Manufacturer or rep: Who is responsible for generating sales leads and how?
Working in the electronics industry, you’ve likely heard one of these statements:
Rep: “We are a sales company. We don’t do marketing. That’s up to the manufacturer.”
Manufacturer: “I hire sales reps to go out and find new customers. We are just a manufacturer.”
Here lies the great paradox of our industry: new sales are the lifeblood of a company, yet the responsibility for marketing and prospecting is tossed around like a game of hot potato.
Why do companies often shrug off sales accountability and actively stunt their own growth through muddied sales goals and processes? And how can a simple approach resolve the misalignment between reps and manufacturers and immediately begin creating new opportunities for both parties?
Why is there disagreement between manufacturers and reps?
First the obvious answer: manufacturers and reps are two different organizations, each with their own processes and priorities. To complicate it even more, each manufacturer works with several reps and vice-versa, all unique from one another.
But this answer misses the fundamental cause: the hot-potato effect results from discomfort in not knowing how to generate real and well-qualified sales opportunities. By addressing this education gap, both manufacturers and reps can immediately begin generating measurable business growth.
Why does the electronics industry have trouble creating real sales opportunities?
A trip back through the history of marketing electronic components, devices and related services provides the answer. Just like many markets, the B2B electronics industry has traditionally been very new-product-oriented as companies maintain pace with rapidly evolving technologies. Thus, the tendency is to promote whatever is new. After all, new is interesting; companies survive on society wanting the latest car, phone, or television.
If you’re reading this, I’m confident your product is not an impulse buy. Few are waking up with the urge to buy an EMI filter just because it appeared in a commercial during the Super Bowl or it’s now 25 percent off. Instead, your audience is reacting to need, and unless your new product announcement happens to coincide with the specific project that a potential client is working on (and in most cases, it won’t), your press release or announcement is being read, mentally cataloged and likely forgotten.
Your potential customers — such as design engineers — are seeking education to help them design better products: content in the form of research, whitepapers, instructional videos, how-to’s, and case studies. If you’re not helping educate, you’re not building the trust and awareness needed to convince an individual that your product is the solution.
Yet, even though this education is a critical component in the decision making process of a potential customer, many manufacturers perceive “content” as product data sheets and design files; great information to have when someone already understands what type of product is needed to address a challenge, but doesn’t capture the engineer who recognizes there is a challenge but doesn’t yet know the type of solution. And therein lies the rub!
What’s the solution to aligning manufacturers and reps?
You guessed it: educational content. Rather than companies saying “Take a look at this new liquid cooling product we just developed,” they should be saying: “Here are the common challenges and solutions in data center thermal management. One such solution is liquid cooling, which is beneficial for these reasons. As shown in this case study, our liquid cooling solution has produced these amazing effects for customer X.”
Who should be producing this content? The manufacturer (with some help from the rep on getting the word out).
NPIs, catalogs, brochures and data sheets are important, but not the final answer, rather manufacturers need articles, whitepapers, interviews, videos, lists and blogs, and they need to ensure their future customers can easily find them.
“But Graham, this sounds like a lot of work.”
Nope! In fact, it can be quite simple, and the little time invested now will save significant time in the future.
The following is for manufacturers to follow. If you’re a rep reading this, forward it on to your principals to see how they can assist your sales efforts, and then continue reading to learn how you can play a part.
In summary, you will be sending emails to your contact list to offer them free content in return for submitting a registration form. In addition to the basics — name, company, email — the registration form will ask what the person intends to buy and when. Sometimes it’s as simple as asking!
Here’s the process:
1. If you do not already have an email or marketing automation platform, set up a simple account such as MailChimp (mailchimp.com), Constant Contact (constantcontact.com), or ActiveCampaign (activecampaign.com).
2. Compile your educational content: search your website, ask your engineering colleagues if they have content on their laptops, or search the office for printed content that can be digitized. If it is not already, upload the content to your website.
3. If you lack a web developer or designer, sign up for a landing page builder such as InstaPage (instapage.com), Unbounce (unbounce.com), or similar. If you happen to have a marketing automation platform, like Marketo (marketo.com) or HubSpot (hubspot.com), you may already have landing page functionality. If so, you won’t need another landing page builder. The landing page is where you will use a registration form to capture data from your contacts, and most landing page platforms are designed to be easy to use, even for those not familiar with digital marketing or graphic design.
4. Build the landing page with a form embedded on it; when the form is submitted, it should redirect the user to your piece of content (or be automatically delivered over email if you’re comfortable with email automation). When you’re setting up the form, ask your prospects if they intend to buy your company’s type of product and when. The question can be simple:
“Will you need to purchase a [Insert Product Type Here]?
• A – Yes, in 0 to 6 months,
• B – Yes, in 7 to 12 months,
• C – Yes, in 13 to 24 months,
• D – No, not at this time.”
Just ask them!
5. Prepare and send out an email announcing your free piece of content. Link the email’s call to action – such as “Start Reading” or “Watch Now” – to your landing page. This will direct the recipients to the landing page so that you can capture the lead once the form is submitted.
This is where the manufacturer and rep can work together.
When the above process is complete, the manufacturer should create a LinkedIn post promoting the content and that directs viewers to the landing page. From here, every salesperson and support staff (such as technical support and application engineers) in the organization can share that post and landing page with one simple click of the “share” button on LinkedIn. Then, the reps can follow the same process, creating even more leads by sharing the content to their LinkedIn connections and territories, and even promoting the same content by email to their own contacts.
Between the combined email databases and LinkedIn networks of the manufacturers and reps, it’s easy to see how this content can quickly and inexpensively gain quite the readership. And if someone takes the time to download the content, there’s a high chance he’s a potential customer.
If you follow this process, I’d love to hear about your experience; please email me at email@example.com and let me know how it goes. We’ve found this process to be highly successful for ourselves and our clients as well.
CEO Lectrix (formerly ITEM Media)
Graham Kilshaw was born and educated in the U.K. He worked for Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid newspaper group (News International) in the 90s, learning the hard knocks of a daily newspaper. From here, Kilshaw was hired by the Walt Disney Theme Park group, ultimately opening Disney’s first ever French office in New York. After 20 years of running ITEM Media, he adapted to today’s new marketplace by changing the publishing company into Lectrix — a full service marketing group for the electronics industry.
Kilshaw can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.