Category Archives: Tips

Maintaining Supplier Relationships After a Merger

It seems that supplier consolidation is a daily occurrence in the promotional products industry. In January 2017 alone, J. America Wholesale merged with Top of the World, FEY Promotional Products acquired Magna-Tel, Ball Pro acquired Diversified-Adtee, and Ennis acquired Independent Printing Company. With that kind of activity in the first month of the year, 2017 will likely be a record one for supplier consolidation.

While these mergers and acquisitions create cost efficiencies for the suppliers, many times it leads to confusion among distributor clients. Think of it as the law of unintended consequences – no supplier knowingly creates turbulence for distributors, but when a merger of two companies takes place, this is often the case.

Instead of waiting for communication from the supplier that’s been acquired, take the bull by the proverbial horns and drive the conversation. To ensure your business as a distributor isn’t negatively impacted, focus on the following when working with a supplier that has recently been part of a merger or acquisition:

  • Updated Terms – It’s critical to understand whether your terms with the company changed and, more importantly, if it impact any current orders. Finding out after an event date has been missed that a new policy suddenly put you over your limit may cause you to lose a valuable client.
  • Updated Documentation – Related to updated terms, find out if they need any updated documentation from you to ensure transactions continue to flow in a smooth manner. Do they need an updated credit application or resale certificate? Don’t rely on the supplier to ask you.
  • Don’t Blame Employees – It’s far too easy to vent to a front-line employee how things “used to be so much better.” Remember, they are also going through a transition which may include learning new systems, policies, and procedures. Giving the customer service representative grief about how the merger has impacted you won’t help the situation.
  • Provide Realistic Lead Times – Distributors who form the best relationships with suppliers for the long haul – especially after an acquisition – don’t abuse a rush order policy. During a transition, it’s imperative to give suppliers as much lead time as possible and keep them abreast of any significant changes to the timeline.

Developing and maintaining good relationships with a supplier after a merger is not a complicated process. Drive communication, ask important questions, don’t point fingers, and be realistic with lead times. Like the old saying goes, “treat others how you would like to be treated.” It really is just that simple.

Bill Petrie
engage@brandivatemarketing.com
brandivatemarketing.com
 
 brandivatemarketing
 @brandivatemktg
 

About brandivate

Bill has over 15 years working in executive leadership positions at leading promotional products distributorships. In 2014, he launched brandivate – the first executive outsourcing company solely focused on helping small and medium sized promotional products enterprises responsibly grow their business.

A featured speaker at numerous industry events, a serial creator of content marketing, Vice President for the Promotional Products Association of the Mid-South (PPAMS), and PromoKitchen chef, Bill has extensive experience coaching sales teams, creating successful marketing campaigns, developing operational policies and procedures, creating and developing winning RFP responses, and presenting winning promotional products solutions to Fortune 500 clients.

Beginners Guide to SEO for Promotional Products Websites


SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
is the activity of ensuring that a website can be found in search engines for words and phrases relevant to what the site is offering, primarily focusing on growing visibility in organic (non-paid) search engine results. SEO encompasses both the technical and creative elements required to improve rankings, drive traffic and increase awareness in search engines.

Whether you already have a website or are planning to build a fresh site using DistributorCentral’s Responsive Website Editor, understanding the most basic, effective SEO practices that you can do yourself can make a huge difference to your site’s performance since the majority of web traffic is driven by major commercial search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo!

There is an art and a science to SEO, and an endless array of websites and SEO professionals out there who can help optimize your website, but the following are a few easy tips to help you improve your SEO that you can do yourself.

1. “On-Site” SEO Elements

These elements are part of the content on each page of your website that should be optimized to help search engines accurately index your pages.

Keywords: keep it simple – choose of up to five keywords or keyword phrases in your web content that make it possible for people to find your site via search engines. There are many keyword search tools available online to help you find the most relevant keywords that will drive ongoing web traffic and conversions on your site. Keywords can be sprinkled throughout the actual page content as well as added to META TAGs on your pages, but having relevant, applicable content in the actual text on your web pages is critical to accurate indexing.

Title Tag: The title tag on pages of your website tells search engines what any given page is about in the most concise and accurate way possible. It should be 70 characters or less and include your business or brand name and keywords that relate to that specific page only. This tag is placed between the <HEAD> </HEAD> tags near the top of the HTML code for the page.

Meta Description: The meta description is the snippet of information below the link of a search result. Its purpose is to describe the contents of the page to the searcher. You want to write your meta description with a human audience in mind that includes the page’s main keywords, as the meta description does show up in search results. It should do everything possible to drive the searcher to click.

2. Additional On-Site SEO Elements

Internal Links – You can help search engines learn more about your website by internally linking to other pages on your website within your content. Leverage tools such as DistributorCentral’s “Custom URL Builder” to create direct, succinct, links to key pages or product categories on your site. For example, you could create a custom URL that, for example, appears to the search engines as “mywebsite.com/tumblers” that links to a specific set of tumblers that you feature on your website. Search engines love short, descriptive URLS when categorizing your website.

Header Tags – Using header tags helps both readers and search engines break up your content into digestible sections. Each page should have a main header title tag (“H1” tags in html) that describes what that page contains. Subheaders (H2, H3, etc.) can further categorize content on that page.

Image Name & ALT Tags – Search engines not only crawl the text on your webpage but they also search for keywords within your image file names, so name your images descriptively and in plain English. Alt tags are shown when you hover over an image with your mouse and they add SEO value to your website. Adding appropriate alt tags to your images can help you achieve better rankings by associating keywords with images. Using alt tags is an effective way for your e-commerce products to show up in Google image and web search.

3. Content

The key to pleasing both search engines and visitors is to have quality content on your website. Here are some examples of quality content:

  • Blog Posts
  • Industry Articles
  • Case Studies
  • Infographics
  • Videos
  • Podcasts

Creating quality content for your website can be a huge investment of time and resources, but it doesn’t have to be if you take advantage of the resources already available to you. Search engines love relevant content, and ideally visitors to your site find the content useful such that that they share it via social media, leading to even more visitors. You can start out simple by creating blog posts on your website, and as your audience grows, you can expand your content to include additional types of media.

4. Link Building

The basic goal of link building is to get other websites to link to yours.

Link Building Ideas for Promotional Products Distributors:

•    Submit guest blog posts to popular blogs in our industry and to the markets you sell to. Generally, you will get a link back to your website in an author notation. DistributorCentral often features guest blog articles in our monthly CentralZone newsletter submitted by Suppliers with relevant articles about product category trends.

•    Reach out to related (but not competitive) businesses to see if they will link to you. A good way to do this is to see if the businesses you work with have link pages on their site for partners, vendors, suppliers, etc.

•    Create local search profiles and social media profiles to attract clicks and generate more incoming traffic to your website.

•    Submit your website to applicable industry directories. For example, a promotional product distributor that specializes in custom wedding invitations and save the date magnets could get listings with a link back to their website on The Knot or The Wedding Channel and other similar sites.

•    Submit your website to the “local” pages of Google, Bing, etc., to ensure that your site is found “locally” when people are searching for services such as yours in your area.

•    Create your own or find Infographics to convey the power of leveraging promotional products in you clients marketing efforts. Take advantage of PPAI’s resources that speak to the power and value of promotional products:
Get In Touch Advertising site and the Promotional Products Work site

5. Monitor your Results – keep track of your SEO progress

There are a lot of valuable SEO tools available online. Start with basic monitoring to help you learn more about whether your SEO efforts are making a difference.  Google Analytics can help you learn more about the visitors to your website and monitor your organic search traffic sources to see what keywords people are using to find your website in search results. Monitor traffic to your website as you launch new marketing initiatives and learn from which efforts drive traffic to your site and which don’t. Adjusting your tactics as a result of accurate analytics is one of the most powerful ways to build your sites’ relevance and search engine rankings.

Blog Article by:
Stephanie Protz, DistributorCentral
Marketing Director

Get the MOST from your Service Providers

For those of you that are putting together your game plan for the PPAI Expo next week, be sure to take some time to reflect on the services for which you rely on Industry Service Providers.

It’s very likely that you may be using only a FEW available features, when a service provider may have a COMPLETE solution that can allow you to run you business from anywhere.

Start by making a list of the technical issues or pain points that you are looking to resolve, or a “wish list” of the tools that would help you to conduct business more efficiently.

Coming home from the show with tangible solutions to these issues will provide you a true sense of accomplishment.

Most often at tradeshows, Service Providers are lumped together in one aisle awaiting your visit. While they don’t have the flashiest, newest promotional item to impress your clients with, they do have valuable tools that can alleviate your biggest stressors.  A simple conversation may help you uncover ways to free up resources and time. Service providers exist for this very reason; they provide you the benefits of a full-time staff at a fraction of the price.

Do you really think that a “Technology Company” hasn’t made any new advances since you signed up X many years ago? If you haven’t checked in with your service provider since signing up for an account with them, you are missing out on the critical advances that are continually being made.

It’s the job of Service Providers to keep your business relevant and on track with continually evolving technology and support. No small or medium sized business can afford to fall behind with technology trends. Rather than being stressed about technology, small business owners such as yourselves have these tools readily available and often times for FREE.

Have a website? Is it responsive? If you do not even know what that means, it’s time to talk to your website provider.

Take advantage of meeting with the people that you rarely see. January’s brandivate marketing article Tradeshow Maximization talks about being mindful of your time on the show floor.

Step into your service providers’ booths and ask them to do a quick overview of the services you use and show them the list of your pain points. Making a personal connection on the show floor can be a big advantage. Most likely the high-level operations (a.k.a. technical gurus) are there and can offer valuable insight and might even decide to take on your project personally.

Set up follow up meetings on the spot so that you come home to standing appointments on your schedule. Hold yourself accountable for keeping these meetings afterward so that your pre-show planning efforts come full-circle to make your 2016 more successful and more efficient.

To help you get started with your list here are the top 5 reasons to visit with Industry Service Provider, DistributorCentral.

Top 5 reasons to visit the DistributorCentral Booth (#4661)

5. Brush up on the PRESENTATION TOOLS available that allow you to easily share product ideas with your customers.

4. Order ARTWORK SERVICES directly through your DC account.

3. Learn how to create and host COMPANY STORES for your top customers.

2. Download and take a tour of the DC APP for when you are on the go.

1. Demo our new responsive website builder and create a new MOBILE-FRIENDLY WEBSITE on the show floor.

*BONUS REASON: Happy Hour on Tuesday, Jan 12th at 3:00 pm, Booth 4661*

For more information view DistributorCentral’s 2016 Distributor Tools Brochure

Stephanie Protz, CAS | Marketing Director
sprotz@distributorcentral.com
@stephprotz

Tradeshow Maximization

After the merriment of the holidays comes a harsh reality: trade show season. The first major show of 2016 (ASI Orlando) finished yesterday and the “granddaddy of them all,” PPAI Expo starts on Sunday. Throughout the remainder of the winter are numerous regional shows, the TOM Shows, and finishing with Expo East in March. As a distributor attending trade shows, are you doing the right preparation to get the most out of shows you attend?

This is not your typical “wear comfortable shoes” or “drink plenty of fluids” trade show post. Rather, here key strategies to focus before, during, and after the show to maximize your investment:

Before the Show

  • Know exactly what you want to achieve at the show. Going to a show hoping to see “new ideas” is a quick way to minimize the impact a show can have on your sales year. Instead, look for specific products to solve specific challenges for specific clients. In other words, be specific.
  • Plan your booth visits and organize them as “must see” and “want to see.” There are many time vampires at trade shows; so by prioritizing your booth visits, you can assure yourself that you will see the most important suppliers and service providers.
  • Attend education sessions. At almost every show there is free education to help you grow your business. View the available sessions online and attend the ones you feel will have the most impact on your business.

At the Show

  • Be laser focused on what you want to accomplish. There will be countless opportunities to socialize outside the show hours. Work your plan and avoid the casual chatter that can derail that plan.
  • Stop waiting in line at crowded booths. If a booth you have on your target list is jam packed, move on. Waiting in line for even five minutes is a complete waste of your most valuable asset – time. Instead, go to the next booth on your list and make a note to come back to the busy booth later.
  • Carry as little as possible. Dragging around 28 pounds of catalogs won’t do your back any favors and will only serve to slow you down. Ask exhibitors to scan your badge and to send you the catalogs you feel you need.
  • Leverage technology. If you see a great idea, use your smartphone or tablet to take a picture. Then, so you remember why you took the photo in the first place, send it to yourself as an email attachment with a few notes so you can draw it back to a specific client project.

