By definition, the wholesale distribution industry buys products from manufacturers or suppliers in bulk and sells them at wholesale prices to customers, who are often commercial enterprises, business professionals, or retail stores.
Marketers can add value by affecting all phases of the customer lifecycle, working across functions across sales and e-commerce teams.
The industry’s traditional focus is primarily on the logistics and sales aspects of the business, such as offering a large assortment, fast delivery options, and ongoing customer relationship management. For a long time, fulfilling the promise of product availability and delivery has been the basis for building and maintaining an excellent reputation.
In wholesale distribution, the marketing function is often given limited resources and budget as opposed to sales staff who can meet buyers face to face to build personal relationships. Wholesale marketing assignments focused on creating promotional ads, email campaigns, and home page design, later expanded to include social media management. Their responsibility was to raise awareness and interest as the sales teams generate new or existing leads. The marketing and sales team often worked in silos, which created tension and prevented each team from fully carrying out their jobs, Gartner reported.
With the growing importance of digital sales channels and the strategic imperative to put customers at the center of all activities, the role of marketing is becoming more and more important. Now, marketers can add value by influencing all phases of the customer lifecycle, and work cross-functionally across sales and e-commerce teams to effectively contribute to the company’s bottom line.
Marketing and Sales Alignment
Until now, lead generation has been the primary responsibility of sales teams. Salespeople have been held responsible for identifying opportunities at the same time as existing clients while recruiting new clients.
This trend is beginning to shift, forecasts Forrester Research for 2022, “Instead of creating separate customer lists and customer marketing teams, multiple organizations are being integrated into a unified revenue marketing team that embraces the overall customer lifecycle.” Forrester adds that the newly established Revenue Marketing teams will use “ABM [account-based marketing] and other digital marketing techniques to interact with potential customers and customers at every stage of the buying and post-purchase process.”
ABM is a strategic approach to designing and implementing highly targeted and personalized marketing initiatives to drive business growth. For wholesale, ABM’s approach often translates to specific, high-value customers that are targeted through personal marketing and sales activities. ABM is a long-term strategy, where the key to success is that sales and marketing should be in a closed move for a long time, ideally along the entire customer lifecycle. ABM software can provide distributors with the ability to orchestrate custom, multi-touch marketing programs at scale across a variety of tactics such as emails, advertisements, events, direct mail, social media, cold calling, and more.
The impact of marketing on e-commerce activity
Marketing personnel can play a positive role in supporting increased traffic and the growth of an e-commerce online store through a variety of tactics. For example, marketers can coordinate paid search ads, social media campaigns, and organic search through search engine optimization (SEO) means. Especially for the latter, the marketing and e-commerce team must work together, as B2B SEO is a combination of technical know-how, analytics, buyer personality, and journey insights, as described by Gartner. A successful SEO strategy can be developed and implemented by joining forces and leveraging knowledge across different departments.
Leveraging the marketing department’s knowledge of a customer’s buyer journey and customer research tools can also help improve your online store’s usability. Surveys or prompts for real-time customer feedback are a great source of information about what customers are missing or dislike and can point to features that deliver a good customer experience.
Using the Customer Portal as a Marketing Tool
Today’s wholesalers, like other B2B companies, are extending their e-commerce platforms to customer engagement portals, where the web store is only part of the offer. Customer portals frequently include many self-service and engagement options to keep in touch with sales and service representatives.
Customer portal offerings often include archives of order and invoice documents, knowledge base, training videos, and web chat. Some portals include a moderated community area where customers can exchange ideas or questions on specific topics. A customer portal can be the platform for almost all customer communications which can open up many possibilities for personalized content to better address customers.
Marketing can facilitate targeted promotions on the customer portal to specific groups of customers, invitations to upcoming events, or information as a service, for example, about market developments or changes in legal norms in the market segment in which the customer operates.
Marketing as a catalyst for growth
By digitizing legacy sales processes, marketing departments in the wholesale distribution industry can now seize the opportunity to break out of their niche and drive sales along with sales and e-commerce teams and support customer engagement activities across the end-to-end customer life cycle. By combining knowledge of marketing methods and experience in sales, an unbeatable advantage is created to meet today’s high customer expectations.
Susan Adam is the Principal Solutions Manager at SAP for Wholesale Distribution. Worked with client companies on customer engagement strategy and various projects in the wholesale and retail industry. Follow her on Twitter @susanneadam3.