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Marketing Momentum: How Distributors Manage Martech Challenges

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Marketing Momentum: How Distributors Manage Martech Challenges

Scott Lepsky, marketing manager, F.D. Lawrence Electric Company

April Braun, director of marketing, Werner Electric

If you read my Marketing 101 article in the May issue of tED magazine (p. 58), you know that technology is not just the future of sales and marketing – it’s the “now.” The article features insights from marketing veteran April Braun, director of marketing for Cottage Grove, Minnesota-based Werner Electric, plus recommendations for building and integrating technology around the customer experience. Click here to read the article.

After writing that article, I talked with Braun and industry veteran Scott Lepsky, marketing manager for the F.D. Lawrence Electric Company of Cincinnati, Ohio for my Market Boldly podcast. Among other things, we talked about how each of them is leveraging technology to better market their companies, and its products and services.

While they agreed that distributors and manufacturers are very good at promoting products, the industry is still learning how to manage data and leverage it to benefit their own companies and customers.

“The one thing that marketers in the electrical industry do better than almost anybody is feature highlights and benefits of product,” shared Lepsky, “Where we’re kind of dipping our toes in the water is getting our arms around the data available—how to process it, use it effectively and efficiently, and use it in a manner that’s helpful to our customers. Because, at the end of the day, our goal is to get the information they need when they need it to help them be more productive and profitable. If our customers are productive and profitable, we win as well.”

Think about it. What if you could go to your customers and say, “We noticed you keep ordering this product. Did you know that you can replace that product with a different/better option that will save you time, labor, and money?” Or, what if you noticed that a customer ordered a lot of product A, but not product B that almost always goes with product A. What if you could say to every customer, every time, “We can add product B and deliver it at the same time as product A so you have everything you need to get the job done.”?

You say your good salespeople already do this? Do they do it every time with every product? What about all the other salespeople? What if you had a system to remind ALL of your salespeople, inside and outside, to do this every time? What if your customer wants access to this information around the clock, not just during business hours or when they have you on the phone? That’s what tools like an effective e-commerce platform and CRM system can do. And with a marketing automation tool, you can set up the workflows to automatically generate and deliver appropriate, customized sales messages based on prompts you determine.

Imagine how sales would increase, and how grateful customers would be for being reminded to order product B or suggesting more cost-effective or time-saving options. (By the way, your customers aren’t just imagining it; they’re already seeing this from Amazon and other online sellers.)

Werner’s Braun is currently in the process of exploring these options as she looks to build her martech stack. “It’s all about understanding the customer and using data to communicate more effectively. We have this great foundation to work from. We work for organizations whose top priority is delivering customer value because we’ve had to; that’s been our model. We provide service and value around both the product and the features, but we also point out how we can help customers in their jobs. That’s a great starting point for a marketer. It’s a runway for growth in redefining what marketing is. And it’s content marketing—transitioning from a feature/benefit story to how we can give the customer an advantage in their business, to match to their outcomes as a business.”

But according to Braun, it’s also about redefining marketing as a driver of business rather than a “drive-through” for marketing pieces, as in, “I’d like a large brochure with a side of fliers.” Explains Braun, “Distributors may have a difficult time articulating their value and what they do well. The truth is, we do a lot of stuff really well. We go above and beyond for our customers every day. So that should be part of our brand message which is outlined in our marketing plan. But our most important responsibility as marketers is to develop a strategic marketing plan that accomplishes many goals including building the company brand, increasing market share, retaining existing customers and of course, driving sales. As we elevate marketing to a strategic, management-level function, we’re going to be more effective as distributors.”

At its best, marketing truly is a strategic management function. But it’s up to marketing staff to demonstrate that to CEOs, presidents and other company executives in a number of ways—first, by having a research- and goal-based marketing plan in place. Also, marketers must prove their value by showing how they’re meeting goals based on the metrics and KPIs that were set as part of that plan. And the technology is making that easier than ever. Marketers now have more tools for tracking and measuring success than ever before.

“We recently rolled out our new website and e-commerce offering. Now we have some software in place that wasn’t previously available that allows us to track some metrics. I think that’s critically important when we talk about technology and data, and making sure that we’re getting the right information to customers in a timely manner,” explained Lepsky. “The metrics and the measurements are going to be a much more important part of what we’re doing from a marketing and business development standpoint.”

As we talked about the future, both Braun and Lepsky were keenly aware of the threats from Amazon and other online sellers, and their role as marketers in maintaining market share in light of this competition. Braun feels strongly that distributors need to be open to “modern marketing,” and invest in talent and technology at a pace the industry has never seen before.

“That’s really where we’ve started. We’re bringing in the right folks with marketing backgrounds, even if they aren’t part of our industry, and marrying that with technology that can make us more productive and efficient,” explained Braun. “We’re all balancing the need for paper versions of everything, while at the same time facing digital pressures as we’re forced to compete with Amazons and other online resources our customers are accessing every day. So we have to understand that some of that marketing talent may not be alive and well within our walls today. These new hires aren’t going to know the details of the products or every inch of the business, but they have the marketing talent to help the businesses progress in going up against competitors like Amazon.”

Of course, another option is to invest in helping existing employees learn about new technologies and tools. Conferences, workshops, seminars, and online courses (both free and paid) offer plenty of opportunities to learn about content marketing, email marketing, marketing automation, CRM systems, digital marketing, and social media marketing. Online learning platform Lynda.com offers courses on a number of marketing topics.

Learning about how to manage customer data, choosing a CRM system, selecting a marketing automation tool, and building a marketing technology stack seems a little overwhelming. But the more information you expose yourself to, the more you learn, the easier it gets. Understand that it’s not a one-person or even one-department decision. Involve IT, sales, marketing, and purchasing in the process and give all departments affected input in the final decision. Even executives should have a cursory knowledge of these systems and what’s possible with the technology.

April and Scott had so much great information to share, they were featured in two episodes of Market Boldly. Other topics of discussion included what it’s like to work in marketing for an electrical distributor, why distributors have an advantage over Amazon, how marketing supports sales, the future of distributor marketing, and why more people should consider a career in electrical distribution. To hear both episodes, visit katrinaolson.com/podcast or find Market Boldly on iTunes or Google Play.

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Katrina Olson  is a marketing and public relations consultant, trainer/coach, and host of a monthly podcast called Market Boldly, available on iTunes and Google Play. She has written for tED magazine's print edition since 2005, judged tED magazine's Best of the Best Competition since 2006, and also writes for the new lightEDmag.com and lightED Weekly. She can be reached at Katrina@katrinaolson.com or via her website at katrinaolson.com.

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