January 20/27, 2014; Volume 27/Number 19
By Lisbeth Calandrino
Do you remember the “sales funnel” that we used to talk about? We recruited clients at the top, worked our store magic and turned them into sales. We didn’t realize how simple life was then. All we had to do was run an advertisement in the local paper or on television, and they would come. If we were looking for B2B business, we stopped at a construction site and there was work. Frankly, it was simple; there were fewer competitors, and the rules—just find them. We also knew the competitors, and we knew how to fight.
Many of you don’t know how to fight anymore. Your competitors have gotten smarter, and if you’re not “wired in” through social media you don’t know what they’re doing. About three years ago Ad Age ran an article about Home Depot and how its store managers were required to be on social media two hours a day.
Surprising? They were ahead of the game. Home Depot didn’t hire an outside agency to connect with customers; it realized the value of intimacy, and who knew the customers better than the associates?
These days it’s hard to tell if your sales funnel works. Although consumers are sitting on the couch watching television, they are probably working on their iPads, texting to their friends or even playing Scrabble with people across the continent. If you have a TV ad, it’s barely noticeable. Besides, unless you’ve found a way to track your advertising, you won’t know what they’ve seen. I remember when I was in business, asking customers if they had seen my television ad. Oftentimes I hadn’t even run an ad, I was just curious as to what they might say. Sure enough, two out of five had seen the ad I hadn’t run! So, we can’t trust the consumer to remember what happened yesterday; what’s new?
As you head off to Surfaces hunting for new product, remember: If you don’t have a customer, product won’t really matter. I believe if you don’t have an online marketing strategy you won’t be able to get the product to the right customer, or any customer for that matter. Twenty years ago (which seemed like last week), manufacturers were never called on for advertising materials or expected to help retailers recruit customers. These days, I believe manufacturers have to be more than product providers. They must be able to provide strategies to help their customers connect with potential clients.
This starts by having a strong online presence, which can drive customers to businesses and provide a solid platform for viewing products. The customer shouldn’t have to hunt past page one of a Google search. (No one goes to page two in a search, unless they’re hunting for a dead body.)
As you’re looking for new and different products, ask about your supplier’s online strategy, including their social media. Will they be driving customers to their site and offering ideas on how to use the products? Do they have a strong Facebook, Pinterest and Houzz presence that you can join? Can they help you with your social media strategy? When it comes to B2B, do they have good LinkedIn connections so you can meet up with the right builders and specifiers?
Remember, the first stop in the sales funnel is online. Having this presence takes lots of capital and understanding of how our “unknown” customer shops. To get her into your funnel you have to have a way to connect online, and most businesses need all the help they can get. As you investigate new products, I suggest you look for strategies that will improve your customer hunt.
As my dad used to say, “If you don’t have a customer, your product won’t matter.” Today, that customer starts online.