A Breakthrough For B2B Marketers Who Sell Through Distributors



A dilemma that marketing and sales professionals faced in the early days of the Internet was whether to risk upsetting the applecart with their retail channel partners by selling products directly (B2C or B2B). Over the past decade, that issue has waned as retailers have created their own ecommerce channels and many manufacturers began selling direct. Any leverage that retailers may have had (i.e. the threat of “we won’t carry your products any longer”) has largely dissipated.

In some industries, particularly with B2B manufacturers, the majority of their revenue is driven through distribution partners. Often times, the product being sold is part of something else that’s being built, and these distributors are the hub for all of those related purchases. The relationship between manufacturer and distributor is often fostered through a sales team who is on the road (visiting distributors, building personal relationships, educating and servicing their needs). It’s then typically up to the distributor to “guide” the end customer to a particular product.

With all of that as a backdrop, I want to focus on the “breakthrough” that’s referenced in the article’s title. The breakthrough we’re seeing is that to a much greater degree than ever before, manufacturers are allocating budget to drive visitors / customers to their distributer partners. That may seem logical and long overdue and it is.

However, the difficulty (historically and still today) is that in most cases, it’s nearly impossible to track which activities drove sales of your product through a distributor. Was it a push from the manufacturer (digital or otherwise), guidance from a salesperson, word of mouth, etc.? So, how then can a manufacturer justify digital advertising when they have no clear-cut understanding of whether it’s working or not?

The justification has become a whole lot easier since the Pandemic began, as all of the face-to-face opportunities to build relationships and make sure that distributors are recommending your products has disappeared. Additionally, savvy Digital Marketers are also able to generate demand / interest for their products with their end-user customer; which can mean driving them to their distributor network.

Manufacturing companies with unused budgets for travel, trade show booths, etc. are now warming up to the idea that although they may not be able to control (or have visibility into) the full sales cycle, that there is a benefit nonetheless from engaging in Digital Marketing to stay in front of their target audience and drive actionable results through distributors. At the very least, they are seeing enough digital activity from competitors that they are becoming more interested / engaged in digital.

Tradeshows and other in-person opportunities will be viable again someday, but in the meantime, Digital Marketing is front and center. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where momentum gained during this crazy time will not somehow be maintained down the road.

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