I joined my family’s distribution company full time five years ago. When I started at Atlas Sales, we had no online presence, no online advertising plan, and a Route Accounting System that was built in the 90s and barely updated since.
Immediately, I knew we were falling behind. The company and long-time employees were relying on the same sales and operations practices that we had been using for decades. While some of that was great (close personal relationships with customers), some of it was a big problem (you couldn’t even Google us and find a phone number).
If we were just going to keep just doing what we knew “worked,” I was sure our competition would quickly outpace us. They were going to implement systems and be more productive. They were going to provide higher-quality reporting to customers. They were going to be more easily found online when new suppliers came to town.
I wasn’t about to let that happen.
I immediately set out to make some big digital waves. Here are a few initiatives I’ve since led for our team:
- Creation of our first website
- Email transition to Google Apps, which greatly improved productivity and collaboration
- Setup of our social media accounts on Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram
- Contracting of outside social media management agency
- Creation of our email newsletter to customers
- Implementation of a new route accounting system, Encompass
It has taken careful implementation and a lot of trial and error, but we’ve made serious improvements in our sales process and how we serve customers. We have been able to increase our engagement with our brands, focus on selling to our retailers in a different way, and reach out to our local consumer like we never have before.
Seeing what we’ve been doing in our business and the big growth we’ve had on Facebook has brought a lot of questions my way from other distributors.
I’m happy to answer those questions and thought a guide was the best way to do it. I’m energized to share what I’ve learned and hope it will make big digital change simpler for others than it was for me.
I am also incredibly impressed with a few of the vendors we have used and want to help get the word out about them. You’ll hear me talk about web and social media marketing company 11Web, and our route accounting system Encompass.
What is Digital Distributor About?
Digital Distributor is all about selling more product with less effort by bringing technology into sales, marketing, and operations. There are so many options out there that you can take advantage of, even if you don’t have full time IT staff or a digital marketing manager.
The plans and concepts discussed on Digital Distributor will continue to be a collection of best practices to help distributors bring more digital into their high-touch, highly personal sales processes. We will find solutions for the next generation consumer, retailer, and employee.
Distributors of tomorrow will need to invest in their digital sales, marketing, and operations for two reasons.
- Staff turnover to the millennial generation. Millennials who are 18-35 right now will make up most of the workforce within the next 10 years. These future employees with the proper software and knowledge on how to use it will be able to be so efficient that they will get amazing things done.
- Continued need to lower costs and become more efficient across all departments. Margin pressure is going to continue. Industry consultants recommend cost of operations being as low as 15-20% of sales in order to generate the profit and ROI needed to be sustainable. These numbers will only be reached by increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of our whole staff with technology. If you don’t start to reach for these goals now, you will get run over by smaller margins with similar or higher costs and you will find your distributor uncompetitive.
Why get into Digital Marketing?
Increase contact with customers and community
Digital provides many new opportunities for distributors to reach brewers, customers, and consumers. By posting to Facebook, adding job postings on Linkedin, or sharing a new brand on Instagram, you can add touches to all these target people beyond your normal business.
Build stronger relationships with suppliers
Most of our brewing partners are all about digital. It doesnt matter if they are the local brew pub, New Belgium, or Anheuser-Busch, they are fully in the digital game across all the platforms. You can’t go to a major brewery meeting without talking about engagement in advertisement campaigns across multiple social platforms. Buzzword bingo has gotten really easy at these meetings. Social and online marketing are important to them, so they will like seeing you join in and share their content to your customers.
The retailer of the future….is here today
The retail customer is getting younger and younger. The competition in their tier is also growing, and a distributor’s ability to connect and sell to them is getting harder. Not every retailer sits at their corner store every day waiting to see their various vendors. They are on the go just like we are and running their business from their phones and other devices. This is where having a Business 2 Business marketing strategy comes into play and can drive volume, placements, and relationships for your sales teams.
Digital Properties for Distributors
Selecting the digital properties is step one and a fun part of the process. As part of your strategy, you now need to decide what properties you are going to work in on digital and how you can use them to your advantage.
These are your big platforms where you will be able to spend your valuable time working to implement your strategy.
Website – your website is the backbone of your digital world. It is the only place where you 100% control your design, your brand, and your reach. Your website needs to be all about your target, your products, territory, and your company. New suppliers will find you here, and so will new customers and consumers.
Facebook – Facebook is the largest platform in social media. Breweries and wineries love Facebook, and you can connect with many people on this platform.
