January 18, 2022
You're not alone if you’re having a tough time competing against the e-commerce giants. Distributors will never win that game, at least not head-to-head. Susan Merlo, digital sales and marketing pioneer and creator of The Digital Distributor, urges CEOs to try a different tact: craft a relationship-focused persona online and power up the e-commerce and CRM assets they already have. The shift can transform basic online selling into an engine for lead generation and customer loyalty. Jason chats with Susan about what distributors get wrong regarding marketing and sales (hint: they don’t belong in the same department!), the risk-free rewards of automation, and creating a content-rich selling environment.
“If you give your customers more than an Amazon or Grainger experience, and you bring more to the table––like the consultative value that you bring to the partnership––then you’re not competing apples to apples. ‘If you compete with Grainger or Amazon apples to apples, you’re going to lose. Every time.” Susan’s cautionary advice comes with decades of serial entrepreneurship plus digital sales and marketing expertise to back it up. Today, you’ll find her teaching distributors to communicate their company’s value online and designing digital sales funnels that generate, then qualify leads.
Susan’s skill lies in translating face-to-face customer experiences to the digital marketplace. The process begins simply enough. She asks distributors to consider what they bring to the relationship and how they impact a customer's business. Susan says the often revelatory answers go beyond the fast tangibles of marketplace behemoths and form the core of a company’s online presence. Once that message is crafted, it’s time to assess the sales tech. “Constant Contact is fine to get started,” Susan says, but she recommends a more extensive evaluation for distributors with flashier (and costlier) platforms. Running a platform at half-steam is a sure way to miss leads buried within the data they already have.
Ultimately, Susan aims to help distributors thrive online. “Customer loyalty depends on how indispensable you are,” she says. “You have to make that message sound like they can't do business without you. And when they are with you, you have to be the only one in the room and make them feel valued.”
Susan Merlo is a Digital Sales and Marketing Consultant specializing in wholesale distribution. Her focus is on identifying growth opportunities for distributors by integrating digital sales and marketing solutions into their existing sales functions. Her strategies help distributors increase new and recurring sales, customer spend, customer retention, and profitability. Susan is the founder of Next Level iMedia and The Digital Distributor Program. Her book, "The Digital Distributor: Six Steps to Accelerate Sales," is a workbook-style guide that shows distributors how to build a strong digital foundation from which they can successfully communicate their value, manage, and convert more valuable leads, and serve their buyers on their buyers' terms. Learn more at https://www.thedigitaldistributor.com/.
“It's not about e-commerce at all. At all. Don't try to compete on e-commerce; try to compete on your solutions, your value as a partner with the business.”
“Distributors have to think out of the box to just keep their customers happy.”
“Just give the customer what they want. If they want to buy their products from Grainger, fine. When they're going to need a project manager or something like that, then they're going to come to you.”
“Loyalty is a very strong motivator for someone to stay with you. But you want it to be more than that; you want to be indispensable.”
“If your salesperson can't get in to see the customers, but you know the customers are coming to your website, your website has to have those conversations with those customers, so it's got to be customer-centric.”
“If you are using your CRM as a glorified Rolodex, you know what? You're wasting your time, and they should be scared. But if you're using the CRM the way you're supposed to, where warm or hot leads are coming in, and your marketing automation is actually tracking your customers, that's gold to a salesperson.”
“My only wish in this whole scheme of things is to make everything right. I want distributors to know what is out there for them to use [and] know the power of what they have.”
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Distribution Talk is produced by The Distribution Team, a consulting services firm dedicated to helping wholesale distribution clients remove barriers to profitability, generate wealth and achieve personal goals.
This episode was edited & mixed by The Creative Impostor Studios.
Special thanks to our sponsor for this episode: Connected Peers providing virtual communities for wholesale distributors.