So I guess the word has gotten out about the what a miracle Internet marketing can be for many kinds of B to C companies. But folks in the Manufacturing and Distribution sector are asking a different question. Many of these folks have no intention of ever selling to anyone other than other stores or tradesmen. And they want to know exactly what I think a digital marketing strategy is going to do for them, given that so many of their historical contacts have no inclination to use the web to find business. Some of the comments I get are interesting. “We’ve been around for 40 years Rich, and trust me, the guys that buy from me ain’t going on the internet!” Or perhaps, “I sell exclusively to registered tradesmen, or distributors, these guys already all know us…”. Or one of my personal favorites: “It’s all about personal relationships, nobody is gonna buy our product because they saw our pretty website, they buy it because I get in front of them and Sell it!”.
Before I get into violently shredding some of these arguments, let me first acknowledge that all these folks have a point. The character of operations in the manufacturing and distribution chain has important differences from selling retail and your internet marketing plan had better respect that. And It is to a large degree, much more about relationships than fickle cost/brand driven consumer selling.
For instance, exclusive Trade relationships may prevent certain kinds of end user promotional activities, with manufactures bending over backwards to promote the brand without unfairly promoting one distribution channel over another. Delivery requirements are often different with large minimums required to make container shipping financially viable or to keep profitability on thin margins. Ecommerce solutions can be different too and may need to be “two-faced”, one for consumers, and one for tradesman. Or selling may be simply be too complex to ever be fully handled by a website, every sale may genuinely require one or many personal calls and visits. The list of considerations is long and different from industry to industry and business to business within those industries.
And what about those guys that have had their nose buried in Kelly’s blue book for the last 40 years? Will they one day after hearing the word “Google” one too many times, finally wander over to the computer and hear choirs of angels singing as they type in their first search?
But here’s the epiphany… are you sitting down? ”We’re not designing internet marketing for them! We don’t have to. You’ve build a whole successful business around servicing these guys using traditional methods. Keep it up as long as you need to and good luck!”
But real growth in your distribution channels will not continue come from these methods and unless you’ve been under a rock for the last 15 years, you already know and sense this. You’ve seen new competitors spring up and create huge online brands with products of lower quality. You’ve seen the costs of traditional selling go up without offsetting increases in sales or profit. Trade show attendance is down. And a new generation of wholesale consumer is taking over and he has more internet saavy than his father, and is less influenced by historical relationships. He wants value, and he’s going online to find it. And so you’re forced to look at an online marketing strategy because you don’t want to be the last guy marketing with a small army of salesmen and telemarketers to an ever smaller group of octogenarians, while the next generation, raised on all things WEB, starts to challenge the status quo and only finds your competitors on-line.
So now perhaps we begin to glimpse that the march toward a competitive digital presence for manufacturing and wholesale companies too, is all but inevitable. But can it be effective? In my next post I’ll talk about strategies for Supply chain industries that really work, even on yours…(-: