Twelve marketing actions for a hesitant economy.
In our distributorship, we don’t refer to it as a downturn but as a hesitant economy. Customers are talking about projects. They have definite needs, but they hesitate before making any sizable capital decisions, and some small purchases are simply being deferred.
When material handling distributorships face downturns—or hesitations—the question often arises: “Should we increase marketing efforts and expenditures, or reduce them? Should it be marketing more or marketing less? The two sides of the discussion are often articulated in this way:
|In a down market, there is not much business. Let’s reduce marketing expenditures to maintain profitability and wait for the rebound.|
|The market is down. Increase marketing to boost our market awareness and share position, and increase our business. Let’s do a better job of getting the business that is available.|
In a hesitant or down economy, our company definitely takes the “increase marketing” approach. We look for opportunities to increase market awareness and marketshare. We want to impart a sense of enthusiasm to salespeople, support employees and customers. We work to make things happen.
Based on that philosophy, the following are twelve marketing actions I believe material handling distributors should be taking now. Some require spending money; some don’t take much. This is meant as an overview “checklist,” not a complete discussion of each item. Interestingly, these are the same activities that aggressive material handling distributors will continue at even higher levels in stronger markets as sustained marketing activities are always important to our success.
Database, Database, Database…Update and Enlarge
A database of marketing contacts and prospects is a key to solid marketing for any material handling distributorship. A hesitant economy is an excellent time to update your current database (check addresses, names, contacts) and enlarge it by adding new companies and contacts.
While these databases should be built from several sources, the best and most valuable will come from grassroots input by salespeople and other front-line distributor employees. In addition to input from salespeople, database sources can include purchasing lists from companies like Pinpoint Technologies or Dun & Bradstreet; input from teleprospectors who call prospects and customers seeking information; geographic canvassers who literally go door to door in industrial parks seeking information in survey form; forklift and rental dispatchers and other front-line employees; leads from suppliers; lists of equipment sold and installed in your territory; and on and on. The database should be computerized in something like Microsoft Access or other database software.
It’s important to remember that the marketing database is not your accounting database. The marketing database should have contact names of the people who influence the purchase of the equipment you sell—both prospects as well as customers.
Direct Mail Marketing
Direct mail marketing is one use for your marketing database. If you’ve entered your database so that it can be updated and enlarged, “sliced and diced,” by SIC code, size of company, job title and potential product interest, you can target direct mail to appropriate contacts. While some believe direct mail has lost its efficacy in today’s marketing environment, I disagree. Professionally designed mail pieces still get customers’ attention and trigger action. Where do you get direct mail pieces? On to the next action.
Work with an Advertising Firm or Graphic Artist
Material handling distributors need to compete for the attention of their customers and prospects and should hire an advertising firm or professional graphic artist to effectively do this. Not just any direct mail piece will work—it needs to be a well-designed one. Advertising firms and graphic artists can be used to help produce newsletters, update your logo (one of the most positive things our company has done in quite some time), design line cards, proposal covers and other pieces for your salespeople. If you don’t have a relationship with a graphic artist or advertising company, develop one. If you are not satisfied with the one you have, seek out a different one.
Customer newsletters are a form of informational selling. Customers like to get stuff from distributors that educate them. Subjects can include safety, forklift fleet management, space utilization. The topics are plentiful. Once a quarter is a good time frame for customer newsletters. Try it, you’ll like it. More important, your customers will like it.
Web Site Updating and Promotion
Distributors’ Web sites should regularly be refreshed with new information and new things for customers and prospects to check out. Links should be made with appropriate suppliers’ Web sites. Distributors’ Web sites should constantly be dvertised and promoted in order to drive traffic to it. When was the last time you refreshed your Web site? When was the last time you promoted your Web site? Is your Web address on all advertising, business cards and printed materials? Is your Web host regularly feeding the site to search engines? If you don’t have a Web site, get one!
Celebrate an Anniversary—any Anniversary!
There is a tendency to wait for one of the “big” anniversaries—10 years, 20 years, etc. However, any business anniversary can be effectively celebrated. It’s really just a reason to talk to customers, conduct a customer event, celebrate with employees, and make a big deal about your company. One of our most effective was our 41st nniversary. Why 41? Well, we needed to make something happen and it happened to be our 41st anniversary!
If you are looking for ideas on how to celebrate your anniversary, contact The Steven Fossler Company of Crystal Lake, Illinois at (800) 762-0030. They have an interesting little book called “Guide to Planning and Promoting Your Business Anniversary.” (Ed. note: Read Steven Fossler’s article, “Powerful Marketing Advantage” .) Celebrate something! An anniversary is a good place to start.
Plan a Customer Event
Customer golf tournament, expo, informational seminar, open house, anniversary celebration, steak fry, barbecue, pancake breakfast, etc. are all simply reasons to get together with customers. Get them to your facility, remind customers you are there, facilitate relationships, learn what’s going on in their business now, give them a new idea to make something happen.
Customer events range from the simple to the complex, the inexpensive to the expensive. Every distributorship has different reasons and different capabilities to produce customer events. You can involve your suppliers, or do them yourself. Customer events are positive for the whole distributorship, and they give salespeople something to talk about other than “Need anything today?”.
When was the last time customers visited your company? What was the last customer event you conducted? If it’s been over six months, it’s been too long!
Many people in our industry think Yellow Pages are an ineffective form of advertising. I disagree. Because our area attracts many new businesses and startups, we still find Yellow Pages advertising effective in getting the attention of people new to our area ornew to the responsibility of purchasing material handling equipment. Whether you feel Yellow Pages works for you or not, don’t just “rubber stamp” last year’s campaign. Meet with your Yellow Pages representative. Take a clear look at what your competition is doing in all the headings that involve your company. Consider doing something different. Perhaps it’s time to downsize your Yellow Pages ads; enter a new heading; add your Web address; let prospects know you take credit cards.
|Whether you feel Yellow Pages works for you or not, don’t just “rubber stamp” last year’s campaign.|
Most Yellow Pages now have a “Yellow Pages OnLine” which is searchable at the site. You can purchase a link from the Yellow Pages Online site to your Web site. You don’t have to have a very big ad in the paper Yellow Pages to do that. Talk to your Yellow Page representative and see what’s involved. Check out the Yellow Pages Online with your own search engine. By the way, have you clearly included your Web site address in your Yellow Pages ad?
Here’s one that doesn’t cost much money at all. Network with local business leaders in community organizations such as United Way, volunteer organizations of your choice, Rotary, bank events, anywhere people get together. Who’s standing next to you at your kid’s soccer or football game? Have you engaged them in conversation? Of course you can’t get into heavy business discussions at these events but by honestly working with people in community organizations, you begin a valuable process of networking with other business leaders and decision influencers. The most important business contacts you have are outside your company in your local business community.
Local material handling associations are another, more direct, networking opportunity. Are you a member of the local Warehouse Education Research Council (WERC)? Have you invited them to visit your company or visit one of your successful installations? Be proactive with these associations. It can pay off.
Solicit Customer Service Feedback
Our company includes a simple customer service feedback return mail card with many of our invoices. Response is excellent. Many customers send them in when they are satisfied with our service, some voice their complaints. As President, I read every one and respond to every one with either a phone call, a visit or a letter. It gets customers thinking about the company. It uncovers problems. It gives customers a chance to reinforce their positive feelings about the company.
We also developed a Customer Service Feedback Report Card which salespeople and technicians hand to customers and ask them to return. We’ve turned it into a game. We give $1.00 to each employee who brings back one of these cards and have a drawing once a month to give $50.00 to one of our employees who has turned in a customer service report card. We include the comments in our newsletter. It gets us talking to customers about something other than “Do you need anything today?” This is positive. This is marketing. And by the way, it will improve your customer service.
Customer Service Feedback Return Mail Card
In material handling distributorships, teleprospecting is not telemarketing. It can be unoffensive and very productive. A person dedicated to making outgoing calls to prospects can produce several real leads per day. They also can play a major role in enlarging and updating a distributor’s database. While this function can be outsourced—there are companies that specialize in this—I believe it is more effective when done by an employee. Our company has had such a person for several years and for the last two summers, has augmented this activity with college interns from local business schools. Personality of the teleprospector is important; the most effective calls are friendly yet assertive. Style as well as perseverance are keys.
What are the sources for companies to call? There is literally no end: local manufacturers and Chamber of Commerce directories, UCC filing reports, Dodge construction reports, drive-by requests of salespeople, companies highlighted in newspaper articles, users of your equipment, supplier leads, information from rental and service dispatchers.
Teleprospectors must “bond” with and be accepted by salespeople. Otherwise, their leads may not be taken seriously or they won’t get feedback and discouragement follows.
Involve your Suppliers
The most successful material handling distributors engage their key suppliers in conversations about marketing plans each year. They work with suppliers to leverage the tools suppliers make available. Perhaps together you and your key suppliers can brainstorm ideas or leverage resources you didn’t know were available. You may motivate your suppliers to create new tools. Make a list of your top five suppliers. Call their top marketing executives and discuss how you can work together to build a marketing program.
If your market and your sales are hesitating, it’s your responsibility to make something happen. Marketing— more or less? It’s really not a choice!
|Meet the Author
Gary T. Moore is president of Materials Handling Equipment Company in Denver, Colorado. He served as president of MHEDA in 1998 and is a frequent speaker at industry workshops and seminars.