Manufacturers: How Are You Getting Closer to Professional Tradesmen?

By John Sonnhalter, Founder, Sonnhalter

Beyond the normal marketing tactics you do, what are you doing to get closer to your contractors and LISTEN to what their issues are? listening to tradesmen

May I suggest a tradesmen council? You all have brand advocates out there, why not get them together a few times a year? By doing so, you can get a better sense of what’s happening in their world and what keeps them up at night. It’s also an opportunity to run new product ideas by them before putting them into production. If you make the meetings about them and not you, the outcome will be more positive.

You know these guys talk to each other either through social media and forums or at trade events. Meetings can be planned around major trade shows or association meetings. You’d simply invite them to come in a day ahead of time for a half-day meeting.

I’d also suggest that some of the meetings be held at your location (at your expense) so they get to meet other members of your team. Keep these meetings on track with an agenda that includes issues they want to talk about as well. There also should be action items coming out of each meeting where they can see that you actually did listen and are taking some action. Note that all action items don’t have to have a positive resolution, but the council needs to know that you at least took it under consideration.

Other than the ultimate end user, do you sell through independent reps and or distributors? These should be on your radar screen to get closer to as well. Rep and distributor councils can also reap great results.

Reps are in the trenches daily and can give you valuable insights not only on the end user level, but also what’s happening at the distributor level. Distributors can give you insights on not only current avenues of business, but might be able to point out possible new areas of growth.

Bottom line is, I’ve seen firsthand what a well-planned council can bring to a company. It’s a great long-term strategy that will help you set your brand apart.

What do you doing to get closer to your contractors?

Like this post? Read How to get more out of your B2B strategies to reach the professional tradesman.

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Manufacturers: Are You Missing an Opportunity to Build Better Relationships With Your Distributors?

Most of the manufacturers we deal with sell through various distribution channels. The relationships range from true partnerships to a necessary evil. Most manufacturers have missed an opportunity to build relationships by not utilizing an old technique called a distributor council. We did a survey to a group of manufacturers who sell through distribution and 85% of them haven’t used this marketing tool.

I think with the market changes after 2008 and the rise of social media, that some of the old traditional ways of building relationships were put on the back burner. If your goal is to build lasting relationships with key distribution partners, you might want to consider a distributor council.

The group has several purposes:

▪ Reinforce your commitment to the industry

▪ Discuss industry trends

▪ Identify ways you can better serve them

▪ Identify new product opportunities

It’s a great way to say thanks to those who have been loyal to you and a way to build loyalty with some distributors that have you on as a supplier but is splitting the business with one of your competitors. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve seen those kinds of distributors come to a meeting like this, and after hearing stories from your brand-loyal distributors on how you really bring value to the table that orders start increasing.

Here are the basic  items for you to consider for a distributor council:

  • Identify 10-12 key distributors. Ask them for a 3-year commitment (rotating 3 off each year to be replaced by new ones). Make  sure they know this just isn’t a social event.
  • Have two meetings a year. One at your facility so they can interact with other members of your team, and one somewhere nice and warm in the winter.
  • You pick up all expenses.
  • During the course of the year, if a new opportunity surfaces or you want feedback on a possible new product, get their input.

Possible Topic Areas to cover in meetings:

1.   Product Training

▪ What kind of training are they looking for?

▪ What are other manufacturers doing?

2.   Sales Force

▪ How can they help you sell more product?

▪ How do you rate our salesmen (weak/strong points)?

3.   EDI

▪ How important is it to you?

▪ What systems are you currently working on?

▪ How many of your other manufacturers offer EDI?

4.   Marketing Support

▪ What can we do to help you sell more products?

▪ What kind of support do your other manufacturers offer?

▪ Review and evaluate marketing support we currently have.

▪ How important is the Web in your sales operation?

▪ Would you use direct mail programs targeted at end users if we supply them?

▪ What do other manufacturers do that work well for you?

5.   New Products

▪ Ideas on new products?

▪ Ideas on improvements to current products?

6.   Pricing/Service

▪ How do we stack up against the competitor?

▪ What are our strengths and weaknesses?

▪ What are our competitor’s strengths and weaknesses?

The key is to put together an action item list coming out of the meeting and get back to them on items you will be taking action on. This will show them that their input has been heard and is valuable. Let them know upfront that anything can be on the table, but that doesn’t mean that all items will be acted upon.

Distributor council meetings can be worth their weight in gold if handled properly. Have you had an opportunity to participate in any? I’d like to hear your thoughts.

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