Actions Speak Louder Than Words: Dealer & Distributor Marketing

“Our dealer network is a strategic asset and priority of ours.”

– Any number of manufacturers across the country

This is an easy phrase to put in your slides and say to your stakeholders, but for it to be really true, it takes intentional and disciplined action.

This sales channel usually represents 40% to 60% of sales and has a higher gross profit than direct sales channels. The channel is run by a combination of account executives and customer service representatives. These individuals have excellent dealer and distributor relationships. They know their customers well, and they can solve their problems.

The challenge for this group is that they’re dealing with both technical and strategic issues on a daily basis. They put out fires, take orders, answer questions, and share updates. They also travel, represent the company at trade shows, and educate their clients.

This diverse set of responsibilities is difficult to manage, and it’s nearly impossible to do all of them well. Usually, the hottest fire or loudest problem gets taken care of first. Then comes the direct revenue-generating activities, like orders and upsells. There’s not a lot of time left for strategic responsibilities.

This is where marketing can jump in and support, making a significant impact on top business priorities.

A marketing strategy for this audience supports the sales team and adds value to the dealers’ or distributors’ businesses. It combines marketing and communication efforts to go beyond handing these dealers marketing materials or logos. Lastly, it’s a strategy that’s built just for this channel.

If you’re building a case and budget for a more robust dealer and distributor marketing plan, here are a few points to help out.

  • Dealers want and need information – Dealers are usually small business owners or employees. They have a wide variety of responsibilities and priorities, so they welcome anything that makes their jobs easier.
  • They’re building a business around what you do – This one can not be overstated. We’ve heard manufacturers say, “No one wants another email, so we can’t send our dealers email newsletters.” That’s not true. Your products and services generate most of their revenue. They’re making big decisions like purchasing real estate or hiring staff based on the manufacturers’ business. Bottom line: They’re going to read your messages.
  • Dealers and distributors are smart, connected business people – It’s an easy thing to overlook because you don’t spend time in their business daily. Dealer principals and leaders are experienced business professionals, many of them having 20 or more years in business. They’re smart, and they talk to each other. If you’re not starting and feeding a conversation through regular marketing and communication to this channel, they’ll be talking amongst themselves.
  • Product & brand messaging – On a call with a dealer once, they shared, “We created our own product tour script and video.” The initiative is great, and their product knowledge was solid. But if the idea that your dealers or distributors are creating their own features and benefits gives you pause, that’s enough of a reason to put together a branded marketing strategy. Regular communication with this audience can put you in the driver’s seat.
  • If not planned, it won’t happen – Frequently, dealer and distributor communications get overlooked because it isn’t appropriately planned. It shouldn’t be an overly complicated plan with a hefty investment in technology or tools. However, it should be a measured, intentional plan that can be executed consistently.

This level of strategic thinking around how to market and communicate to your dealers (instead of through them), is a win-win-win. For the distributors, it gives them the information and involvement that they’re craving. For the marketing department, it can be a smart initiative that produces real, evident business results. For the business, a thriving, enthusiastic dealer network will drive more revenue.

To confirm the need for this strategy and to help form it, listen to your dealers and distributors. They will tell you what’s working, what’s not working, and what they would value.

A key sales channel requires more than just lip-service. Take intentional steps to give and get the most value from your dealers or distributors.

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