Many B2B companies use an independent distributor network to represent and sell their products. These distributors often range in size from professionally-run organizations to small proprietorships. We work with several small and medium-sized B2B companies who use distributors; each varies in their success at getting the most out of their distributors. For marketers, distributors represent another target market. In some of the organizations we work with, they was no focused effort on regularly communicating and marketing to this group.
To kick-start your distributor marketing efforts, here is a list of 7 essential tactics to help get you started. Many of these tactics will be extensions of the ones you may already have in place. And if not, start with the ones that are most important for your organization. (Note: if you haven’t surveyed a cross-section of your distributors in a long time to discuss their needs, take some time to do so before investing a lot of time and effort marketing to them.)
- Email Marketing – Develop a standard program for regularly communicating to distributors. This should be in the form of scheduled e-newsletters along with timely single message emails that may be in reference to a significant product announcement, update on a new system (e.g. quoting) that is being completed, etc. The point is to ‘push’ information and keep your network informed of what is happening, what is coming and how you are responding to their needs and requests.
- Product (and product launch) packages – Equipping your distributors with the product information they need is critical. Too often, we see companies who haven’t put the necessary tools in distributors’ hands and therefore, sales is lacking. Ensure your distributors are armed and regularly updated with product collateral (sales sheets, technical specifications, demos, etc.) and when launching new products prepare a set of launch packages. In addition to product information, these packages may contain technical overview documents as well as an overview of the activities you are undertaking to launch this product in the marketplace.
- Sales Conferences – Set a regularly scheduled conference that brings all of the distributors together. For some companies this is done on an annual or bi-annual basis. These conferences serve as fantastic platforms for launching new products, showcasing the upcoming product launch roadmap, educating distributors on technology and discussing necessary system and process matters.
- Webinars – Hosting webinars are a great way to stay in touch with distributors. Topics may centre on new products, emerging technology and training.
- Distributor Section on Website – In addition to a customer log-in section that you may have on your website, set-up a secured distributor portal. This portal can serve as the home base for all of your sales collateral, pre-recorded webinars, training materials, to name a few. For distributors it gives them an all-access pass to the materials they need, when they need them.
- Relationship Nurturing – In addition to the sales conferences, another key tactic is ongoing relationship nurturing and development. Depending on the distributor’s business structure, it may be necessary to develop relationships at several levels (e.g. CEO to CEO, sales rep to sales rep). One on one relationship building enables more in-depth discussions to be had.
- Feedback Mechanism – It’s important that distributors know they have a platform for sharing their feedback, providing suggestions and informing you of opportunities. Mechanisms can be put in place at sales conferences, during one-on-one calls as well in your ongoing email communications. The point is to make sure distributors know you value their feedback and have an open system for gathering it.
Distributor marketing has been top of mind for us in recent months, look out for future blogs in which we’ll dive into more detail on some of the tactics above as well as share additional tactics that you can layer on once the essentials are in place.
If you have a distributor network at your company and would like to share your experience or offer your thoughts on other tactics, we would love to hear from you.