A manufacturing company makes something, a distributor helps them sell it, and OEMs put that part in their final machine. Some would call this the Manufacturing Industry, something both my clients and I would love to see improve here in the good ol’ U S of A.
Let’s look at how distributors can harness the power of the web to sell more of the product lines they represent. All of this information comes from my personal experience in working with clients and talking with other distributors both domestically and internationally.
I’m sure there are varying opinions and methodologies, and I’d love to hear about them (share in the comments below). Some techniques are proven, sometimes you need to try new ideas or methods of doing things or implementing a new type of software. Like anything in business, what works well for one company, may fail for another. The process of generating inbound leads is going to be an individual evolution for every company. Embrace the process of finding what campaigns and ideas work best for your company, then run with it. Here are some effective ways that we have seen, first hand, that distributors can improve lead generation and bottom line.
- A responsive, easy to navigate, database driven website.
This is now an official must-have. Being a distributor, you probably offer a lot of products and deal in thousands, if not millions of SKUs. Get as much clear, discernible product cotent onto your site as possible. You will need someone to keep all of this content and data up to date. Most manufacturers will voluntarily give you all of this data in a well organized digital manner. They want you to sell more of their product, so they should give you all the information on what they make, right? Remember that you don’t have to add it all at once, just be consistent when you do. There may be a manufacturer that won’t have all of their data in a digital format ready for 6 months. They are old school, and probably just getting their own site up to date. That's fine, leave all of the finer details and maybe even the pricing of that line out for now. Don’t let one manufacturer being caught in the past slow down the progress of your entire site and product line offerings.
A responsive website means the site itself actually responds to the size of the device the user is viewing it from (smartphone, tablet, large desktop). Google has mandated that all sites need to move to a mobile-friendly format and responsive, in our opinion, is the best way to accomplish that. Google knows that more than 50% of their users are mobile, so they want the sites that are in the search engine to be viewed as best as possible by that audience. Work with someone that has experience building large database driven sites in this format. Yours will not be a simple 30 page static brochure style site. For most of our distributor clients over 50% of their overall site traffic comes from a mobile device. Mobile friendly, responsive formatting and design cannot be ignored.
If you are more of a quote-driven company, and your prospects need to talk to someone before a sale or relationship is started, then you may not need every SKU and product on your website. There are ways to make your top level product categories and subcategories available without getting down to every last configuration of the available products. Work with someone who understands your customer persona and sales process.
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
This is another must have in any online marketing campaign. Over the years I have found that SEO means many things to me. Without getting into all of the details, let's call it “everything it takes to get you on the first page of Google for your product offering searches.” In my view it is still the cornerstone of any internet marketing campaign. SEO is the foundation everything else is built off of. Fresh content in the form of Press Releases, Blog Posts, Newsletters, Product Descriptions can be lumped into SEO. Keyword research, title tagging, header tagging and keyword density within your text is SEO. Inbound links are still relevant, as well as sharing very relevant and high-quality content on other industry specific websites. More than ever, SEO is quality over quantity. As a distributor, every facet of your online marketing performs better when you have a large, well-organized website that is also optimized correctly. These two things will get the prospects to your site and also convert them. The next step is what you do with these newfound conversions.
There are a lot of good firms out there that can optimize a site, just make sure they understand who your audience is and how to sell your product. Ask them for reporting examples, understanding they may need to blur out the client name. Look at how they have grown their clients revenue year over year. Ask the firm what they use for analytics, marketing automation, CRM and do they have experience integrating an ERP system?
- Paid Search Works.
Paid search is one of the few guarantees on the web. If someone was to come into your office and say, “We guarantee you first page organic ranking for all of your keywords,” you shouldn’t listen to them, because that’s impossible to guarantee. With that said, first page rankings for all of your keywords can be achieved with paid search. The kicker is you have to pay if someone clicks on your listing. That scares some distributors away from investing thousands of dollars into paid search, but it shouldn’t.
