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Targeting New Customers

Our company is a systems integrator and allied products distributor. Potential customers often open distribution centers in our area but purchase equipment prior to announcing their move and without contact with local suppliers. Local Chambers of Commerce and real estate developers maintain the secrecy of any projects until a formal announcement is made, usually after any equipment has been purchased. What strategies can be used to successfully identify and approach these potential customers early enough to have the opportunity to bid on, and hopefully win, a project? What marketing avenues can target potential customers that might move into our area?
– Greg Graflund, Executive Vice President, Grafco, Inc.(Memphis, TN)

Dave Griffith: We’ve had luck by proactively going out to the development community and supplying them with information on our services and the value of local distribution. We work this issue through our OEMs and their national account programs. I also have seen the consultant community work on these kinds of situations.

Ron Rechenbach: An excellent approach to learning about potential customers moving into your area is to develop a solid networking relationship with architectural firms and any local economic development organizations. Make sure that the economic organizations and architectural firms have a clear understanding of your company’s capabilities in order for them to provide referrals.

Duncan Murphy: The traditional sources—Dodge Reports, plan rooms, public records, tip clubs—tend to provide information later in the planning process. Try to get close to a few active developers. This can be tough unless you can offer them something in return, like new construction leads. Yale Equipment Services in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, uses an effective tool. YES requires that its sales staff ask each customer about their buying plans for the coming year. They get remarkably candid information due to the strategic way the questions are framed. You can find yourself a part of the customer planning team since you are proactively helping to plan and not just waiting for a chance to quote.

Jack Phelan: Imports (companies moving into our area) are our biggest challenge to identify. We use two sources to locate imports: realtors and economic development councils. Both require a lot of effort to create the trusting relationship that will get you in the know on a timely basis. We try to identify successful industrial realtors and make working with us worth their while by feeding them leads of local companies with additional space requirements. After success from a few of our leads, they typically share information about potential imports. It is critical to handle this information on a discreet basis. Do not put a lead source at risk by revealing its name. Regarding economic development councils, I recommend joining their organization and, if possible, getting on their board of directors. This requires that you work on your community’s behalf in an effort to try to bring industry into your area. A benefit of this will be information that again must be handled in a discreet manner.

Rex Mecham: Most organizations that develop major distribution centers in a new part of the country hire consultants to locate, design and specify equipment. Identify the trade organization to which many of these consultants belong and contact them by phone and mail to let them know how you can help them. I would suggest two ways to identify these consultants. First, talk with the folks at the distribution centers who have moved into your area and find which consultants they used. Second, there is the certified management consultant (CMC) organization where some consultants are registered. If you make contact with these people, you will have an early way to get involved before purchasing decisions are made.

Richard Donnelly: We use several strategies to identify potential customers moving into our area. It is a challenge because many customers have purchased their systems and products through their corporate offices. We are very involved with the local Chamber of Commerce, land developers, large contractors and engineers. Through these established relationships, we receive leads on distribution centers and manufacturing plants that are coming to our area. In addition, we review potential leads in Dodge Reports, which identifies distribution centers in various phases of engineering and construction. We will contact the corporate office, introduce our company, and explain the products and services we offer and the benefits of purchasing equipment from the local dealer.

Chuck Frank: We must have relationships with real estate folks, builders, contractors and local economic development groups. Without these relationships, we have not had much success. We are in constant contact with them, trying to add value in assisting and attracting companies to our area. The relationship with them is as important as the relationship with your best client. The relationship must be based on trust. You must add value and demonstrate how you can add value in assisting them with potential clients.

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association

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