Distributors should work to educate themselves about the digital environment through trade publications, professional associations and industry conferences.

That being said, trying to tackle the arsenal of digital tools available to distributors can feel overwhelming. Considering the alphabet soup of terms floating around on the Web — ERP, PPC, CRM, CTR, SaaS and SEO — it may be in the best interest of the distributor to seek the expertise of an experienced Web professional, or Internet marketing firm.

“There are tons of companies who will work with independent distributors to leverage the same types of programs that Amazon and Google are using,” says Cadell. “It’s something we need to invest time in if we want to do just as well.”

Technology consultants say distributors need to shed the traditional status quo, and acknowledge the importance of digital marketing. Distributors should be less focused on sales, and invest more heavily in developing their IT and marketing staffs, Blissett says.

“Distributors have typically been sales oriented — the sales staff drove the bus,”  says Blissett. “Increasingly, distributors are realizing that the marketing function needs to be far more assertive, and that’s going to be a really uncomfortable transition.”

More and more, the people who are purchasing the services within jan/san are younger than 35, which is exactly why distributors need to embrace digital marketing, now, including social media. Conklin says distributors are so out of touch with the next generation that they cannot yet fathom the idea of communicating through Facebook.

“In the 1990s, it would have been unacceptable to misunderstand the marketing of the company. These executives today have no clue as to how to market to those in their 20s and 30s,” Conklin says of social media communication. “They are afraid to allot dollars into it. In reality, it is no different than a sales rep picking up a phone call.”

Conklin says he describes the Internet as “a networking event” to help clients understand the importance of establishing a presence on the Web.

“Businesses have to understand that if you think of the Internet as a networking event, that is made up of several rooms — Facebook, Amazon, eBay, Buy.com or Sears — that if there are people in these rooms that have products to sell, they need to be in that room. You want to be where the buyers are. ”

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