I work with distributors in several different industries, and while their products are different, their challenges are oftentimes the same. Specifically, I hear frustration about how much time and money gets spent on marketing and branding to customers with few obvious results. Distributors concentrate a lot of effort on telling business-to-business customers their story only to find that those same customers continue to make decisions based on price alone. “We tell them about the value that we add, but it doesn’t sink in,” I hear regularly, “what are we doing wrong?”
Ironically, the answer for most distributors is right in front of them. The best way to understand the problem is to use product distribution as a metaphor. Few manufacturers have found success by making a product, opening the front door and selling directly to end-users. That’s because their team of engineers and experts may know manufacturing, but they rarely possess the skills to communicate directly with customers. They don’t have relationships with users, so users don’t trust them.
The sales channel evolved as a result of this dilemma. Soon there were retailers who specialized in selling to consumers, and distributors who specialized in selling to retailers. Distribution channels succeed by creating connections where there were none before.
If you’re only delivering your branding message to your customers, you’re running into the same problems as early manufacturers. You’re skipping the relationships and the connections. You’re using the wrong channel. Instead of selling your brand to your customers, you need to sell your brand to your sales team.
Time and time again I hear about salespeople who have become order takers. They have relationships with their customers. They may know their customer’s favorite sports team or how they like their steak cooked, but when it comes to business, it turns into spread sheets and order forms. This is a missed opportunity, obviously. Since this is B2B, customers are often so busy running their own business that it is challenging to reach them via the same crowded media favored by traditional marketing. Instead, it is more effective to capitalize on the under-utilized connection between the salesperson and the customer.
This is the most direct channel through which to deliver your brand message. It also makes the sales team as much a priority as your customers. You can’t expect your external audience to properly understand your brand position until your internal audience is living it themselves.
For this reason, I suggest that my clients devote their resources first to selling the brand message internally to everybody from the sales team to the secretaries, from the board room to the break room. As a distributor, this is your primary target audience. They are the main channel for your branding communication, and mass media channels should be used chiefly as support.
For example, we helped one of our clients develop an online platform through which the sales team could upload photos from hunting and fishing trips taken with clients, then share those images via social media. The primary communication channel is the salesperson, while social media supports them by showing the happy customer relationship to the world.
When you stop selling your brand to your customers and start selling your brand to your own team, you are able to use your resources more efficiently and effectively. On the other hand, when you try to bypass the channel, you can easily lose your connection – just like in product distribution.
I plan on sharing more examples of how we’ve helped distributors refocus their branding efforts in the future, but until then, I’d be more than happy to discuss them with you personally, no matter what your role is in the distribution industry. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or give me a call at 701-795-6802.