Twitter – Twitter is the second largest digital platform. Twitter is great for reach and fun real quick updates.
Instagram – Instagram is growing in popularity and is a very fun platform to post and engage on. The visual nature allows distributors to be very creative in what they share. It’s fun and a breeze to use.
LinkedIn – LinkedIn is your outsourced HR team. Posting jobs and company info here is great. Depending on your turnover rate, LinkedIn can help you reach talent to hire.
Google+ – Google+ needs to be one of the properties that you claim. You don’t need to do much here other then have control over the account and make sure all your contact info is correct, as Google+ profiles can be shown prominently on search results.
YouTube – YouTube can be a great add-on to your digital properties if you have someone with basic knowledge of a camera phone and video editing. Video can be a powerful way to show the work that distributors do behind the scenes. It’s also an important platform to monitor—Many brewers are posting their own video content, and you can share their videos across all your other digital platforms.
Social media demographics
The above list is just the most relevant and largest platforms currently. While it’s probably not realistic to believe that Facebook is going to disappear, it is realistic that different platforms have different demographics and working a mix of platforms is a good strategy for your business. You want to target different consumers with their relevant brands on the platforms they like to use (we’ll be writing more on this soon). One platform alone is not the best way to do business.
Future Platforms & Staying Ahead
Every year, developing platforms grow. In the beer industry, there has been lots of talk about how you don’t drink your father’s beer. In the social media world, kids don’t use their mother’s social platforms. While this is an early phenomena, I am just trying to share that you will always need to stay ahead of the curve and check back in for updates. Facebook is king today, but younger demos are moving to Instagram, and younger demos are growing on Snapchat.
Action Step: Claim your digital profiles
It is imperative to claim or create a profile on each major social media platform. Here’s why:
- Your profile already exists. Make sure it’s yours.
Both Facebook and Google+ will create a profile for established businesses automatically. Even if you’ve never set finger on Google+, you will still have a listing out there. You might as well control it and put your logo and correct contact information on it. You also don’t want someone else to claim these profiles before you do.
- Take advantage of free publicity
If other people are talking about you online, make it easy for them to tag or mention you. Then their followers can easily find out about you. You can expect this to happen most often with events you sponsor and retailers who appreciate you. Let them tag your profile and drive more traffic your way.
- Show people where they can find you
I get it. You don’t want to actively manage accounts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google+, and the next hot new thing that comes out. I don’t think you should. What I do think you should do is post once on each platform to direct followers to where you are most active. So, even if you don’t use Instagram, create an account and make 1 post that says something to the effect of “The party is happening on Twitter at twitter.com/yourtwitterhandle.”
- Reserve the username you really want
You never know what platform will grow to immense popularity. Claiming your accounts early even if you don’t use them means you will get the username you want. If you decide to start using those accounts more actively, you’ll be happy you can post from YourBusinessName rather than Your_Business_Name_49015
Planning Your Digital Goals
All marketing needs to have goals and a strategy, and digital isn’t an exception to that. There are many different strategies that you can employ to position your company. Here are some questions that you can answer.
Story: What story do you want to tell?
Who: Who do you want to tell the story to?
What: What do you want them to think, see, or feel?
Why: Why will it matter to them?
When: When do they need to hear your message?
The awesome thing about your digital strategy as it relates to distributors is that you can have an ebb and flow to your plans.
If you’re looking to increase the awareness of your community outreach, you can create a 60 day plan for that. If, it’s early in the year and you have many new brands to launch, you can plan for that. If you want to showcase your team, you can do that.
Remember that social is all about creating a connection and engaging with your audience. Answering these questions is very important to the success and plans for your campaign.
Plan Your Digital Targets
As you are planning your digital marketing strategy, your target market is so important. Who are you trying to reach online? How do those people like to consume online content? How do you make sure your efforts are working?
- Who to target
- How to target
- How to track
- Digital is all about tracking and measuring
- Setting targets
Expand on your goals and your target markets to develop your overall digital strategy.
Your goals and strategy set the tone and direction of your message. Your team needs to know why and what you are trying to accomplish so they can help find, create, and deploy useful content.
Execution of Digital Marketing
In this section, we will discuss budgeting for digital marketing, people who should lead the digital marketing charge, and some examples of digital marketing plans for you to build off of.
Budgeting for digital marketing can be simple. I like to use a percentage of overall marketing budget for digital spend. From there, there are three pieces to digital that you should budget for.
