Delivering for Best-in-Class Wholesaler-Distributors
June 1, 2017  |  ByMark Dancer, NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence Fellow
NAW-Where Does Social Media Fit Within Your Business?-Distributors in the Digital Era #18

Among all digital tools, many distributors are most skeptical about the practical benefits that their business can achieve using social media. E-commerce platforms are necessary to intercept customer buying preferences and to keep pace with disruptive channels. Advanced analytics can identify opportunities and reduce inefficiencies. CRM and marketing automation tools help track progress with customers on websites and through the actions of salespeople and marketing programs. Mobility helps improve execution in the field with customers. But social media? LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and other social media may be the future, but the practical, game-changing benefits are not in the “here and now” for some distributors.


Why? It’s because some distributors can’t get off the ground. They can’t evaluate the impact of social media, because they don’t have a plan. This means they aren’t in the game.

One distributor put it this way: “We have talked with many distributors about using social media. It’s a hot topic at our industry association meetings. Many distributors say they are experimenting or only have a toe in the water. We think it’s time to move beyond that. I asked my head of marketing to give me a detailed plan for using social media, but I didn’t get much. I think this was due to lack of experience and lack of a vision. My head marketer grew up in our business and only knows what he has heard about marketing. We’d like to go out and hire a heavyweight digital marketer, but I don’t think we can pay enough. Even if we could, that kind of person may not want to come to work for a distributor. We aren’t where it’s at in terms of digital trends. We are between a rock and a hard place. We need a plan to move forward, but we don’t really know how to create one.”

To help leaders get started on creating a vision for leveraging social media, we talked with distributors and gathered some ideas. Here are nine suggestions for gathering facts, experiences and insights to help you and your team work toward building a social media plan for your business:

  1. Send members of your leadership team, along with millennials in your company, to conferences on social media and digital marketing. Ask them to blog or live tweet while they are there and bring back key learning and recommendations for your firm.
  2. Gather popular videos from your market and analyze them to identify best practices that you can use for your target customers, in your marketing efforts and to meet your sales objectives.
  3. Make a list of the most-read blogs by your customers; read posts from the last year or so and identify five key learnings that will benefit your company in serving your customers. Make sure the blogs cover a range of topics like industry events, applications, marketing, technical service and so on.
  4. Have each member of your leadership team find and join a LinkedIn group and report back on key learnings, especially those about offerings and opportunities that match your company’s customer base and growth objectives.
  5. Have some fun by pairing your leaders with millennials. Have them work together and independently, and compare notes.
  6. Identify your best videos and make sure you are using them for multiple purposes—on your website or microsites, with salespeople, in newsletters, and so on. Track clicks and results so you know what is working and what isn’t. Discontinue what doesn’t work and do more of what does.
  7. Personally talk with five distributor leaders from other companies and ask them what, if anything, they are getting out of Facebook and Twitter. Make sure to ask why or why not.
  8. Ask 10 people in your company to read 10 books on social media and digital marketing and report back to you. Pick the best of the 10 and follow the author’s blog. Go hear him or her speak at a conference or invite that person to come and speak at your company. Then make a video and blog on it to extend the learning across your company.
  9. Task two teams to review all of the above and create a social media plan for your company, complete with metrics, milestones and signposts. Compare and implement the best ideas.

One distributor we interviewed went through steps like those above and ended up with a plan for social media. What about you? Gather facts. Consider options. Make a plan. Test it. Then you can decide whether social media can help your business. You might be surprised about what you find out.

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Mark Dancer, NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence Fellow

Mark Dancer, NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence Fellow

Mark Dancer founded the Network for Business Innovation to drive awareness, advocacy and excellence for B2B innovation, and to enable an exchange of ideas between leaders on business transformation, technology adoption, social impact and community engagement. For more than 30 years, Mark has worked with leading companies to achieve go-to-market excellence across a wide range of industries in developed and emerging markets.