Online networking makes a contribution to several distributors’ bottom lines.
Companies across all industries spend large amounts of money on advertising in hopes of convincing consumers to buy their product. But there is an advertising avenue that has a global reach greater than any other marketing avenue. Social media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are free marketing opportunities that can aid in acquiring sales leads. Some material handling companies have begun implementing social networking into their marketing efforts and so far have seen success.
Facebook boasts more than 600 million users, with almost 150 million of those users coming from the United States. Twitter reaches another 145 million people globally and LinkedIn has over 80 million users worldwide. Each of these users is a potential consumer.
And it isn’t only high school and college kids using these services. According to a study done by iStrategyLabs, a social media marketing firm, 60 percent of all U.S. Facebook users, nearly 90 million people, are over the age of 24. As a matter of fact, the over-55 demographic saw the second-highest percentage of new Facebook users in 2010, increasing by more than 58 percent to 15.5 million users.
Ways Social Networking
• Connect with old friends working at a potential customer’s business.
• Promote sales promotions and product specials.
• Receive leads from or forward leads to other distributors and suppliers.
• Build a network of customer followers.
Social Media for Business
While some executives think social networking sites are only useful for getting back in touch with old friends, they are also a veritable gold mine for businesses. Every company in the Fortune 500 has an executive presence on LinkedIn. According to the American Express OPEN Small Business Monitor, 40 percent of small business owners use some form of social networking to increase marketing efforts. Social media can be vital tools because they invite a direct link to customers, who will provide companies with unfiltered feedback and critique. They are also free to use. Social media can be valuable for the same reason that networking events are valuable, they build connections and relationships. Think of these platforms as professional networking, rather than social interaction.
One of the biggest advantages of using online networking platforms is that they are free. They do not require a costly investment to use, unlike other forms of marketing. Television advertisements are expensive and, according to a study done by Nielsen, generate a positive ROI only 18 percent of the time. That number may be declining with the advent of TiVo and other digital video recorders. According to the same survey, 90 percent of TiVo users opt to fast-forward through commercials altogether. Online networking sites don’t require the same investment and are becoming a more effective way to generate sales leads. Genius.com reports that 24 percent of social media leads convert to sales opportunities. Dell has made over $7 million in sales via Twitter. Customers are increasingly turning to social media sites first for their material needs.
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Customers are also taking to social media to review and critique products and brands. Customers can offer unbridled praise or criticism of a company on social media without fear of retribution. Customers are the boss, and while they may not always say things that executives want to hear, they give insight into things that can be fixed and implemented to improve products and services. Likewise, these platforms give companies the opportunity to communicate directly with customers and begin a relationship. Communication can now become a two-way street, something that traditional advertising could not offer.
That two-way conversation is important. On sites like Facebook and Twitter, people are given the option to “like” or “follow” a company. They do so of their own volition, and anytime a company sends a message out to its followers on social media they are sending it out to a targeted audience. The audience signs up specifically to hear what a company has to say and, therefore, is much more likely to be receptive of the message. Social media is an excellent place to publicize but at its core is about creating and maintaining relationships.
Material Handling and Social Media
Some MHEDA members have begun to see results from the implementation of such online networking strategies. Each member interviewed for this story stressed the importance of relationship building, rather than strict promotion. These members were able to gain sales leads through online networking platforms that made for an immediate return on investment.
As the stories on the following pages demonstrate, social media are having a real, tangible effect on businesses and their bottom lines. Like those who resisted the Internet and email when they first came out, eventually social networking will become the standard and will have to be adopted. Material handling companies who wisely embrace these tools may be able to profit as well.
Social Media Statistics
Facebook has more than 600 million active users. Twitter has 145 million and LinkedIn has 80 million.
There are 150 million Facebook users in the United States. 90 million of them are over the age of 24.
More than 15.5 million Facebook users are over the age of 55.
Every company in the Fortune 500 has an executive presence on LinkedIn.
Dell has made more than $7 million in sales via Twitter.
Facebook surpassed Google as the most-visited website in 2010.
About 40 percent of small businesses use social media for marketing purposes.
Social Media Success Story
Modern Generates a Sale
Summary: Modern Group creates sales leads through posts on its company Facebook page.
Modern Group (Bristol, PA) is a very active participant in online networking. Marketing Manager and Webmaster Rob Carcione is in charge of the company’s social media profile and has seen tremendous results from social media marketing. The company was able to sell two 1,000-watt Honda generators after posting a sales special on its Facebook fan page. A customer, with whom the company had never done business, saw the post and responded. Modern, who has 239 Facebook fans, was able to set him up with an account and complete the transaction in under a week. The customer has since returned to the company for more business. “With Facebook getting more visits than Google, why would you not be utilizing this medium? It’s a great way to promote your products and services. It’s also great for your search engine optimization. You want people to get to your website,” says Carcione.
The success of Modern’s search engine optimization efforts often leads customers outside of the company’s primary area to contact them for business. Carcione recalls one customer from California who contacted Modern Group after coming across its website while searching for used Hyster forklifts. In situations such as this, Carcione reaches out to other Hyster dealers in his network to aid the customer. He is a “fan” of Papé Material Handling (Eugene, OR) on Facebook and sent the sales lead to them. “With leads like that, we reach out through Facebook to grow our followers and get companies to reciprocate. There’s a good possibility of doing more business in the future that way,” says Carcione.
Social Media Success Story
Cisco-Eagle Utilizes Sales Pipeline
Summary: Cisco-Eagle uses personal relationships to gather business.
Cisco-Eagle (Dallas, TX) President and CEO Steve Strifler has seen a number of jobs materialize through employees’ contacts on LinkedIn and Facebook. One of the company’s sales representatives reconnected with an elementary school friend after 20 years. As they reconnected, the sales rep found out that the man, Steve Wimberley, worked at City Pipe and Supply and that his company needed general line items for the new offices they were building. Cisco-Eagle was able to provide the Odessa, Texas-based company with shelving, rack, cantilever, pallet jacks and other material handling equipment. The companies retain a business relationship to this day. Strifler knows that growing and cultivating relationships is a major factor in the success of social networking. He says, “Most business is done where there is a former relationship. That’s where social media has benefitted us most.”
Social Media Success Story
AK Material Handling Racks Up A Sale
Summary: Sister company Wholesale Pallet Rack Products utilizes Twitter to make the sale.
Joshua Smith, director of sales and operations at AK Material Handling Systems (Maple Grove, MN), used his 609 followers on Twitter to provide a dealer with a quick solution to a customer need. After Excel Storage Products went out of business last year, it became very difficult for customers to find Prest Lock 1 frames and beams. Wholesale Pallet Rack Products, a sister company to AK Material Handling, had worked on a warehouse project that had allowed them to take in some of the frames, which many companies still have in their warehouses. After they got the product, Smith sent out a tweet to WPRP’s dealers notifying them that they had the Prest Rack beams. “As it turns out, one of our dealers had a customer that had recently damaged its uprights with a forklift. We were able to provide the dealer with the product in less than 48 hours,” Smith says. WPRP and AK have been early adopters of social media because, as Smith puts it, “Somewhere online right now, customers are talking about your brand, your products and your services. Why not join in to see what they are saying or give information about what your company has to offer?”