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Why Are Distributors So Bad at Marketing?, Part 2

Why Are Distributors So Bad at Marketing?, Part 2

June 18, 2018

I enjoyed Ian Heller’s recent blog, Why Are Distributors So Bad at Marketing?. What an insightful and appropriately unapologetic view of distribution marketing!

To your list of three reasons distributors are bad at marketing, permit me to add a fourth: Distribution marketing is different because distribution businesses are different. You may view this merely as amplification of “distribution marketing is hard.” But I would postulate that distributors tend to be sales-driven, not marketing-driven, enterprises that depend on operational and customer service excellence to maintain and grow with their customer base. The result is that while many of the tactics (and skills) required might be similar to the rest of the world, the approach is altogether different.

One of the reasons distribution marketing is hard is the lack of funding. How many distribution marketing leaders have been on the receiving end of this comment from a CFO, CEO, COO or sales executive: “Spend whatever you want so long as it doesn’t cost us anything” (i.e. get suppliers to pay for it)? This is testament to your comment about the lack of value distribution executives tend to place on marketing. 

Your comment about measurement being tough is spot on, but there is a critical difference only briefly referenced that adds to the difficulty – the element of time. Unlike CPG and online-only businesses, where direct marketing attribution is often possible due to immediate gratification/fulfillment of the customer, much B2B distribution marketing often makes a contribution to organic revenue growth that is only realized one to two years later.

Many distribution marketers are perfectly willing to be measured on the same revenue growth numbers as the sales team. But my view is marketing’s role in revenue growth this year is the reflection of the marketing programs a year or two earlier. The work done this year might be reflected in the 2019 or 2020 number, so time horizon differences result in sales and marketing viewing the world through different lenses. Only when each recognizes the necessity of the other can an organization see sustained organic growth and measurable ROI.

Your sentiment that many marketers focus on the wrong things is, sadly, correct. I believe in order for marketing to be effective and credible inside a distribution company, one must: 

  1. Focus on programs, tactics and initiatives that enable the sales team to be more effective and efficient – either by directing the sales team’s efforts or enhancing their (and the company’s) credibility with customers and prospects. 
  2. Stop doing things “because we have always done them.” A prime example is an industry trade show with no known benefit but “we have always participated in the past,” or because if marketing doesn’t do it, no one will (perhaps there is a good reason for that).

Focusing on things that matter to the reputation, credibility, value and attractiveness of (ease of doing business with) the company should be the guiding light for marketing priorities.

I always enjoy reading, and learning from, what you have to say – keep up the good work!

Jim Markisohn is Vice President of Corporate Marketing at Tessco Technologies. He has previously served in VP marketing roles at Anixter, HD Supply and Arrow Electronics in addition to other distribution-related roles. He may be reached by email here

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