Avoid a communication gap between the manufacturer and end decision maker through a multi-step distribution method
By Scott Kay and Sarah Helbig
While the multistep distribution process that many building products manufacturers use to sell provides many benefits, it also poses numerous challenges. Outsourcing sales to a third party can allow manufacturers to spend more time, money, and energy on innovation and production, but it often leads to a loss of control of sales and marketing. When manufacturers launch new products into the marketplace, the lack of a controlled strategy often causes product debuts to fall short of expectations. Adopting new sales and marketing tactics is essential to the success of new product launches and the overall success of manufacturers who sell through multistep distribution.
A communication gap is created in cases where there is a “middleman”—dealer, distributor, or even a big-box store—between the manufacturer and the end decision maker. Ultimately, a manufacturer cannot be sure if their brand and message are being communicated fully, leading to a possible loss of information. Further, these other constituents aren’t exclusive, often selling multiple other products, making it impossible to fully trust or guarantee their loyalty.
To overcome these issues in the current distribution system, a coordinated multichannel marketing effort can open up communication around the conventional supply chain, thus allowing visibility and engagement with the decision maker. Through methods such as email, direct mail, voice/telesales, sample fulfillment, product demonstrations and digital advertising, manufacturers can reach end users easily and at a lower cost than ever before. Owning the relationships with end users can help the manufacturer drive the discussion and regain control over sales. It also allows communication to be tailored specifically to the needs and perceptions of that single audience—which greatly increases response and engagement.
In many cases, even when information and marketing does flow through distribution points, it provides only part of the picture. While a product may be introduced, installation and performance details are not immediately available, and there may be an unclear distribution path or timeline for product availability. This can cause confusion for end users, forcing them to move to other products that are currently available through traditional means. Using a coordinated marketing effort is key to combatting this. By providing more complete information through a variety of sources, end users can be kept better informed on product specifications, timeline and points of purchase.
Even beyond delivering marketing messages to ensure constant and correct communication, having direct, two-way communication with customers and potential customers is important for gaining feedback from end users. In many cases, manufacturers don’t have a full picture of product usage such as packaging issues, ease of installation and overall product satisfaction. By opening lines of communication, manufacturers can gain significant insights that very rarely pass back through the typical supply chain. This is especially important for a new product whose adoption could be hampered by a variety of issues. Cutting down on the amount of time it takes to get feedback can make or break a large product launch.
While one-way communication is very important in driving sales, this two-way communication can also help long tail sales come to a close. In particular, more spec driven influencers such as architects and engineers often need precise information and discussions that just aren’t possible with a distributor. When a new product is launched, these professionals will often need to walk through product specifics with an expert—something only truly available at the manufacturer level. By opening those lines of communication, professionals can discuss specifics directly with the manufacturer at a granular level, increasing the chances that a product will be specified or purchased.
New product launches of innovative products have increased potential for success but often require builders or contractors to change their status quo approach. This is common as code changes require building practice to evolve, but builders don’t enjoy the risks associated with being the first to market. In these cases the two-way communication requires awareness of the change or trend followed with education to walk them through the new approach, which may use of videos and virtual training. A coordinated sequence of interactions to lead them to product trial as well as following up to ensure satisfaction and collection of their feedback increases speed and likelihood of continued use.
The building product multistep distribution method can provide many benefits, but also can lead manufacturers to lose control over the relationship with end users. By supplementing multistep distribution with direct to customer marketing through multichannel means, manufacturers can ensure constant, two-way communication and create better informed customers who are more likely to buy.
Scott Kay is the president of Building products.
Sarah Helbig is the product director for ChannelReach. For more information on Modern Marketing Concepts, Inc., visit www.mmcweb.com.