After the Show

  • Implement select key learnings from education sessions. Trying to take in and apply all the information you learned at education sessions is like drinking from a fire hose. It’s far better to take one or two ideas that will truly and positively impact your business over the following three months.
  • Follow up with your clients. This one is both obvious and overlooked at the same time. Far too often distributors try to follow up with all their clients the day they get back from a show. Plan to follow up with a few a day until you’ve communicated with each and every one.
  • Follow up with exhibitors. Similar to following up with your clients, get with exhibitors after the show to ensure you receive the samples or information you need to add value to your clients. With their hectic travel schedules, they will appreciate a friendly reminder.

Taking some time to plan your time at a trade show can dramatically improve the quality of the information you receive while you are there. If you don’t institute – and execute – a strategy before, during, and after the show, your ROI will vary greatly.

Have a great show!

Bill Petrie
engage@brandivatemarketing.com
brandivatemarketing.com
 
 brandivatemarketing
 @brandivatemktg
 

About brandivate

Bill has over 15 years working in executive leadership positions at leading promotional products distributorships. In 2014, he launched brandivate – the first executive outsourcing company solely focused on helping small and medium sized promotional products enterprises responsibly grow their business.

A featured speaker at numerous industry events, a serial creator of content marketing, Vice President for the Promotional Products Association of the Mid-South (PPAMS), and PromoKitchen chef, Bill has extensive experience coaching sales teams, creating successful marketing campaigns, developing operational policies and procedures, creating and developing winning RFP responses, and presenting winning promotional products solutions to Fortune 500 clients.

Effectively Responsive

One of the more trendy buzzwords in business in the past year has been “responsive.” As it relates to technology, the discussion centers around responsive web design (RWD). RWD is an approach to building websites that provides an optimal viewing experience across multiple devices – from desktop computers to a trusty iPhone.

Google made RWD a critical business issue in April of this year when the search engine announced that non-responsive websites would see a significance decrease in mobile search results. In other words, websites that can be viewed easily on both desktop and mobile devices would outrank sites that do not – pretty important when you consider the client-facing web experience is generally the first impression a potential consumer sees about an organization.

When the same word is applied to sales teams, it has a much different – and often, misinterpreted – meaning. To the vast majority of salespeople, being responsive means they must reply IMMEDIATELY to every inquiry, voicemail, email, text, tweet, or Facebook message from a client. These are the salespeople that struggle to finish quotes and client presentations on time because they have dedicated themselves to being the fastest responsive gun in the industry.

Responsiveness in sales is much more than being fast. Here’s an example:  a lead arrives from your (hopefully responsive) website and, to show how quick you are to respond to any inquiry, you call them within three minutes of getting the initial email. However, if you can’t answer any of the questions they pose, your speedy response time is not only irrelevant, it’s bad business.

If you don’t give relevant information or content that speaks directly to the needs of your customer, responsiveness has no value. A salesperson who is effectively and responsibly responsive knows that it’s a delicate balance of speed, quality, and control: 

Speed – Stop trying to break the record for fastest response time; instead, define reasonable expectation metrics for how long it should take you (or your team) to respond to emails, voicemails, and leads – and stick to them. 

Quality – In our information society, speed over accuracy has led to a dramatic erosion of quality. Think about how foolish media outlooks appear as they fall all over themselves to the first to report a breaking news story. Your clients would much rather you take a few extra minutes to provide them quality information than have you be the quickest to respond. 

Control – Clients who give you multiple projects at a time are notorious for contacting you numerous times a day for updates. A better solution – and one that your client will appreciate – is for you to take control of the communication process. Commit to sending an email at the end of every business day to provide status reports. Coach them to respond to those emails with any questions of clarification. They will welcome you leading the flow of information and you will enjoy the time saved by not responding to 12 emails a day.

Being responsive is much more than a simple exercise in quickness – it’s helping your client move through the buying process by balancing the speed, quality, and control of information. Doing so will help forge stronger and longer lasting relationships with your clients.

