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Apr 22, 2003
Case Study

How to Get Your Distributors to Double Sales by Marketing to Their Sales Reps

SUMMARY: If you have ever gnashed your teeth when sales reps did not pitch your product or service properly, this Case Study is for you.

You will see behind-the-scenes in the Canon vs. Xerox marketshare wars; and, how one clever marketer used a neat little binder, a fabulous Webcast, and ESPN to get Canon's sales reps to literally double sales in a target market segment.

Congratulations! You have got a deal with a distribution partner who has agreed to have their sales reps push your product. Now all you have to do is convince their sales reps to actually do it.

It is not even remotely easy. Let's face it, sales reps are always going to focus on their company's product and not yours. Plus, as a group they are allergic to reading and research. They want to be primed with a pitch, handed a red-hot sales lead and sent charging in to close the deal.

As a marketer, you are now in the position of marketing to your distributor's sales reps. What works?

Claudine Bianchi, VP Marketing eCopy Inc., was in that exact position. Canon USA's sales reps were supposed to be pitching her company's software when they pitched Canon copiers. As she puts it, they were used to selling "boxes to office managers, not solutions to the IT department."

"They were used to saying, 'How cheap can I get it for you?'; to selling copy price per page, feeds-and-speeds we call it. They were commodity selling. All of the sudden we had to force sales persons to actually talk to customers, to understand their business problems and how the products could solve them."

Luckily, Canon's management felt that the eCopy partnership could give them an edge in their never-ending battle for market share against Xerox. They were willing to split the cost of a co-marketing campaign to educate Canon's 12,000 sales reps, if Bianchi's team could create one.


Bianchi's first step was to review stacks of sales reports from Canon reps. She wanted to know why they won or lost business with their current pitches.

The results happily astonished her, "We discovered that nine out of ten times when selling to customers [interesting in including scanning capabilities with their copier] if they included eCopy in their proposal, they'd win the account."

Next Bianchi researched target niches that she suspected would be the best prospects for the bundled Cannon + eCopy service, such as legal firms, the healthcare industry and accounting firms; all paperwork-heavy businesses. Her goal was to find out what the hot buttons were for those niches when it came to copiers and software.

Then she got together with eCopy's own sales team to get their perspective. What sorts of materials would make a difference to them if they were in Canon's rep's shoes? Also, what format would they want those materials in? Her reps told her:

- Give me an elevator pitch boiling down the whole pitch to a simple nutshell.

- Also give me all the details about features and benefits in a *very* easily digestible format.

- Give it to me in every media you can think of, including online, printed, CD ROM, newsletter and audio, so I have no excuse to miss it, and at least one format will be there at hand when I have a minute to get to it, whether I am on a plane, in a cab, or at my desk.

With these marching orders in hand, Bianchi and her team created the "9 Times/Out of 10" rep education campaign.

Step 1: Getting sales reps useful materials in every media

Bianchi's team began by gathering all of their research and recommended sales pitches together into one document that included product information and elevator pitches, plus:

- "Talk tracks" for pitching clients in specific industries, including questions to ask them to get them talking about their needs, such as "Is network security important to you?"

- Competitive data on Canon and eCopy's offering vs. Xerox's, laid out in a "Consumer Reports-style" format. "Each feature was rated with little stars in a chart and it included a little description of what its benefits to clients was."

- Product testimonials and accolades from current clients, press and analysts.

Then, they used this one mother-of-all documents to create the following materials, each of which contained the same wording and information, and which were co-branded with both Canon's and eCopy's logos to make them feel very official:

- An extranet Web site cleverly entitled ESPN (eCopy Supplier Provider Network) "You have to know who your audience is," says Bianchi, "in the copier channel it's 90% men."

- A business card-sized CD ROM of the Web site useful from a laptop when the rep was not hooked into the Net.

- A bright royal blue printed business card with the elevator pitch printed on it and a few quick reminder sales tips, useful for tucking in your wallet to quickly review just before a sales meeting.

- A brightly-colored 6"x6" binder packed with all the same content as the Web site and CD ROM. Why so small? Bianchi explains, "It had to be different to stand out. These guys are used to getting 8 1/2" x 11" binders in black and white with lots of boring text. Yadada yadada." (Link to sample art below.)

Bianchi's team distributed these materials together with a brief letter explaining that here was an "arsenal of selling tools to help you win against Xerox" (link to sample letter below) in specially made brown cardboard box through the postal mail.

Why a brown box instead of a pretty white or colored one? "The color seemed more industrial-strength," explains Bianchi. "These people are used to getting stuff from Canon, but very rarely boxes. The color gave the impression it was maybe a piece of equipment, something they should definitely open."

Step 2: Continuing follow-up via email

Bianchi immediately followed up the postal mailing by launching a weekly email newsletter to the reps. The first issue (link to sample attached) lead with a story headlined, "Help is on the way! A campaign to help you win against Xerox" which described the box they had been sent and included a link to the Web site for more info.

