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How Good (or Bad) are Manufacturers’ New Product Launch Efforts?

By Bridget McCrea

While listening to manufacturers at the NAED Western Regional Conference, a common theme repeated during the conversations:  new product launches.

Whether it was from new or established manufacturers, they wanted distributors to answer some of the questions they have never had answers to before. Were their efforts being well received? Where they falling short in one or more areas? Were there areas where suppliers could improve their new product launch initiatives?

To get the answers to these questions, tED magazine went right to the source:  NAED distributor members who wanted to speak up on the topic. To get the most honest input from these interviewees, we allowed them to speak anonymously and asked them this 3-part question:

What do you think about manufacturers’ new product launches? What do manufacturers do right, and what do manufacturers do wrong when it comes to new products?

Here’s what they had to say:

Electrical Distributor #1:
“Truth be told we don’t receive a ton of notification about new products prior to launch. We may get a brief preview or teaser from a local manufacturer rep at the beginning of the year about product X coming out during the third quarter of the year, but that’s about it until the item is available to stock. With more advanced notice, marketing programs can be developed and distributor sales teams can be educated ahead of time in preparation for product launch. We can then pre-promote the product in the market ahead of time and help build demand. That way, once products reach the shelves, we can hit the ground running. As the distributor, we can then provide feedback to the manufacturer about the market response prior to launch to help tweak messaging.”

Electrical Distributor #2:
“I think for the most part all manufacturers are different in some form or another. That in itself can be a challenge.  Most manufacturers these days rely on ‘web-based’ introductions of new products (Webinars, webcasts, emails, and so forth). However, if the new product offering is important to the manufacturer then it should create a more personalized approach to that launch:  Set up the meetings, have the lunch-and-learns, and show us in person what makes this the best thing since sliced bread! The fact is, the manufacturers are expecting us to take their new products out to our customers and they should be doing the same.”

Electrical Distributor #3:
“When it comes to new product launches, some suppliers are VERY good, but most not so much. In thinking about this topic, RAB comes to mind.  They do it right. They have the products available in stock in their warehouses when they launch, they hand out samples of the new products, they have short training videos that can be quickly viewed and shared with customers via iPad, and they talk about applications – not just the product itself.  Too many manufacturers just talk about their product and what its features and benefits are. They make the assumption that our inside and outside salespeople will bridge the gap to the best applications for their use.  Bad assumption.”

Electrical Distributor #4:
“Manufacturers could definitely do a better job of figuring out where the demand is before releasing new products and lines. My team is often left to figure out such intricacies on its own. Instead of putting the burden on distribution, the manufacturers need to take a proactive stance when it comes to market identification and penetration.”

Electrical Distributor #5:
“Better attention to detail on the manufacturers’ parts would help us position ourselves more effectively in today’s competitive market. For example, manufacturers aren’t always very good at spotting new trends in the market. As large as some of these manufacturers are, you would think they’d have people in place that would be able to anticipate the market. It’s pretty bad when you’re based in a small, southern state and you’re the first one to see a trend coming that your large vendors completely miss.”

Electrical Distributor #6:
“A new product launch involves several steps to be successful and rarely does any manufacturer do all of them. First they must educate the distributor personnel before they advertise the product to the contractor/end user market. As distributors, there’s nothing we dislike more than reading about a new product (or being asked about it by our customers) before we know anything about it or that it even exists. In terms of advertising, most manufacturers do it fairly well. Obviously in today’s world paper advertising must be accompanied (or eclipsed) by electronic marketing. Email newsletters are a terrific way to get a message out about a new product quickly, but having a complete and robust email list is essential to reach the masses. I see very few manufacturers running any promotion or spiff to get more people signed up to their email lists.”

“More thought has to go in to how the distributor will merchandise this new product. The item could be a real game-changer, but without a merchandising strategy it will end up in the back shelves of the warehouse. I am amazed at how many great new products come out with no clue as to how to merchandise these items. The packaging may be wrong (plain brown boxes of unknown contents); items aren’t blister-packed; and products may require special hooks or display materials (all of which are missing). The days of providing distributors with the option of getting a 4-foot-wide display wall for new products are gone. We all have displays we like, limited floor space, and so many new products come out monthly it would be a full-time job assembling displays, throwing out old ones, and figuring out your store plan-o-gram each month. Have a merchandising strategy that is flexible, universal, and easy to implement. Selecta does an excellent job in this area.”

McCrea is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at bridgetmc@earthlink.net or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.

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