How to Communicate the Value of the Distribution Specialist
by Matt Johnson, on
I have a guilty confession.
I know I’m not supposed to say this. But…
I like Wal-Mart.
I do -- I’ll admit it! Yea, I know they haven’t always treated their employees well (they’re better now). Yea, I know that they low-ball their suppliers (suppliers are fighting back). Yea, I know that you can see some less than savory characters while shopping (unfortunately, this hasn’t really changed). But damn it. Sometimes I need to pick up diapers, pencils, eggs, milk, a birthday cake, some bath towels, and a car battery, all at the same time. That’s the value proposition of Wal-Mart.
Question: What’s your value proposition?
Are you an industrial distributor, who specializes in fasteners? Are you a safety distributor, who specializes in fall protection equipment? Knowing who you are and what value you contribute to your customer’s experience is more critical in today’s crowded, digital world, than it ever has been in the history of industrial supply.
Let me tell you a little secret that’s not so little, and it is not so secret.
The “Wal-Mart’s of B2B” (and I think you know who I mean), the generalists, are in the process of becoming specialists. And they can do it. Let me explain how this is happening and what you can do fight back.
The Problem: The Empire Strikes Back
Disclaimer: Do you like Star Wars analogies? If not, turn away now, because the Force is strong with this article from here on out.
The death star is fully functional, guys. I’m not going to sugar-coat this. Quite frankly, it doesn’t look good for many independent industrial retailers. You see, the evil empire has the necessary resources to fully segment their offering and services. In other words, they are creating special-op forces capable of completely obliterating your business model.
For example, within Industrial Distribution Universe, they have created a world called “Safety”. This mini-world operates independently, and yet fully supported and united to the mother ship. Even now they are training legions of “generalists” how to become “specialists” in all kinds of product categories: Jan/San, fasteners, abrasives, tools, safety, and instrumentation. These newly trained specialists (some of them sadly have been converted to the dark side) have the insider knowledge, that when combined with the Empire’s unbeatable margins and price, may very well mean certain doom for the Republic of Safety and Industrial Specialists.
The Solution: The Force Awakens
What should you do when you are backed into a corner? What can you do when your very way of life is being threatened?
You rebel. You fight back… and You WIN.
Conquer the dark-side, by harnessing your inner marketing Jedi. "Use the Force, Luke!" If you are a safety specialist (or industrial specialist), you can fight back by offering more value, a better experience, and a better value proposition.
Here are 3 Ways to Join the Rebellion and Fight the Industrial Empire:
1. Create a B2C eCommerce Experience for Your B2B Accounts
Just think about how much commerce YOU do online. It’s become a big part of our lives. The industrial revolution changed everything back in the 19th century. Today, we're living in the information age. In your pocket, you have immediate access to thousands of suppliers and retailers.
You can compare price, shipping options, delivery, and more. Millennial buyers are determining who they want to work with purely by based on what your About Us Page says about who you are, and what you believe in. Having a world-class website is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity.
If you want to have any chance at competing with the Death Star of Industrial Supply websites, you’re going to need to get serious about creating a fantastic user experience on your ecommerce website.
This means having accurate, rich, product content that not only describes the product, but enables the end-user to make a thoughtful decision and comparison with other brands or part numbers.
Content is only half the battle. The website must have the ability for account users to login, create customized product lists with contract pricing, and easy re-ordering capabilities.
Finally, make sure that your website is designed by a professional designer who understands clean, modern, brand-centric design that frames your company as a world-class organization – not some mom and pop operation with Aunt Sally as your marketing director.
2. Communicate Your Value Proposition with Video Online
Social media is the TV of today – @garyvee
More people are on social media right now, than are watching network television. This is a fundamental shift in behavior, and you, my dear Padawan, would do well to consider how to take advantage of this shift.
What would it be like to penetrate your biggest accounts, and create the same brand awareness at the buyer level, and c-level, as you have at the manager level? Most safety specialists I know have a big problem. They create tremendous value at the manager level (safety director, operations managers, etc.) but the message never makes it to corporate purchasing. What’s happening? These younger, ecommerce-savvy, tech-savvy, millennial buyers and purchasing managers are shopping you around! You tell the Safety Director exactly what to buy, and the Purchasing Manager uses your list to save 5 cents by placing the order with the evil Empire. That’s BS!
The problem is that the Purchasing Manager is frequently left out when it comes to your sales and marketing strategy.
What if you could reach that Purchasing Manager where they are, and communicate your value proposition on their terms. The answer is social media advertising and video marketing. You have a wealth of knowledge, but you’re talking to a tiny audience. Your preaching to the choir. You need to go public with your experience, insider information, and product expertise.
Video and Social Media Targeting go together like Han Solo and Chewbacca. It’s a potent combination, and a winning formula for reaching those buyers and earning their business.
3. Consistently Publish Educational Content that Engages Your Customers
In case you haven’t noticed, industrial retailers carry A LOT of SKUs. Quite frankly, this makes purchasing decisions for corporate buyers a pain in the @$$! Not only is it difficult for your buyers, it’s difficult for your staff to keep up with changing regulations, standards, and equipment innovations in your industry.
Partnering with your vendors to create and publish consistent educational content in the forms of blog articles, eBooks, whitepapers, explainer videos, infographics, etc. will soon result in an impressive library of content that will drive organic traffic to your website, allow you to convert visitors into leads, and grow online sales.
Leads are great. Everyone is excited about a new lead that is generated from one of our inbound marketing campaigns, but I would argue that it’s far more cost effective for you to grow your business with your existing customers than it is to create new ones. Your existing customers are likely viewing you and your capabilities through a keyhole. Imagine if they could see the whole picture. Imagine if they started giving you ALL of the order, instead of just a portion. It can happen! There is hope.
We like to think of ourselves as the little green guy in the swamp, challenging Luke to complete his mission and fulfill his destiny.
"More powerful than you realize, you are. An excellent value proposition, you have."
Now get out there and be a rebel!