E-Marketing: A Site To Be Seen
By Nick Bragg
In years past, jan/san distributors didn’t quite see what the business world was fussing over when it came to launching a company Web site. But fast-forward to 2008 and just about every distributor has had a change of heart.
In fact, a predominate portion of today’s distribution segment approaches its online presence rather aggressively behind fundamentally sound Web sites. And, today’s distributors have found their Web sites to be great lead generators in attracting prospective customers.
Distributors’ Web sites have also become an avenue to market their respective companies and services — and separate them from their competition. For a relatively inexpensive price tag, distributors have found that they can reach a wide audience via the Internet. The nature of the medium allows consumers to research and purchase products and services at their own convenience. Therefore, distributors who can bring quick results have the advantage of appealing to customers.
Traditionally, distributors have mailed newsletters to customers that contain announcements and new product information. Most are still sending them out via snail mail, but as postage costs continue to rise, some distributors have decided to send them electronically — through e-mail.
Distributors who have made the transition are finding it increasingly beneficial, as they can send out as many e-mail newsletters as they want to current or prospective customers. These “e-newsletters” are designed to be an easy and quick read as well as an informative educational contact with current business partners as well as prospective partners, says Marcie Palmer, marketing coordinator for Nichols, a Spring Lake, Mich.-based distributor.
Nichols has been sending out a monthly e-mail distribution to over 9,000 of its contacts since April 2007, says Palmer. The newsletters mostly focus on topics that Nichols thinks is most beneficial to its customers.
“Those include green programs, new or improved products in the cleaning industry, special customer promotions, and resources from manufacturers as well as from related organizations,” she says.
The e-newsletters have proved to be an excellent source for Nichols to get important information to its current customers as well as a simple and cost effective way to share what benefits the company offers, says Palmer.
“E-newsletters have been an opportunity for us to connect with customers and prospects on a more frequent basis,” says Palmer. “Rather than sending individual e-mails once a week, we decided to just bundle some of the most important topics in the e-newsletter. So once a month they’ll get an e-mail from us.”
So far, the company has gotten good feedback from its customer base.
“Our customers have learned that on a monthly basis they are going to hear from us about important information about products and about training,” says Palmer. “They tell us they look forward to them and that they can get the information they need from there. We’ve had a very positive response.”
Nichols has also found that by providing links in the e-newsletter that go back to the company’s home page, that it’s been a great source to drive traffic to the company’s Web site, as well as getting customers to purchase products online.
“We have seen an increase in our e-business traffic, so we know that the more people that we can drive to the Web site the better,” says Palmer.
But some distributors say it’s a challenge to keep e-mail addresses current. That’s because end users in the cleaning industry often suffer from high turnover rates.
Realizing the potential benefits that e-mail blasting brings to distributors, Eastern Bag & Paper Group, Milford, Conn., is in the production stages of sending targeted e-mail blasts to prospective customers this year. The company hopes that it will drive more business to their Web site, which in turn will help build e-commerce sales.
“We’re going to put together a database of potential customers and have a campaign so that those potential customers see a consistent message from our company,” says Ken Rosenberg, vice president of marketing for the Eastern Bag & Paper Group, Milford, Conn. “Coupled with phone contacts, the whole thing is trying to let the customer know who we are, so when our sales rep does go in, they have a good feeling about our company and what we’re about and the value-added propositions that we bring.”
A distributor can compile an e-mail database of their current customers by starting with their sales reps. Sales reps can record the e-mail addresses of those who are influential in the purchasing decisions and then log them into the distributor’s main computer system to continue communication. For prospective customers, distributors can have someone internally do the legwork of looking at their customers’ Web sites or inquiring about them via telephone.
Today’s distributors more than ever are using their Web sites as a compliment to what their sales reps already do. They’re also using their sites to add credibility to their businesses and are making them a source for information. Distributors are also going the extra mile to drive customers to their Web sites via modern technology.
Daniel Josephs, general manager of Spruce Industries Inc., Garwood, N.J., says the company used to mainly send out newsletters to customers as a lead generator, but because of time restraints was forced to explore other avenues.
So, Spruce is getting in front of its customers by promoting their company and its product offerings via their very own Weblog, “Spruce Blog”, which appears on the company’s Web site and is written by Josephs.
“The blog is for our non-traditional customers,” says Josephs. “We do sell over the Internet to customers outside of our physical range and the blog was more meant for them. What’s going on in the industry, giving our company’s perspective or our company’s opinion with what’s going on in the industry and looking for feedback.”
Josephs says the company blog, which he has been writing since December 2007 has not only helped drive visitors to the site, but has also helped boost online sales.
“We can definitely see a correlation between how often we post and how much sales we do on the Web site,” says Josephs. “A lot of it is just branding. We want to be known as sort of the experts in the industry. We don’t necessarily need the direct correlation, but if we get enough people to check back frequently, then it becomes almost viral.”
Speaking of viral marketing, distributors also are posting video testimonials on their Web sites to help drive sales from prospective customers.
“The video testimonials are meant to allow our customers to share first hand how they feel about doing business with us and provide easily accessible references for prospective customers,” says Palmer. “We thought it was very important to allow our customers to speak from their experience and share their story about how we’ve benefited them. The video does provide a great visual to the site and a direct contact with others who have had good experiences with us and are referring us as a supplier.”
Attracting customers to visit their Web sites, purchase products and be a repeat customer is a task that distributors will continue to keep their eyes on. By connecting with customers in a way they prefer and getting them to realize the benefits that distributors bring, is a good start.