Bill Petrie
engage@brandivatemarketing.com
brandivatemarketing.com
 
 brandivatemarketing
 @brandivatemktg
 

 

About brandivate
Bill has over 15 years working in executive leadership position at leading promotional products distributorships. In addition, he launched brandivate – the first executive team outsourcing company solely focus on helping small promotional products companies responsibly grow their business. In March of 2015, Bill began a partnership with Proforma to assist their Owners growing their individual distributorships.
 
A former speaker at the PPAI Winter Expo and current member of the board of directors for the Promotional Products Association of the Mid-South (PPAMS), Bill has extensive real-world practice coaching sales teams, creating successful marketing campaigns, developing operational policies and procedures, creating and delivering RFP responses, and successfully presenting promotional solutions to Fortune 500 clients.

Living in Your Pipeline

If you’ve been in sales for longer than a week, you have heard someone – a manager, co-worker, or accountability partner – stress the importance of building an active sales pipeline. Even so, many sales professionals look at building and maintaining an active pipeline as a “non-sales activity” not critical to their growth. It’s time to think differently about a sales pipeline, using it as a guide to both strategic thinking and actionable steps to sales growth. To get the most out of your pipeline, you need to focus on three areas: the need, the approach, and the execution.

The Need

1.       Focus– You simply cannot keep everything in your head. Notebooks, sticky notes on your desk, email reminders aren’t going to give you the complete information necessary to deliver maximum efficiency. The pipeline is a system to manage leads, status, next steps, reminders, and other sales activities for you. As a salesperson, your time is best spent on the best prospects – the ones ripe to take the next step in the sales process. The pipeline will manage that for you.

2.       Messaging– At each stage of the sales process, prospects want different things from salespeople (type of information, frequency of contact, communication channels, samples, proposals, etc.). By using a pipeline with defined steps, the vast majority of this thinking is done for you and you can focus on executing each stage of the process.

The Approach

1.       No Selling– That’s right, no selling at all. This is especially importing in the early stages when your prospects aren’t ready to buy. Instead, seek for opportunities to become a trusted advisor – connect, educate, and add value. The more value you build, the more your prospects will seek you out when there is a need.

2.       Differentiate– As you communicate and build value along the sales process, take advantage of opportunities to stress differentiation and preference for you and your ideas. In a competitive marketplace, it’s critical to communicate how different you are and how that differentiation will make the prospect better off by working with you as opposed to your competition.

 

The Execution

1.       Stages– Don’t stop at defining the stages your prospects go through during the sales process, but also define your communication strategy at each stage: what do they get, how often, and in what manner. Defining this up front will make for much more efficient decision making and actions to move the sales process along.

2.       Content– Place a priority on providing great content. Be remarkable, educational, and memorable. Show them how working with you will make their jobs easier. People are constantly looking to be taught so seize the opportunity and teach them.

3.       Ease– Make it easy for prospects to move forward in the process. Create situations and content (case histories, samples, decoration swatches, etc.) that put the prospect in control of taking the next step. Because you and your pipeline have done the work up front by building value, showing differentiation, and creating preference, prospects will be eager to work with you.

True sales professionals do much more than simply build relationships; they take ownership and actively live in their pipeline – tracking how each opportunity is progressing down the funnel and making the necessary adjustments if an opportunity is at risk of being lost. These are the activities that separate the good from the great.

Bill Petrie
engage@brandivatemarketing.com
brandivatemarketing.com
 
 brandivatemarketing
 @brandivatemktg
 

 

About brandivate
Bill has over 15 years working in executive leadership position at leading promotional products distributorships. In addition, he launched brandivate – the first executive team outsourcing company solely focus on helping small promotional products companies responsibly grow their business. In March of 2015, Bill began a partnership with Proforma to assist their Owners growing their individual distributorships.
 
A former speaker at the PPAI Winter Expo and current member of the board of directors for the Promotional Products Association of the Mid-South (PPAMS), Bill has extensive real-world practice coaching sales teams, creating successful marketing campaigns, developing operational policies and procedures, creating and delivering RFP responses, and successfully presenting promotional solutions to Fortune 500 clients.

