The 10 Commandments of Distributor Marketing - Modern Distribution Management

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The 10 Commandments of Distributor Marketing

Tips to help distribution CMOs transform their companies and stay employed.

The median tenure for CMOs at U.S. consumer brand companies was 27 months, according to a March 2017 report from executive recruiting firm Spencer Stuart.

I believe the tenure for distribution marketing leaders may be even shorter. After 30 years of working in distribution and marketing – and recently completing a seven-year run as a marketing VP for a large distributor – I’ve compiled my “10 Commandments of Distributor Marketing.” Ignore them at your peril!

  1. Strive to make marketing a profit center. This sounds obvious but it’s difficult and requires a steadfast devotion to strong analytics. Based on the available resources, data and the business you work in, you may never be able to demonstrate a specific return on marketing, but you should never stop trying. Even sample measurements and the overall performance of the customer life cycle can offer great insights into whether or not marketing is earning its keep. No matter how difficult it may seem, do your best to prove your worth. If your company thinks of marketing as yet another expense item on the P&L, you’d better hope there’s not an economic downturn. If there is, update your resume because you look like part of the problem instead of part of the solution.
  2. Become quantitatively literate. Many people go into marketing because they don’t like math. Except for some niche jobs for creative professionals, marketers today need great analytical skills to develop good plans, measure outcomes and compete for budget dollars. You can’t be a marketing leader without (at the very least) a good grasp of financial accounting and a basic understanding of statistics.
  3. Fuel your marketing campaigns with customer and product data. Distributors build strong marketing campaigns and websites by combining customer and product data. If either of these data sets are incomplete or poorly managed, your campaigns will crumble. Figure out what state-of-the-art product and customer data looks like and get yours in great shape.
  4. Institute campaign management and marketing automation. Great marketing is highly relevant to customers and prospects. Ideally, you want to customize your communications with customers based on their actions (e.g., purchase history) and what you know about them (demographics like job function, etc.) It takes large data sets and good technology tools to monitor customer data and extend relevant offers before your competitors do.
  5. Make sales an ally, not a rival. When marketing fights with sales, sales almost always wins – regardless of who is right. Too many marketing conferences offer sessions with titles like, “What to Do When Marketing Does the Work and Sales Gets the Credit.” That’s nonsense. Salespeople live with scoreboards for their performance (i.e., sales versus goal or prior year) and they lose their jobs if they lose the game too often. If you aren’t at risk of being fired for a bad quarter then don’t complain about salespeople; they live with that possibility every day. Also, salespeople are closer to the customer and have “street cred” the marketers don’t, particularly if your team isn’t in the field regularly.
  6. Learn constantly. Your competitors are working hard to beat you, and if you aren’t subscribed to marketing resources, studying the subject regularly, attending conferences and going to training, you’re falling behind. Marketing has never been more dynamic – you have to keep up because someone you compete with is working hard to be better than you at this fast-changing discipline.
  7. Develop great online marketing skills. The term “online marketing” is becoming redundant: very little marketing happens without some online component. If you don’t understand website technology, SEO, email marketing, etc., you cannot be a marketing expert anymore. Whether or not you actually sell online, you absolutely must market online.
  8. Actively manage customer life cycle from prospects to “win back.” You must understand the customer composition and behaviors underlying your financial performance. Marketing should take the lead in prospecting, winning back defected customers and understanding how many customers are growing versus declining, etc. This is data the finance department usually doesn’t track but is fundamental to understanding how to grow profits and identify risks for future results. You can dramatically improve the company’s performance by developing the ability to develop and grow more profitable customers with marketing initiatives – and you must.
  9. Be like Ike. To paraphrase Dwight D. Eisenhower, marketing plans are useless but marketing planning is priceless. If you are not developing strong marketing plans in conjunction with your suppliers, you are losing co-op dollars to competitors and you are very unlikely to come up with strong, data-driven campaigns that drive sales and profits. Yes, circumstances will change and require you to revise your plan throughout the year. If you start out with a thoughtful plan that is developed in conjunction with your company’s budget process, you will find it relatively easy to make the right changes quickly throughout the year.
  10. Adopt the Golden Rule of Marketing. “The more frequently you put relevant offers in front of targeted customers, the more frequently they will buy from you.” Your customers do not know what you sell, they do not understand your value proposition and they do not always think of you first when they need something. If you regularly put relevant products and services in front of prospects and customers, they will be more likely to make first-time and ongoing purchases. Almost nothing builds enterprise value more quickly than expanding your customer base and increasing purchase frequency. The best way to do this is to be in front of your customers more frequently than your competitors.

I’d love to hear your marketing commandments – please feel free to email me at or post a comment below.

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