If you have an employee or use a firm that is highly experienced with paid search, with accompanying certifications of course, you shouldn’t be apprehensive. When seeking a firm, have them show examples of positive ROI with other distributors and talk to references. Make sure they are a Certified Google Partner and have experience with marketing automation. Here is an example:
If you only do online sales, then paid search is a simple math equation. Say you and your firm decide you need at least a 40% margin on all sales vs. total budget spend to make money. That means if you spend $10,000 a month on clicks, you want to shoot for at least $14,000 in overall sales, at the very least. You fine tune the program month over month to increase that conversion rate and subsequent ROI, to discover your campaign’s CPA (Cost Per Acquisition). Continually work on getting your cost per click down, quality scores up, cost per acquisition down and total ROI up!
Let the firm or experienced employee suggest a starting budget based on their keyword research, competitive analysis and reasonable agreed upon expectations. It's not about the amount spent, it's about earning your investment back, and then some.
If you don’t sell direct online then you need to track every single click to sales opportunity. This is done using a CRM. You need to follow the click all the way through to the final purchasing order. This is a lot more work, but not unavailable. There are a lot of good CRMs and other marketing automation software platforms out there to streamline this process. You would do the same thing with all of your clicks and where they originated (SEO, press, 3rd party advertising sites etc.).
In any sales scenario or from wherever you are paying for your clicks, a measure of success is needed. Work with your team or your marketing firm to identify those measures of success, set a benchmark and continually work to surpass it.
- Use a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) Software.
Properly organizing your leads is so crucial for distributors, particularly if they aren’t fully e-commerce. If you need to nurture a lead through a sales process and you are properly executing my previous 3 mentionings (thus generating A LOT of sales opportunities), I don’t see how you can function your online sales campaign without a CRM.
A CRM will not only help close new sales opportunities, but will allow you to better stay in front of customers that have bought in the past (Email Marketing Campaigns!). Whether a large regular client or a random sale where they needed one centrifugal pump you need to provide some form of customer service. Improving customer service means better pre-sale follow up, post-sale follow up and, ultimately the sharing of product information, should lead to more upsells, if executed properly. This can be filed under the category of email marketing.
Implementing a CRM can certainly be a process, and a daunting one at that. Work with people that have experience. Make sure these people understand your lead generation process all the way through to the final sale. Does your ERP system come with a CRM? Are you using it to its full potential? Maybe certain leads need to go to certain salespeople based on industry, geography, dollar amount or product. Do you have a sample request form and fulfillment process? How will your customer service folks interact with the CRM compared to your salespeople? Will the executives be using it and how? There are MANY things to consider when setting up a CRM, but it will undoubtedly save your business time and money while increasing your bottom line.
Here are a few CRMs and Marketing Automation platforms that are available:
www.getbase.com (more simplified CRM)
www.hubspot.com (simple free CM with their automation software)
- Share your leads.
This is for distributors with territory restrictions. If you acquire leads outside of your geographic region, then work with the distributors that service that territory. Hopefully they are focusing on inbound lead generation, and will return the favor. If you follow inbound marketing best practices, you will inevitably get people outside of your service territories to your site, no matter how much you focus your campaigns regionally. Share the love, it's good karma and good business!
- Use data to evolve your business.
When all of this is humming along, and you realize that the web is now the #1 source for new business for your company, you can start making some very educated business decisions. Maybe you have been toying with the idea of dropping one product line and picking up another? Lets look at the exact ways people are finding you for the terms respective to that product line. Do you have a sales force that you feel has been idle for a number of years now? Let’s use real data to see how the website is performing against your traditional sales force, ala Dwayne on Office Space. But better yet, let’s use the web to support your sales force and give them more leads. No one truly loves the idea of technology completely replacing people, I don’t anyway. When was the last time you took a look at your customer service policies and how you follow up with new and current customers? Chances are your customers are getting more hip with technology in this sense, so it’s probably time you should as well.
In Summary, work with someone you can trust in their experience. Ask for references from other distributors even if they are in different industries. All of this applies no matter what you sell, it's just different keywords.
If you'd like to learn more about how you can use the web to improve lead generation, request a free assessment of your website below:
This blog is part of a series of blog posts prepared for industrial manufacturers to gain insight on how to improve your business using modern internet marketing tools like marketing automation software and customer relationship management (CRM) software. Read other blogs in this series: