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The Specialist’s Marketing Primer – Understand and engage your marketing department
One of the trends in Electrical Wholesaling has been the addition of real muscle to the Marketing Department. In days gone by, marketing to most distributors meant keeping track of calendars, hats and other promotion items with a dash of events coordination. Any real marketing was the job of supply partners. But as the old Dylan song states, “Things, they are a-changing.” Leading distributors are engaging their marketing departments to create brand images, strengthen customer relationships, attract new potential customers and build a rock solid value proposition. I believe Specialists need to harness this new resource to grow their product/technology group sales.
Before we embark on our journey, let’s spend just a short couple of seconds learning a bit about marketing in general. First, what exactly is marketing? According to experts at the Chartered Institute of Marketing, marketing can be defined in this way.
“Marketing is the management process for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.”
With this definition in mind, let’s look at these three basic areas of the marketing process and how a Specialist can be of assistance.
Research indicates that the average distributor working our industry must replace 10-12% of its business every year to maintain current sales volume (zero growth). So, business growth is fueled with new customers. More specifically, in our industry business grow is fueled with new customers and finding new contacts within our existing customers. Allow me to illustrate this point. If your company sells General Widget Corporation motors, wouldn’t it make sense to find the engineer responsible for purchasing drives and motor control products? Technically, General Widget is already a customer, but identifying the contact will grow your business. Specialists are uniquely qualified to assist their marketing department in identifying both potential customers and key contacts within existing customers. 
Identifying potential customers
Think about which types of companies can make best use of your specific product responsibility. For instance, if you are an Enclosure Specialist supporting a new line of stainless steel enclosures, you immediately recognize that this product is perfect for food-oriented companies. This piece of information can help your marketing department identify new customers and your organization’s need to identify all the companies in your territory who process or package food. While this may example may seem relatively simple, you can never assume that your marketing department understands the application nuances of your product grouping.
Using the food-based example above, let’s look at all the things your marketing department might be able to do to reinforce your efforts. Once they have established that food accounts are good targets for you new product they might search for companies who meet the food profile. This is done via the SIC (Standard Industrial Code) Code. Since 1937 the US Government has classified every company in the US based on their end product or service. A few of the SIC codes for food related products are broken down according to the table below.

SIC Code
Food and Kindred Products
Meat Packing Plants
Sausages and other prepared meat products
Poultry Slaughtering and processing
Dairy Products
Ice Cream and Frozen Desserts
Canned Frozen and Preserved Foods
Malt Beverages
For complete listing information go to:

Your marketing department can use this information to obtain a list of every company with these SIC codes for your territory. 
Once this information is obtained, marketing collateral specific to these accounts is developed. Mailings, brochures, and “email blasts” can be developed to promote the product to the customers who would be most interested.
Identifying the contacts
It’s not enough to just identify customers. Knowing the right contact within the account can step marketing to the next level. Progressive distributors have begun to segment their customer contact list. Segmentation based on product/technology interest and position really enables use of targeting mailings.
To illustrate how this might work, let’s go back to our enclosure for the food company example. Suppose your new product was required to meet some new safety code. A focused mailing to the Plant Safety Director at each of these plants would be greatly appreciated. Without some sort of contact identification, every single electrician, engineer, maintenance person and other contact at the food based plant would receive a communiqué which really is intended only for the one or two people involved with meeting safety regulations.
So whenever possible work with your marketing team to provide not only customer based information but also the person within the customer most likely to be interested in your product and service.
Anticipating customer needs
The simplest form of this comes in helping your marketing department prepare the Spring Newsletter in January. As straight forward as it seems planning timely newsletters which accurately predict the seasonal needs of the customer is one of the first steps.
Changes in regulations come in a close second. Specialists are charged with closely tracking a very narrow slice of the distributor’s product offering. Changes in governmental regulations are drivers of change in our industry. The National Electric Code (NEC) is rewritten every two years and each time it affects the purchasing decisions of customers. Add the National Fire Protection Association (as in NFPA-70E) and OSHA to the mix, and it requires the expertise of a well tuned Specialist to accurately anticipate changing customer needs with respect to codes.
Specialists should regularly brief their marketing team on these changes and how they might change the needs of customers. The following questions should be answered as part of the discussion:
  • What seasonal changes will customers face in the next 90 days?
  • What new codes take place in the next 90-120 days?
  • How will these affect the customer’s need for products and services?
  • What positions within the customer will be affected?
  • Which products or services could be the best sellers?
Satisfying requirements profitably
Let’s face it, not all customers are created equally. Some are open to your value proposition and others are not. Competitive activity, economic conditions and local market conditions affect the way your products are received. Again, the Specialist is the best person for advising which groups make the best match for profitably servicing the customer base. 
This final requirement should act as a filter for the rest of your meeting. It’s not enough to identify all the food producers in your territory without some thought into which of these provides the best return for investment within the confines of your company. These discussions should include not just the marketing department but also should include the management team of your organization.
A recap
As the Specialist you hold the key to understanding of who uses your product, how they use it and why they value your knowledge. A few minutes spent with your marketing team makes your job easier and it brings more value to your position as the lead person for your product. If your organization has a marketing person, set up a meeting of the minds – soon. The annual marketing plan is just now starting to take shape and you need to make sure your product group is a part of that program.

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