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Lifting Sales Through Marketing

Even with technology, it comes down to building relationships.

The line between sales and marketing is often blurry, and yet, many Edgers who are new to the material handling industry are often placed in a marketing role, either as their sole focus or as part of their larger duties. What does it take to effectively market forklifts today, and what makes a marketer successful?

Many distributors do not have separate marketing departments- often, salespeople and marketing representatives work from the same department, or sales managers are responsible for marketing. For some smaller companies, this makes sense. “Marketing is a broader concept than direct sales,” says Gordon Morrow, president of The Bailey Company (Nashville, TN). “They’re under the same umbrella, though, because they have to work so closely together.” Other companies see the potential need for a separate marketing department in their future. “We are probably going to get to that point because right now, each sales manager is overseeing marketing efforts for their product line,” notes Tom Showalter, president of Herc-U-Lift (Maple Grove, MN). “We’ll need to pull it all together under one unified marketing effort.”

Regardless of company structure, some strategies can enhance marketing efforts, such as the ones below.

Supplier Cooperation
“If somebody sees an ad and goes to the manufacturer’s website, they can easily plug in a ZIP code and our facility will pop up,” says Richard Sinclair, president of Jefferds Corporation (St. Albans, WV). “I think it is pretty helpful.” Other distributors rely on manufacturers to provide catalogs, magaznines and other materials to help drive marketing efforts. For Herc-U-Lift, this means customized magazines and product information. For instance, one supplier provides a magazine into which Herc-U-Lift can insert a number of pages to easily personalize it for their customers. And for still others like The Bailey Company, there are also traditional co-op arrangements.

Internet and E-Mail
One of the biggest forces in marketing these days is the Internet. Its rapid growth over the past decade has opened up many new opportunities for distributors. “It provides an additional channel to the market,” says Ralph Logan, Handling Systems (Hayward, CA), “and is the least costly channel.”

While agreeing it is an important component in marketing, companies approach to the World Wide Web with many different perspectives- they may utilize websites, but in vastly different ways. For The Bailey Company’s Morrow, the Web is merely a first look at the business. “It’s an introductory tool to let them know we’re here,” Morrow notes. “Those in material handling need good solutions which come from personal attention.” For others, like Herc-U-Lift’s Showalter, the company website can provide up-to-the minute inventory information for both customers and salespeople. The company’s equipment is cataloged online, and inventory is updated every two hours, allowing customers to know what’s available. Salespeople can easily access check-in and condition reports on used equipment, allowing them to make an immediate proposal to a customer, even away from the office.

The Internet has also made other avenues available, such as direct e-mail marketing, through which product news can be directed to specific customers. “We can send an e-mail to customers with certain products highlighted,” notes Showalter.

Yellow Pages
Even with the rise of electronic information, many companies still rely on tried and true methods to market their goods and services. The Yellow Pages, once a staple of business advertising, is still a useful tool for most companies, though some note the medium needs to be used in tandem with others. The Bailey Company’s Morrow notes they utilize the Yellow Pages in cooperation with websites, an approach echoed by Jefferds’ Sinclair. “Younger people in particular go to the Web before the printed media,” Sinclair says. “We’ve got to cover all the bases.”

Cold Calling And Networking
While other approaches, including billboards, are used, there is general agreement that nothing can replace personal contact- companies are adamant that cold calling and networking are still perhaps the most important assets in a company’s marketing toolbox. “You’ve still got to go and press the flesh, meet people, and establish a relationship,” Sinclair urges. Logan agrees, saying 25 percent of his sales staff’s cold calls are done in person, while the remainder are done by phone. Relationships can be driven in a number of ways, from word of mouth to effective use of aftermarket services. Sometimes, even driving by a distributor’s location can drive a customer’s desire to explore available products.

To Succeed In Marketing, Be Honest
For Edgers who enter the field of marketing, there are some keys to success, according to MHEDA members. Product knowledge, the ability to communicate, and an understanding of the company’s market and objectives are key. In today’s ever-changing business environment, marketers must also keep on top of the latest trends. That makes marketing education important, says Logan of Pacific Material Handling Systems.

Herc-U-Lift’s Showalter agrees, adding that that education must include a thorough grounding in emerging technologies. “With the Web-based marketing campaigns, you need someone who really understands that technology.”

However, there are other qualities which are just as important, such as honesty. “You can’t go over the top with ridiculous claims,” says Jefferds’ Sinclair.

Marketing can be an important sales tool in its own right- raising your awareness of marketing techniques can help raise your potential customers’ awareness of your brand. Even with all the tools at a company’s disposal, it still comes down to people.

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