>From then on, every Friday morning for the next three months the Canon sales reps got a new issue of this short, punchy email newsletter in their in-box.

Every issue started with the compelling tagline, "A confidential newsletter to help Canon channel reps sell more digital copiers (Fast facts and information the competition would rather you didn't have)."

Along with newsy items such as price changes and new client testimonials, each newsletter included a segment of the campaign document information. If a rep did not read their binder, or visit the site, or play with the CD ROM, here was another chance for them to get the content in a handy bite-sized chunk.

Step 3: Whipping up excitement with a Webinar

Last, but not least, Bianchi created an interactive Web-based event to whip Canon reps into a frenzy of excitement about the program. She chose a Webinar because she wanted to show slides to impress reps who were more visual learners, and because it would be impossible to reach the thousands of Canon field sales reps in-person with field events.

The Webinar was scheduled to be an hour long (which is a normal length for these events). Bianchi wanted to keep attendees on board as long as possible so they would get the most benefit, and she knew bored people bail on Webinars in a heartbeat. She programmed a quick-paced event with five different sections, each with a specific point that complimented but did not overlap the others:

a. A 10-minute marketplace overview presentation from an IDC industry analyst: "We gave the analyst a scenario of what we were trying to do, our spin, and he created his own slides. He set the stage for the sales guys, telling them the world is changing, this is what your customers are moving to. He covered the topic very objectively and really conveyed the message that to compete they needed to take a new approach to the way they sold."

b. A 10-minute presentation from a high-level Canon executive: "He's pretty dynamic. He gave a good spin on the whole Canon, eCopy relationship and why this, why now, why you should push this."

c. A 10-minute speech from eCopy's head of sales who focused on "competitive stuff. Why this is much better than Xerox and how to sell against Xerox."

d. A 10-minute presentation from an actual customer (Bianchi notes she put this toward the end of the Webinar because it was the bit many attendees were most eager for, so it was a carrot to get them to listen to the first three speeches).

Her team found the customer, who was in the aerospace industry, when they were asking clients to fill out a PR form to elicit testimonials (link to sample of form below). The key in getting the customer to participate in the event was making it as easy as possible for him.

"We put his presentation and slides together for him. We already knew his story, his ROI, exactly how much money he was saving from our questionnaire. The slides had his logo on them and he pre-approved them. Then all he had to do was sit at his desk and show up virtually and walk through the slides. He didn't have to do any work."

e. A Q&A period rounded out the hour. Bianchi knew she would get too many questions from attendees, who could email in questions throughout the Webinar in prep for the Q&A section, to be able to answer them all. Plus, she did not want the questions to take any of the focus away from her carefully orchestrated main message.

She carefully culled the questions and picked just the ones that fit the pitch to be answered "on air." She also had a few canned questions that her team had made up just in case something critical was not asked.

Then, immediately after the Webinar, her team compiled the remaining attendee questions into a PDF together with answers from the experts. They emailed this PDF off to all attendees within 24 hours. The majority of questions were for the client and/or the analyst, so Bianchi's team shot them a list of suggested answers for their approval prior to getting the PDF out to the reps. That way the client and analyst did not have to do much work.


Canon's market penetration with the eCopy product sold to key corporate accounts more than doubled from 3% to 7-8% within the next few months. "The business continues to grow," notes Bianchi," We achieved 50% year over year revenue growth." Plus, Canon was so happy with results that they invested $16 million in eCopy in December.

More results notes:

- The email newsletter got a consistent 45% open rate which is high for a B2B newsletter and for anything targeting sales reps (who are not generally big readers).

- 10% of reps RSVPed favorably to the emailed invitation to attend the Webinar. To RSVP all they had to do was click on a link to a registration form online that was already pre-populated with their name and contact information. The form also asked a few brief questions, such as "What companies do you compete against the most in the marketplace?"

The answers to these questions showed Bianchi that her team was on target focusing on "how to beat Xerox" as their main point.

- Of the RSVPs, 75% actually attended, which is an extremely high attendee rate. "We were expecting a 50% drop-off, so we were very pleased," says Bianchi.

- 90% of Webinar attendees stayed in for the first 50 minutes, only dropping off when the Q&A period began winding down. "Usually you get a big drop off after 10-15 minutes," notes Bianchi. She credits the quick pace and great speaker line-up for keeping attendees glued to the presentations.

Last but not least, Canon's sales reps "absolutely loved the campaign." Bianchi says, "We worked extremely closely with sales to get the right information for them, and to present it in an easy-to-use format that met their needs. It honestly shows you that if marketing and sales work closely together, you have a high probability of success in the field."

Samples of creative used in this campaign, including the cover of the binder, a sample newsletter and client-testimonial questionnaire form:
See Also:

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