In this day and age, every business needs an online presence to grow and succeed. Distributors are no exception, whether you believe it or not. It’s a provable fact that companies that invest in developing their brand’s authority and presence online, in a structured, consistent way, experience sustained organic growth.
However, the vast majority of distributors have big misconceptions regarding digital marketing for their business, as shown in frequent discussions about online marketing on Facebook groups and other forums.
Since misconceptions do a disservice to everyone, I’m addressing the most common ones that seem to pop up time and again in hopes to help distributors make educated decisions to improve their marketing results.
1. SEO doesn’t work for distributors, it is impossible to outdo the big players
This is, in my opinion, the biggest, most harmful myth of them all, perpetuated at the industry level! I have watched well-respected industry leaders advising against it! Oddly enough, they all go to Google when they need any information, just like everyone else.
It is an indisputable fact that most B2B buyers use the internet to gather information about products or services they’re thinking about buying—not word of mouth.
89% of B2B researchers gather information about potential purchases from the internet. (Source: Google)
In analyzing search results, there is a mix of big players and smaller distributors that show up on the first page. Try it for yourself and you’ll see. Some of those smaller distributors have made the effort to optimize their websites, others rank by chance.
With the right strategy, the distributor who addresses SEO correctly will generate qualified leads regularly. It does take time to develop, but once it starts generating leads, it’s very easy to continue to build on it. It’s also the only way to expand your organic reach on the internet.
2. My clients don’t like searching for products, that’s why they have me.
Your digital-first customer, when they have a need, likes to go to your website to check out possibilities. It doesn’t mean he or she intends to buy online, they just want to browse ideas. If you don’t make this easy for them, they’ll go to your competitors.
3. I don’t want my clients to go to my website, I want them to call me when they need something.
Your website is your place of business. Besides the fact that going to a business website to check out a business is what everyone does, we live in a self-serve world. Your clients have questions, they want immediate answers, if your website doesn’t provide them, they’ll go somewhere else. Make your website a resource where your clients can interact with your business and find what they’re looking for.
4. I don’t need a search feature on my site, my clients who like to search go to (insert big online seller here) and send me the products they want.
There is nothing good about your clients going regularly to search on your competitor’s websites, or even worse, you send them over there. Not only are you not providing them with a good experience, but you are sending them to be marketed to and see all kinds of offers you might not be able to match. Plus you put yourself in a situation of having to spend hours searching for items you might have a hard time finding.
It’s a matter of time before they’ll leave you for a provider that has a proper search engine, where they can interact with their company more effectively, and easily click on a product they’re interested in to send a request. Instead of having to copy links, do screenshots, and compose emails to accommodate you.
5. I don’t need a search feature on my site, when my clients ask me for a search tool, I just send them to my supplier’s websites.
This is similar to No. 2, with other issues:
- Your client’s cousin starts a distributor business. They now have all the supplier info at hand to easily get you out of the picture.
- They try to buy direct from the supplier and cut the middle man—who couldn’t be bothered servicing them. The supplier has a direct selling branch and you are toast.
- Your client thinks you are referring them somewhere else because you don’t have the product, and try to buy direct.
Again, there is nothing good about sending your clients to go look for what they want in other places of business.
6. I don’t want to show products on my website. That makes me look commoditized.
If you sell products, you need to make this clear on your website. Otherwise, your visitors will be confused and not spend much time on your site if they’re looking for someone that can help them find and source products.
If your business model is a consultative or agency model, where you provide more than just the products, it is important that you communicate that effectively, while you also make it clear that you are in the branded merchandise space.
7. PPC is a waste of time because the big pocket sellers will outdo you.
Large online distributors spend tens, and sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars in PPC. That’s because it works. When people are searching for promotional products they don’t do it for fun. They are ready to buy.
With hundreds of thousands of monthly searches, there is plenty of room for smaller distributors to benefit from PPC, even with much smaller ad spend budgets.
8. People who like to do their own search are price shoppers.
Everyone who needs to buy something or needs a new provider turns to Google at some point or another. While some might be doing price comparisons to buy online, others will be comparing providers, looking for a company that understands their challenges and concerns, and what they want to accomplish, so they can hand off the entire merchandise procurement project.
9. Email doesn’t work because people don’t read emails anymore. I delete all the promotional emails.
There are people who claim to delete all promotional emails without opening them. We tend to think that because we don’t like something, nobody does. Or that everyone behaves and thinks the way we do. But we are only a point of reference for a small segment.
I think most of us delete promotional emails. We all get so many! But there are some we are always open to because we love the sender’s products or the topic interests us.
The fact is, all kinds of research show that email works. If nothing else, every distributor should be sending at least a monthly email newsletter to their customers, so they don’t forget they exist at the time they need to order something.
10. SEO is not worth it because Google is constantly changing.
There is a bit of an urban legend about the devastating effects Google changes can have in rankings. I think it started back when SEO companies were employing hardcore black hat SEO techniques, based on tricking the search engines. Then came Google Panda (or was it Penguin?) which penalized websites that utilized these tactics, and these companies saw their clients’ sites take a plunge overnight. They had to justify the loss of rankings to their clients, plus all the extra charges to fix the sites, so what could be better than blaming it on Google?
Personally, I never engaged in these techniques, because with my direct response mentality they made no sense to me, but that’s another subject for another day.
While it is 100% true that algorithms are constantly changing, it is also true that a strong optimization foundation doesn’t go away and it’s key to the success of an SEO program. The changes over the years have been to improve the quality of the search results and to present the most relevant results possible to those who are looking.
A solid SEO program, such as Action’s, will provide continuous improvements that revolve around the quality and relevance of content, along with other key factors. This ensures a compounding effect that expands your online footprint over time.
11. SEO companies are a rip-off. It’s best to do it yourself.
It is fair to say that small businesses have good reason to distrust SEO providers. Unfortunately, there are far too many that don’t employ best practices, have no experience in B2B, have no experience at all, and are learning on your dime, or providing one-size-fits-all services, that by themselves don’t move the needle.
SEO requires specialized knowledge of your business, your industry, your ideal client’s needs and wants, and their buying process, in addition to the technical know-how. There are good companies that can do great work, including our agency, Action Marketing, an industry specialist.
12. My clients are not on social media.
We don’t hear this one as much anymore, but there are distributors who still believe this. The fact is, everyone in business is on social media these days. Just go and check if your clients are on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and now TikTok. Chances are you’ll find both company pages and personal profiles in at least three of those networks.
If you recognize any of these 12 statements as your own beliefs, it’s time to leave them behind. If you’re looking to stay in business for the next five, 10 or more years, or you’re a new distributor wanting to develop a solid business, you must set a plan to build your brand expertise and online presence.
Without it, you won’t exist as a business.
If you’re looking to hire a provider make sure they are experienced in the B2B space and understand your business. If your budget is limited, start small with the foundational aspects and grow from there. You’ll find lots of educational material in our resources section.
If you‘re interested in getting help with a plan and implementation, get in touch. We’d love to help, and if we can’t, we’ll be happy to steer you in the right direction.
Whatever you do, do not ignore marketing your business online.
Editor’s Note: This article was first published by Action Marketing in June 2019 and updated in August 2022