Engage Online Customers


Last month, DistributorCentral partnered with Technologo for an online webinar called “Keep Em Coming Back; How to Engage Online Customers” where we demonstrated various ways to engage customers on you website.

Tiffany Tarr, Vice President of Sales at DistributorCentral talked about some of the features that can be enabled on a DistributorCentral-hosted website that will enable you to be more proactive.

Being proactive isn’t always about finding ways to generate new business. By understanding the buying habits of your current customers you can anticipate their needs. Send them ideas well before their events so that you can avoid last minute rush orders.  One of these ways is by setting up Reorder Reminders. Distributors can setup automatically generated emails to their customers to remind them that it’s time to place a reorder. This is helpful for items like Calendars that are ordered annually.

Another way to be proactive is by sending customized presentations with products that display your customer’s logo. The Technologo Virtual Sample Tool can be enabled on your website and allow you to create virtual samples that can be used in your product presentations.

Stephanie Protz, Marketing Director at DistributorCentral talked about the benefits of implementing a Live Chat Feature on your website during last month’s webinar.  A “live chat” feature is a plug-in that can be enabled on your DistributorCentral hosted website that provides a quick and easy way for you to be proactive by reaching out to customers currently browsing your website. Questions can be answered in real time which greatly reduces instances where customers leave your website because their questions haven’t been answered. This type of functionality has been proven to increase sales, since it captures customers at the point of sale and helps them through the conversion process and checkout completion.

Create a sense of urgency by setting up a Discount Code to drive business within a specific time period. Discount codes are another easy and effective way to drive traffic to your website or encourage repeat sales. Whether you offer free setups, free shipping, or simple discounts we highly suggest taking advantage of this tool in your account and using it in your marketing efforts with your customers.

Lastly, take advantage of DistributorCentral’s Monthly Themed Product Specials. Themed Supplier product specials are available each month and are accessible on the homepage in DistributorCentral when you log into your account. These specials are also sent via email three times each month to Distributors subscribed to our marketing emails. This month we are featuring “Back to School” items. Looking ahead into this summer, you can expect “Sports/Fan Gear” products in July and “Awards/Recognition” products in August.

Each of the tools mentioned are available to you as part of the DistributorCentral suite of tools, or as 3rdparty tools that can be easily integrated into your DistributorCentral-hosted website.  Each of them also represent one more way to be more proactive in your sales efforts, and better leverage technology tools to grow customer relationships and generate more sales.

Being Proactive with Clients

The other day I was chatting with a friend who happens to be in the market for a new job. During our discussion, we were discussing strategies on how best to market him with his target companies. As usually happens in cases like this, it got me thinking about the importance of being proactive.

Being of similar age (disclosure – I am 45), my friend and I both remembered the “old” way of searching for a job. For those of you unfamiliar, it went something like this:

  1. Scour the “Help Wanted” section of your local Sunday newspaper for potential targets
  2. Circle the opportunities that appealed to you
  3. Carefully craft a cover letter to gain their attention
  4. Meticulously select the correct paper to print both your resume and cover letter
  5. Mail (the snail variety) both documents to the contact listed in the newspaper
  6. Hope and wait

That’s it. Other than physically sending out a few pieces of paper, the entire process was reactive. With easy access to information and social media, searching for a job today is a much more proactive experience.

Translating this to the promotional products world, I see many distributors that market their business in a decidedly 1990’s reactive mode. They create websites, develop branding, and craft marketing materials then hope clients discover them. Today’s marketplace is far too competitive to trust a business future simple chance and luck.

With so many technological tools – especially at Distributor Central – available, it’s easier than ever to be proactive:

  • Setting reminders in a CRM (or even Outlook) to keep regular and meaningful with clients
  • Automated reminders for quarterly or annual orders
  • Following up with clients with targeted questions regarding delivery on their most recent order
  • A monthly reminder to brainstorm an idea for a client and sharing it with them

Much like my friend who is seeking employment, one must be proactive to achieve success. By using online tools to automate the process as much as possible – and ensuring there is both meaning and value in each client contact – you will differentiate yourself from the competition who will continue to hope for that next big order.

