Don’t tell Al Gore - but here is a real inconvenient truth.
If you are a distributor and you view the internet as simply a ‘product selling’ tool you’re missing its real power and, you accelerate the process of cementing your status as a commodity.
The good news? Used correctly and strategically the internet gives you the ability to separate yourself from the pack, increase profits and market position. Here’s how:
(1) Become an Object of Interest - if you and another distributor sell the same products - and that’s all the information that the customer has - you give the customer only one way to determine who to buy from: price.
By definition, you’re a commodity.
The internet gives you - regardless of your size - the unique ability to break out of that continuum and take your company from being just another commodity to a trusted advisor. And you do this by becoming an object of interest.
Here’s a short list of some strategies you can implement to separate your company from the pack: write frequently for your own website and for others, publish short, pithy and helpful white papers at least monthly, use press releases and publicity liberally, take every opportunity you can to speak (regardless of the size of the audience - bigger is not always better), utilize pay per click marketing to test new ideas (i.e., Google Adwords), contact reporters and other media to help with their stories (and be mentioned as THE expert), utilize audio, video and text on your website, write a book (self published or commercially published).
The process is not a complicated - but it requires action. Start displaying your problem-solving ability and expertise anywhere and everywhere you can. You’ll draw interested prospects to you and make price shopping difficult.
(2) Build Relationships
Once you begin drawing more interest and moving out of the commodity marketplace you need to make sure that you are building a list of interested prospects that you can stay in touch with, provide value and build relationships.
The most effective way I’ve found to do this is with your own email house list. Interestingly, in a December 2012 survey of B2B companies, email marketing rated the highest among any of the available media in terms of quality of leads.
But how do you build relationships with your own house list? It comes down to two words: “provide value”. Continue to give while seldom (if ever) asking anything in return.
An excellent start would be to put out a regularly (monthly is great) newsletter that is filled with valuable information for the reader. Don’t sell. Simply position yourself as a problem-solving resource. Stay in touch and build those relationships.
(3) Leverage Your Sales Force
There may be nothing more futile than using a talented salesperson to grind out cold calls all day. This is a huge opportunity for you as a distributor.
If you are implementing the two steps above you’ll discover that more and more prospects are drawn to you and your website. As interest increases - so do the number of questions your prospects will have.
These are no longer ‘cold’ prospects. They have come to you first via your website and have shown initial interest. It’s an excellent opportunity for your salespeople to be providing consultative selling to warm prospects.
Noticed I said consultative selling. I know that term has been tortured and twisted over the years. But when a call comes in like the one I described the salesperson’s job isn’t to sell at all costs. His job is to determine - by asking questions - what the prospect wants and also what the prospect needs and then make the fit that is best for the prospect.
(4) Branch Out
One of the untapped areas for distributors who strategically take advantage of the internet is in branching out beyond selling other’s products. It may be manufacturing your own proprietary products, selling information or adding consultative services.
The point is that by implementing the strategies above you’ll have more interest and feedback from the marketplace. This will allow you to identify the ‘pain points’ and ‘motivations’ that drive buying decisions.
- One company discovered that their customers really wanted quicker delivery. They instituted guaranteed, overnight delivery and were able to triple prices for many parts.
- Another company identified that buyers were often confused after the sale with implementation of the product. They started offering one-day seminars to address this issue. First at the buyers location. Then, as their influence increased, requiring buyers to come to them for the training.
- Another distributor was able to identify a need in the marketplace that their current offering wasn’t meeting. So they manufactured the product themselves. This diversified their offering and raised profits significantly.
Commodity or Leader: Your Choice
A hammer is just a tool. You can use it to drive nails efficiently. But it’s not very good for chopping down trees.
As a distributor you’re faced with a fundamental choice: do you want to break out of the commodity marketplace? If so, the internet is a tool that can help you achieve that goal. But, used incorrectly and with only the goal of ‘selling’ - you’re missing the leverage and efficiency of the internet.
Curtis M. Alexander is a Business Growth Strategist who helps industrial and manufacturing companies increase profits and strengthen market position. To learn more ways to grow your business request your free copy of Curtis’ newest Executive Briefing: "7 Tested Strategies to Increase Profits and Lower Marketing Costs for Industrial Websites" at www.curtismalexander.com