Why Digital Content Matters for Distributors, and How They Can Develop it

With more and more customers preferring a completely digital buying experience, distributors can ensure they are included in the early and middle stages of a buyer's sales journey by providing the right content.
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Contractors and other specifiers are busy people, often making buying decisions for multiple products every day. That means they all also need information, certainly about product specifics, like costs and dimensions, but also about the details that can help them save labor time or reduce callbacks. The kind of information that actually imparts product knowledge can be much more difficult to locate, which opens up an opportunity for distributors to grow their businesses by becoming a trusted online resource and influencing a contractor’s buying decisions.

“Digital content” is how internet marketing professionals describe both the transactional product basics and the more marketing-based, knowledge-building articles, product releases and how-to’s distributors’ customers are seeking throughout their buying process. Keith Peck, founder and president of IndustrySmarts and developer of the ElectricSmarts content marketing platform, says marketing content can be particularly important for distributors seeking to build stronger customer ties: “Marketing content is critical, as it is used by the customer to evaluate products and make purchasing decisions on the best product to suit a specific application or to reduce labor costs on projects.”

“For example,” he says, “since distributors are the first point of contact for their contractor customers, it’s important they don’t simply push their customers to manufacturer websites to get product information but provide their own marketing content on their websites and in eNewsletters for their customers.”

Susan Merlo, a business consultant specializing in digital sales and marketing strategies for the wholesale distribution industry, underscores just how important having online resources available for customers has become for distributors’ bottom lines. She notes that research outlined in a presentation by Maria Boulden, Vice President and Executive Partner with the consulting firm Gartner, found that 72% of buyers today would rather not engage with a sales rep. This figure is a jump up from 43% in November 2021, and 33% before the COVID-19 pandemic. Buyers will still engage with a distributor’s rep after doing their research, though, to confirm their purchase decision and close the sale.

“As such,” Merlo says, “distributors who want to be included in that research and who want to be considered as a viable option during the early and middle stages of a buyer’s sales journey are learning that to be a viable option, it’s imperative they provide the digital content their buyers are looking for.”

Editor’s Note: Susan Merlo is the featured panelist for MDM’s Nov. 17 Webcast, “Six Steps to Accelerate Sales Using Digital Strategies.” Get all the info and find registration here.

Taking this advice a step further, Merlo adds that it’s equally important that the content distributors offer is actually what their contractor customers are seeking. “Contractors are looking for content that solves their problems — it’s as simple as that,” she says. “Distributors tie all their content back to one product or another, when what they should do is tie their content back to what their buyer is looking for — information that solves a problem or offers an answer to a question.”

By taking such a higher-level approach, distributors can catch those customers who don’t quite know what they’re looking for, yet, and help them through the sales process to an eventual purchase. “When used correctly, digital content will segment buyers, qualify them, and drive them through the sales funnel at a much quicker pace than a salesperson can.”

So, what forms should this content take? Peck suggests a varied offering that includes feature stories, new product announcements, videos, and online catalogs, along with banner and tower ads, where appropriate. He adds that outside partnerships might be needed to keep up with what could become a challenging editorial schedule.

“Most distributors, even the largest chains, don’t have the manpower to effectively manage and deploy an ever-changing library,” he says. “Most use a service like ElectricSmarts Network that does all the content collection from their manufacturer partners. They provide plug-and-play solutions to automatically deploy up-to-date content on the distributor’s website and push out eNewsletters. Distributors should not lose their position as the primary information brokers for their contractor customers.”

Merlo agrees that, until they’re able to develop their own in-house talent, “a distributor’s best option would be to consult an agency that understands their customer base and customer journey, and together plan a digital content strategy,” with an emphasis on the importance of a strategy. “The strategy must come first, or else it amounts to an untargeted, ‘spray and pray’ situation, which, as we know, isn’t very effective at all.”

Chuck Ross is a freelance writer with 25 years’ experience writing for a broad range of building industry trade magazines, covering design and construction technologies along with renewable energy and electric utility business issues.

Susan Merlo is a Digital Sales and Marketing Consultant who specializes in the wholesale distribution industry. For more information about Susan, visit www.TheDigitalDistributor.com or email her directly at Susan@SusanMerlo.com.

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