Bill Petrie
engage@brandivatemarketing.com
brandivatemarketing.com
 
 brandivatemarketing
 @brandivatemktg
 

 

About brandivate
Bill has over 15 years working in executive leadership position at leading promotional products distributorships. In addition, he launched brandivate – the first executive team outsourcing company solely focus on helping small promotional products companies responsibly grow their business. In March of 2015, Bill began a partnership with Proforma to assist their Owners growing their individual distributorships.
 
A former speaker at the PPAI Winter Expo and current member of the board of directors for the Promotional Products Association of the Mid-South (PPAMS), Bill has extensive real-world practice coaching sales teams, creating successful marketing campaigns, developing operational policies and procedures, creating and delivering RFP responses, and successfully presenting promotional solutions to Fortune 500 clients.

The Siren Song of eCommerce

Do you hear the siren song of the company store? If you don’t, your clients most certainly do. Over the past few years, interest in selling eCommerce solutions has exploded. As a distributor, the appeal of selling an online company store is alluring but, if not properly researched, executed, and monitored, can lead to a very unpleasant outcome for all – lost revenue, non-moving merchandise, and a soured business relationship.

To avoid the potential negative outcomes of an online store solution, there are three steps every distributor needs to take:

1. Ask the right questions – As with so many things in our industry, success boils down to effective and honest communication. There are several dozen questions (at least) you should get clarification on before investing the resources necessary to develop a company store. Some examples are:

  • Does the client have a current online solution? If so, what does it look like (who owns the merchandise, how many products, stocking vs. non-stocking, reporting needs, how is it promoted internally, and how are merchandise substitutions handled – to  name a few)
  • What functionalities do they need from the web solution? Is it secured or open-ended? Is there a shopping cart feature? Do they need real-time inventory updates? How is the shipping calculated?
  • What security parameters do they have for the solution? Will it need to be fully PCI compliant for credit card processing? What type of encryption is necessary?
  • What does the communication process look like for the end user?
  • How is customer care handled?
  • How are returns handled?

2. Formulating the solution – Once you have a full understanding of what the needs of the client are, you need to develop the solution. There are several companies within the industry that can assist with this, including a robust program from DistributorCentral. As you look for a partner to help you, it’s important to ensure the solution you jointly create provides the following:

  • Replicate the look and feel of the client’s site
  • Preserve the user’s shopping experience as they transition from the client’s site to the merchandise store
  • Limited choice – too many products can be more paralyzing that too few
  • Reliable up-time

Many solutions – DC included – allow you to get as creative as your client requires: standalone domain name, credit card processing, and even the ability to upload custom client images to products. The key is to build a solution that will achieve the goals of the client.

3. Ongoing Monitoring – Once the site is built, many distributors assume the orders will just roll in without any further effort. The hard reality is that after the site launches, the real work begins. It’s critical to understand that a company eCommerce site is a living, breathing entity and must be continually monitored, updated, and refreshed. Having quarterly stewardship reviews with your client to honestly discuss the below is essential to long term success:

  • What merchandise is selling – and what is not?
  • What product substitutions need to be made?
  • Are there any customer service issues – and what is being done to solve them?
  • How is the client supporting/promoting the website?
  • How are you planning for seasonality of the merchandise?

Partnering with a client to create an eCommerce site for their internal associates can be scary. However, if you ask the right questions, partner with a company that understands the promotional products industry, and continually communicate with your client, you can avoid the rocky coast and sail your ship to success.

Bill Petrie
engage@brandivatemarketing.com
brandivatemarketing.com
 
 brandivatemarketing
 @brandivatemktg
 

 

Get The Freight Right

Use Technology To Calculate Freight Rates With Quotes And Orders

Kaity Morris and members of her customer service team are certainly sympathetic when customers express frustration about having to calculate freight quotes when ordering promotional products. They’re mostly quite pleased the frustration is not directed at them.

Morris is Customer Service Manager at HandStands, a Salt Lake City-based supplier focusing on air fresheners and technology accessories. When HandStands quotes a price for an order, shipping costs are included up front. No waiting. No guessing. No problems.

“It’s an extra plus in our customer service,” Morris said of having a real-time freight quote tool included in pricing calculations. “Our customers know shipping costs right up front.”

Obviously the technology to calculate freight costs when placing an over-the-phone or an online order is nothing out of the ordinary. Imagine the hesitation if consumers placed online orders at everyday retail websites with the expectation that yet-to-be-determined shipping costs would be added to the posted cost.

