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Growth 9-1-1

Growth 9-1-1

by Cathy Veri

Small and medium-sized distributors and manufacturers need an occasional edge to grow sales. Some companies use consultants to save money in operations. Most distributors use an outside consultant when purchasing e-commerce or other software. But what about when they’re looking for marketing and sales growth?

Here are the types of problems your distribution company may be facing today and possible solutions.

PROBLEM: You’re finding you need deep, not broad experience, in certain areas of marketing. You don’t believe you have any key advantages in marketing over your competitors.

SOLUTION: Shake up your management team, blow up your org chart, interview a bunch of people, and outsource for that deep expertise you want. Marketing should be a strength for your company, not a weakness.

Marketing and business development is more complicated than ever for distributors. There is more of a need for digitization, e-commerce and inventory assortment, promotion and product management. And there is more of a need for deep marketing expertise in certain areas of the business, both in support roles and profit centers. But it’s not just support you need. You need expertise, someone that can make an impact. The expertise can be in the form of improving what you are doing or bringing something new to the table with new analysis or new creative.

Without outside consultation and marketing innovation, you can’t grow or keep up. Are you doing the exact same things you were doing 24 months ago? If you are, then blow up your org chart and find that deep expertise. How do you pay for it? 1) Remove a position in your org chart and outsource it as a part-time freelance project. 2) Hire one less sales person and instead, invest in automation and/or a marketing agency on a retainer for less cost than the person’s monthly salary.

With the internet, digital marketing tools and software is abundant. Experts can be found online, too, especially on LinkedIn. In some cases, a company can outsource marketing strategy and bring in a less experienced marketing manager to run marketing operations. In other cases, you need a leader in-house in the director position. The worst thing you can do is over pay for a manager when you really need a leader/director. In any case, you can always find money to pay for a consultant by trimming somewhere else or making some permanent positions part time or simply, choosing to cut a permanent position.

PROBLEM: Your company’s collateral, website and icon graphics look outdated, or just plain bad, or just not exciting.

SOLUTION: Hire an outside, accomplished art director or graphic designer who is new to your company and/or industry. He/she can work with your inside graphics team as a director and work together to build an improved look. Get a new look with a new point of view! Hire someone talented and let them loose! Successful redesigns of collateral and logos begin with a statement of work and a list of your key messaging or objectives.

PROBLEM: Our digital advertising and marketing on Google Adwords is not bringing in incremental sales or profits on a regular basis. Our website SEO is not doing much, either.

SOLUTION: Hire a professional Google Adwords agency or consultant that does a deep dive on your data and audience development, overhauls your creative ads, creates a strategy for cost per click, evaluates your audience choices and more. You can use a freelancer or firm for SEO and content, too. Before you run ads, you absolutely have to do a deep-dive on your customer data and prospect interest. If you don’t know how to do it at a Google Ventures level, outsource it.

Most independent industrial distribution companies do not have an expert, Google Ad words-certified person on staff. If you are spending $5K or $10K per month or more, you need an expert to work with your in-house staff. You can hire this expertise by using a digital agency or expert freelancer. Most agencies and people work month to month with no contract to sign. Typical fees are 10 percent of the ad spend. My personal experience with this is that most independent distributors are not spending enough on digital marketing and/or Google Adwords – text and display.

PROBLEM: We have email software and a person assigned to email, but we don’t seem to use it to the fullest of its abilities and we are not seeing a return on our investment. I feel like he/she only does email these days.

SOLUTION: Hire an outside email or CRM expert (marketing agency or consultant or freelancer) to look at your lists, offers, content design, your open rates and more, and develop a plan for improvement. You can often find someone in your industry to help make a difference. You should have different email content for prospects vs. customers and you should segment customer lists so you can track better.

Maybe your team of marketing manager(s), graphic designers, e-commerce managers and marketing support are not getting you the sales results via email that you want. Maybe you have a bunch of smart generalists, when you really need scrappy expertise for email.

I always say that an email or direct mail piece has three components that are 40/40/20 importance (40% the list, 40% the offer(s), and only 20% the design or creative). I have seen plenty of ugly email content and direct mail that succeed.

PROBLEM: I believe in our marketing director but our support staff is just not the most talented or as productive as we need. I have doubts but training new people is so time-consuming.

SOLUTION: Outside, professional training, every six months. If you believe in your marketing manager or director, and you think the team has potential, invest in training. It’s hard to change a personality, but it’s easy to improve skills with training and learning. Maybe your graphics team needs time management training, or maybe they need creative direction/art direction learning. Maybe they need Photoshop skills. Invest in your team if they are a good team. And fire if someone is just not meeting the bar. Challenge your marketing director to get the best out of his/her team.

PROBLEM: My customer does not think of me for every day unplanned needs. He/she calls Grainger or MSC Direct. I know it’s a significant amount of sales and money I am missing out on. How can marketing convey that I want that business?

SOLUTION: Top-of-mind email and content helps, but you actually need to have access to the inventory the same day. Sometimes marketing content only goes so far. Any consultant will tell you to expand your online inventory through partnerships. This can be done with outfits like Berkshire eSupply or a wholesale program with MSC Direct with online ordering or a 24-hour instant help sales desk. For your best customers, you can afford to do next-day delivery.

PROBLEM: My company does less than $15M per year in sales. I don’t believe we need a full time marketing employee but I do want to use marketing to grow.

SOLUTION: You are right. Hire a marketing consultant or small agency and work by the project or on a retainer. You probably don’t have 40 hours per week of marketing or email work or 40 hours of graphics needs. Use a freelancer or a consultant, get the most for your money, by the project and not on a full time schedule. Chances are, the kind of talent you need does not live nearby and/or will not accept the salary you can afford. Consultants are the solution.

In summary, run lean, pick and choose experts for certain things and get better results than you would have with inside staff that is perhaps not as talented or experienced enough.

Cathy VeriCathy Veri is principal of Austin, Texas-based Marketecture, a marketing consultant to B2B industrial distribution companies since 1999. Cathy was the director of marketing and creative services for J&L America and has been a marketing consultant to eight of the Top 50 Industrial Distribution companies in the USA. Reach her at

This article originally appeared in the Nov./Dec. 2020 issue of Industrial Supply magazine. Copyright 2020, Direct Business Media.


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