attitudes are beginning to change. First, the number of apprenticeships is rising for the first time since the 2008 recession. Second, with college debt surpassing the trillion-dollar mark, students and parents are giving apprenticeships a second look as an alternative to paying sky-high tuition for a bachelor’s degree that might not lead to a job. Third, some apprenticeships are beginning to have an academic component that makes them nearly indistinguishable from traditional colleges.

The modern version of what an apprenticeship could look like for American students interested in alternatives to college is on display at the Apprentice School in Newport News, Virginia. Students who choose from one of more than 20 occupational areas are paid an annual salary of $54,000 by the final year of the program—$10,000 above that of the average bachelor’s degree recipient—and afterward they are guaranteed a job with the military contractor that operates Newport News Shipbuilding.

The school is just as selective as Harvard. It receives more than 4,000 applications each year for 230 spots, and significant numbers of its graduates go on to earn bachelor’s or master’s degrees. In many ways, it looks and feels like a typical American college, except in one important respect: its students graduate debt free.

We need more such schools and pathways post-high school that serve a greater array of industries as well as students who don’t want to travel down the one route we offer to them now.

About Jeff

Jeffrey Selingo is author of three books on higher education. He is a regular contributor to the Washington Post’s Grade Point” blog, a professor of practice at Arizona State University and a visiting scholar at Georgia Tech’s Center for 21st Century Universities.

In There Is Life After College, Jeff Selingo explores why students struggle to launch into a career after college and how they can better navigate the route from high school through college and into the work world. It will be released by HarperCollins April 12


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