“Who’s going to buy something online if they don’t have the freight? As a consumer, can you imagine going to Amazon and then waiting two days for them to send you the shipping costs?”

That’s Jason Nokes, President of DistributorCentral and one of the team members who developed a freight calculation tool for the promotional products industry. It’s been just over a decade since DC made this function available, yet Nokes knows there’s some reluctance on the part of both suppliers and distributors to have shipping costs included in quotes and pricing, usually because of concerns about accuracy.

According to Nokes, the ability to nail down shipping costs is actually simple and easy. Accurate freight rates can be calculated in advance using real-time data from shipping providers and incorporating internal product and packing standards. The more data and variables plugged into the equation, the more precise the quote.

“Now suppliers are able to present shipping processes and pricing in a manner that’s accurate and positive,” said Nokes. “Helping customers determine how shipping will impact pricing becomes an appreciated aspect of the sales process.”

Feel the love
Tom Mertz, President and CEO of TradeNet Publishing, manufacturer of printed promotional products near Kansas City, offers no pretense about his reasoning for incorporating DC’s Freight Quote function in every quote and order.

“We want the distributor to love TradeNet,” said Mertz. “We realize our customers are busy people and are often working on a quote at night or on the road. If they can tell their customer what the freight will be, we’re making it easier for them to make the sale.”

Mertz said distributors have acknowledged they want to know freight costs up front. “A distributor will take the path of least resistance,” he said. “If they can get an accurate quote from one supplier and not from another, which supplier gets the business? It positions TradeNet as being in partnership with distributors by helping them make the sale.”

Economics is no small part of the equation where TradeNet is concerned. Mertz said a review of customer service calls prior to implementation to Freight Quotes was that 25 percent of incoming calls were related to inquiries and issues associated with shipping costs. Now those calls are rare.

“TradeNet was ultimately able to direct our Customer Service team to spend more quality time with distributors,” Mertz said. “We were able to better concentrate the efforts of our CS team to make it easier to make the sale and to do more business with us.”

Distributors sing a similar song. Rich Graham, Chief Imagination Officer at Dallas-based Big Promotions!, said having accurate shipping quotes at the time of sale is something “you just gotta have and that’s pretty much how it is.” Graham said Big Promotions! relies on the DC freight calculator, indicating it’s especially required for customers who make online purchases during the nighttime hours or on weekends.

Dave White, DEW Ad Specialties, Kansas City, said it’s important to have access to a freight calculator function because of ever-changing costs. “It’s hard to keep up with fuel surcharges that seemingly change on a daily basis,” said White. “It helps us to know we’re being provided accurate shipping pricing without any surprises.”

Simplified and Customized
While online Freight Quote programming is robust and detailed, the ability for a supplier or a distributor to add it to online or over-the-phone price quoting is not. Where DC’s tool is concerned, it’s a matter of the supplier or distributor completing a spreadsheet with as many shipping standards as possible, including product dimensions and weight per shipping quantity. The more detailed the standards and the shipping criteria, the more accurate the quote.

“We hear stories about suppliers using whatever boxes they can find to ship products in,” said DC’s Nokes. “The process of including shipping costs in quotes typically results in improvements of processes and functionality.”

Nokes said the DC software interacts with FedEx and UPS to generate real-time rates. The integration with the two primary shippers factors in the fluctuating fuel surcharges and thus keeps pace with changing rates.

TradeNet’s Mertz said the accuracy of freight quotes through DistributorCentral has exceeded his expectations. Over years of implementation and across thousands of orders representing hundreds of product lines, the quotes are directly aligned with actual costs.

“At the end of the day, we’re looking for a quote that’s fair in the aggregate to TradeNet and the distributor,” Mertz said.

Fully customizable, the Freight Quote tool allows suppliers and distributors to provide customers with shipping discounts or free shipping on selected products or special offers. The DC freight tool is automatically integrated with DC-hosted websites and can also be integrated into custom third-party websites.

“With this freight tool, suppliers are actually helping the distributor sell on line and give more precise quotes,” said Nokes. “Distributors, through their suppliers or on their own websites, benefit by making easier for the end user.”