Five (or so) Tips to Expand Your Distribution Business
Growing a distribution business can be challenging, especially when you’re in an industry where it is difficult to find experienced talent. Hydraulic experts don’t grow on trees and these are complex products requiring a considered purchase. As I have spent time discussing and working with distribution partners, I've learned capacity is a true challenge. Distributors often have employees who wear many different hats, making it difficult to push new promotions or try out new tactics. But, there are numerous activities and strategies that can be put in place with relative ease, potentially bringing a strong return on investment.
Here are five tips to grow your distribution business, plus a few extra things to consider.
As I mentioned above, finding experienced, skilled personnel is challenging in today’s job landscape. It is more critical than ever to find ways to train your employees and give them the skills they need to not only grow your business but grow personally as well. It’s often a fear that if you train your employees they may leave, but what happens if you don’t train them?
This is not always an easy task, as this means giving up valuable time of that person doing what you hired them to do. The good news – there are tons of training opportunities available that are inexpensive and don’t have to be time (or travel) consuming. Muncie Power offers both online and in-person training to all customers – at no cost! But you can also reach out to associations such as NTEA and NFPA, among others, or research the bevy of other online courses that have been created. The NTEA currently has numerous online offerings, including Truck Equipment 101 and 201. Online training options allow individuals to gain new skills or knowledge without having to incur all the travel time and expenses.
- Email Marketing
Email marketing has the perception of an outdated tactic with the abundance of digital marketing opportunities now available, but it still attains one of the highest returns on investment across all marketing channels. This is primarily the case because the cost of email is extremely low, and it’s targeted. Email marketing is not intended to be a spam message to anyone and everyone. Its purpose is to send relevant, meaningful information to individuals who have an interest in what you have to offer. And, it’s not hard to get started. Take the time to gather email addresses from your customers and prospects, and then choose one of the many email platforms available; here’s a nice overview article with some top options. All of these are easy to get started with, and the cost is minimal. If you’re not sure where to start, start simple. Focus on key messages that will be relevant for your current customers. For example, focus on cross-selling or bringing awareness of new products to customers who you already have a relationship with. This does not have to be a “send every week” initiative. Send as it makes sense, whether that’s once per month or once per quarter. Start with something manageable.
When you do get started, make sure you incorporate a call-to-action in your emails. Having a clickable action is key to measuring the success of your emails and driving your audience to take action. It could be something as simple as sending them to a webpage to learn more, or, ideally, to a form to collect data. Far to often do we see text or image only emails that create no interaction with the user and make them much more challenging to measure.
- Targeted Direct Mail
The key word here is targeted. I am not encouraging a mass mailing to anyone and everyone, as that quickly becomes costly and the return is not very strong. However, if you have a targeted, or segmented, mailing list, it can be extremely impactful. Take some time to review your customer list and find out who is not buying products that make sense for their business, or those that are commonly purchased with another product they do buy. Create a two- or three-piece direct mail campaign with a promotional offering to this selected audience to build awareness and create leads for different product offerings.
- Product Promotion on Website
Your website can be your most powerful marketing tool if it’s done well. Buyers will almost always research you online before going to make a purchase. Make sure your website has the information your potential customers will be looking for. It is critical to make sure your audience has easy access to product details; simply listing product categories is not enough. Focus on specific products and the details that are critical to make a decision. Make sure to work with manufacturers to obtain quality images and understand the best way to keep product information up-to-date. At the end of the day, every single website visitor is coming to your site for a reason. Make sure you know those reasons and that your visitors can easily find what they need.
Another reason to fill your website with more product content is to improve your search ranking. Most buyers today will conduct an online search to either gain info on the product or determine where they will buy it from. Therefore, it is critical to make sure search engines see your site as relevant for the products you offer. If your site lacks product content, even if you sell the products, you will not rank well within search engines and could miss out on business opportunities. Take the time to do some searches and see where you rank today.
- Social Media Marketing
I understand this is often a daunting task for distributors because there is generally no one on staff that can invest the time into making this a successful platform. Don’t underestimate the time it takes to use these platforms to their fullest, but also don’t let that dissuade you from using them. Start small by picking one social media platform and creating a realistic plan. I am not talking a full-blown promotional campaign, I’m talking a “just start social media and create some content once per month” plan. Social media is a great way to engage with your customers and once you get your feet wet, it’s a fantastic way to do more targeted advertising both by industry and geography. It’s also very measureable. You can spend money and easily understand if that spend had value.
- Other Ideas
Beyond these five tactics listed above, there are numerous other activities you can pursue such as:
- Claiming your local business listing(s) on Google as this will help with your local search ranking
- Install Google Analytics to understand your web traffic, it's free
- Showcase and network at local trade shows even if you're not exhibiting
- Customize and target your literature for certain audiences because it's not always "one size fits all"
- Work with manufacturers to develop co-branded literature
- Invest in point-of-purchase displays
- Leverage and reuse content created by manufacturers
Make sure to connect with your manufacturing partners to team up on these activities. Often times, manufacturers have an ad allowance type of program where they can financially support your marketing efforts. At Muncie Power Products, we also have an experienced marketing team on staff who are willing to invest time to help set up and guide you through how to use these tactics.