Should All Industrial Distributors Be Using Social Media?

This article was part of Industrial Distribution's March/April print issue in the segment, "A Guide to the Modern Sales Organization." The full issue can be viewed here.

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and a myriad of other social networks have been around nearly a decade now, but most industrial distributors are only recently joining in. Some use them, some don’t. Is it appropriate for you? ID spoke with Dr. Kathryne Newton, Dean of University of Innovative Distribution and professor at Purdue University, to get her thoughts on the matter.

Industrial Distribution: Some industrial distributors make extensive use of social media, whether for promotional purposes or sharing news. Should everyone hop on board?

​Kathryne Newton: What we see now, the very best sales people are using technology for social media in a way that’s really interactive. I don’t just mean using it as a marketing tool and just throwing spam or advertisements at people, but those who are really using it. Those who are blogging and doing Twitter feeds on really relevant things that people are going to pay attention to long term, they are developing relationships and trust by the wisdom of how they use those. 

There’s such difference in the trade groups that we deal with, in the distribution industry. Some of them are very sophisticated. And then there are some who are less sophisticated, and who are probably going to do things the way things have always been done, and get away with it. Especially the small mom-and-pop shops, as we still have tons of them in this industry. Some of those are really sophisticated, taking on technology in a big way and doing great things with it, some are still sort of resistant to the idea of even trusting a website or online purchasing or simply say, “Why would we care about Facebook? Or Twitter? Why would we care about that?”

What bothers me most, and a message I’m preaching right now is, “If you’re not doing it, your sales people are doing it without your knowledge.” And I think that’s dangerous. Because I have sales people tell me that all the time, saying, “well yeah, I put this on Facebook, it’s just because my boss won’t.” On the one hand I applaud them for doing that. I applaud them for empowering their boss. On the other hand – we need to be in control of that. That’s my biggest fear.

If you’re going to use social media, you really have to be smart about who your people assets are, what their skill sets are, and what your customer base is. Because I do think we’re in such a transition where a lot of end users are going to either be amenable to social media, or want to be sold in the old-fashioned ways. You really need to communicate all of that. As sales managers we need to teach our whole team to be flexible with the way they communicate, and learn to understand what the preferred methods are for the people they’re talking to.

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