Even as ecommerce evolves, wholesalers for independent retail stores -- often known as mom-and-pop stores -- still live and die by their sales reps. One wholesale marketer wanted to see what could be done online, particularly with a targeted newsletters, to better connect their 60,000 customers with their field reps while keeping the sales force in the loop.
“The tradition in this industry is for the manufacturers to produce a print catalog, to ship these catalogs to their sales representatives and to ship some samples,” says Suzy Teele, Marketing Strategy Consultant, OneCoast. “The sales representative [then has] to load that into his or her car, drive to a retailer’s store, hope that the retailer … has some time to sit down with us and look through this catalog, usually while the store is open. For about 40 years, this is how the entire industry, not just OneCoast, sold.”
OneCoast helps their retail clients stock their shelves with wares from more than 400 manufacturers in the home decor, gift and collegiate markets. Direct, face-to-face sales make up 80% of their annual revenue. With such a high percentage of sales coming from field salespeople, any online marketing strategy has to include them as a central component.
Teele knew that email marketing could drive more retailers to their regional sales reps, who could then generate more sales, so she and her team developed an email newsletter program that sent tips on better retail management practices and feature manufacturers’ products. The newsletters also prominently displayed their regional sales representatives.
Response from retailers who received OneCoast’s Advisor newsletter has been significant.
- Retailers order 36% more often than those who don’t subscribe to the newsletter.
- Their orders are 13% larger.
- Overall sales to the average retailer are 54% higher with those who receive email than those who don’t, says Jeremy Hirsch, VP Marketing, OneCoast.Creating a Newsletter - 6 Tips
Here are tips from Hirsch and Teele on how to create an email newsletter that encourages face-to-face sales to retailers:
-> Tip #1. Send targeted emails
If your sales reps are separated by region, target your subscribers by region. If your sales reps are separated by product type, target your retailers in the same way. This focuses on the sales rep that your customer should deal with.
“We don’t drive [our customers] to the Web site. We drive them to their specific sales person,” Hirsch says.
-> Tip #2. Advertise your vendors’/manufacturers’ products
Don’t rent out advertising space in your email to third parties. Instead, use the space to sell your manufacturers’ products. One way is to promote their discount offers and promotions for holiday items.
-> Tip #3. Send timely information
“Our industry tends to be four to six months ahead of when you see [seasonal products] in stores,” Teele says. This means retailers start thinking about Christmas in July. Your email newsletter should reflect that thinking.
-> Tip #4. Include useful, specific and concise information
Retailers are busy. Many are on the sales floor by day and manage their business by night. They don’t have time to read long-winded or irrelevant information. The content in your newsletters must be to the point and useful.
-> Tip #5. Create an attractive email
Your email newsletter should look as good as it is functional when it’s marketing to retailers. It is a sales tool, after all. “This industry is very fashion-oriented, so the email can’t be just functional. It has to be pretty flashy,” says Teele.
Consider going outside for help from an agency specializing in enewsletters if you don’t have a creative department.
-> Tip #6. Keep sales reps in the loop
When your business depends on your sales representatives, it’s important to make them feel comfortable. You don’t want them to think you’re pushing them aside for a Web site.
“Many sales people, whether it’s this industry or other industries, are afraid of the Internet because they think it’s going to replace them. We would never expect that to happen in our industry, because at the end of the day, it’s all about human relationships, and we look at the Internet as augmenting that human relationship,” Teele said.6 Strategies for Sales Reps
Here are six strategies to ensure that your online effort includes and promotes your sales reps:
-> Strategy #1. Compensate sales reps fairly
OneCoast sells products through four different channels:
o Product shows
Their reps are compensated equally across all channels for any sales coming from their active accounts. “If [the rep has] sold to that customer once in two years, that’s an active account. If it’s a new customer, then [the rep] won’t get it the first time, but if they go to visit that customer, then it becomes an active account, and they’ll get [a commission] from that point on,” says Teele.
This policy is important because it helps your sales reps feel supported by your company, and makes them want to evangelize your company’s Web site.
-> Strategy #2. Notify reps of new customers in their region
OneCoast’s Web site is a big driver of new sales leads. A third of their online orders come from first-time purchasers, who are then contacted to sale reps.
Make sure you alert sales reps to new buyers in their territory so they can follow up and make it an active account. This earns them commissions, and helps them sell more products.
-> Strategy #3. Communicate regularly with sales reps
Always let your salespeople know when their retailers are being contacted. This will help them coordinate their sales approach and keep them from sounding “out of the loop” when talking to their clients.
-> Strategy #4. Mention your rep as part of any communication with a retailer
Your sales reps should be a part of any message mailed, phoned or emailed to retailers. Messages should be sent on behalf of your sales reps. This will help coax retailers to contact the sales reps and not just place orders.
-> Strategy #5. Add a sales representative locator to your Web site
Your Web site is a customer resource. If a Web-savvy retailer has a question about your company, they’re likely to check your homepage before making a call.
Include a tool on the site that locates a sales rep in a retailer’s area. It will expedite the sales process and avoid frustrating potential buyers. This can be done with a simple tool, like OneCoast’s Find Your Rep; it accepts a ZIP Code and returns a list of sales reps for the area.
-> Strategy #6. Provide online tools to the sales rep
OneCoast offers the Web service My OneCoast to its sales people. The service lists new orders and new Web site registrations that have come from the rep’s territory. It’s another way for the reps to generate leads from the Web site and view it as a benefit to their jobs and the company. Useful links related to this article
Creative samples from OneCoast's email program:
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