- Content creation
- Content management
- Content boosting
Creating content can be a ton of fun but also time consuming. So let’s talk about what to focus on to make sure your social platforms don’t look like an explosion from your signmaking department. Keep these 3 rules top of mind when creating content:
- Keep it real
Involve your people. They are the lifeblood of your organization. Don’t shy away from showing them doing their jobs and working hard. We like to create a “behind the scenes” feel. Snowblowing in the winter time, sitting on a break room chair while washing a truck, or your delivery driver seeing the neighborhood dog while making a delivery. If you don’t take yourself too seriously and let your fans see inside what you do through your people, you will create connections and engage followers.
- Keep it fun
Selling beer is a fun business, and your digital face should show this. When done well, this will serve you in more than just marking your brands. It will also create a great presence for your company in your community. We as distributors have great reputations and are very active in the community.
Showing the fun in your business will also help in recruitment of great employees. Everyone is looking for a great place to work. The top performers are looking for places where they can come be a part of a team that is excellent at what they do and passionate about doing it. You can show this to the public, and people will notice.
- Get everyone involved
Source content from everyone. Get pictures from your sales team, drivers, warehouse crew, managers, brewers, and customers. Of course, you need to filter what’s appropriate and only use the best, but still source it and review your options.
You can make these requests as a simple ask to everyone to supply you with anything they see in the market that could be fun to show off to your fans. Don’t be surprised that not everyone will jump on board, so you may need to pull a few of your top team members aside to make sure they deliver some content to you. Once you use their content and tag them and thank them on your social media, you’ll see some of the resistance fade. Everyone likes to be publicly recognized and thanked for doing a good job.
Supplier created content
Most major suppliers have awesome content that you can share. I like to utilize more authentic-looking content instead of the signmaking templates. Sign templates are awesome at stores, but they just seem too impersonal and self-promotional to use on social media.
If you want to, grab good content right from your suppliers’ social profiles. They’ve posted it because they want it to be shared. Feel free to download it, share it, reuse it, or recreate it somehow for your own use.
We recommend that you try things to see what will connect with your audience. It could be food related, new products, contests, reviews of beers, or shares of community events. At our distributorship and our clients, we try many different things and then analyze what gets the most views, likes, and comments We do more of what works well discard the ideas that don’t.
It’s a great idea to get started small and focus on managing one platform well before moving onto another platform. It’s much better to post actively and engage deeply with fans on one social network than to occasionally spray posts out here and there on multiple networks. (But as we said before… do claim your profiles across all major social networks!)
Lets get the right people driving your digital marketing planning.
In a distributorship almost everyone wears multiple hats. It always amazes me how efficient distribution teams are when it comes to getting stuff done. This is great, but usually means that digital marketing or digital selling takes a back seat to inventory, delivery, and everyday selling.
If you’re in management, you need to develop a follow up plan with your people to make sure they are following the strategy that you have set out. And this is not only checking on your page’s likes or engagement numbers….those change a lot and have huge fluidity. They do a poor job of sharing how good your overall page is and do a better job of sharing with you what posts worked and didn’t work.
I like to check in with my team during a weekly 1-2-1 meeting. During this meeting you want to pull out and reference the strategy and see how your team member is doing. During this time, you want to have them show you what has been done over the last 7 days and how the results have come into your social profiles.
From there you want to look at what they have planned for the next 7 days. What are they going to share? When? How often are they going to share?
You will also want to discuss your page’s numbers for reach, comments, and shares. The awesome thing about digital marketing is the analytics you can get on your activity. I do caution to keep in mind that these numbers change a lot. They should help guide you along your strategy, but don’t tell the whole story.
At the end of the meeting, have your brand ambassador document their plan and recap with you. You will use this for next week’s 1-2-1 meeting at the start. This process should only take about 30 minutes for you to complete.
When you’re getting started, stay focused on sticking with your strategy for a 3-6 month period. If you are seeing good engagement numbers that are consistently getting stronger (even a little bit at a time) then that’s a great start.
Time and Scheduling
You will want to be as efficient with your time as possible so digital marketing doesn’t take over your life. We recommend that you use just one or two focused sessions per week on digital marketing and plan and schedule all of the posts for the week.
We use Hootsuite to help manage our social platforms and schedule posts from one interface. Its helps to keep posts in order and timed properly.
If you’d like to plan boosted posts, Facebook has a handy scheduling tool in the page admin. You can plan your posts out in advance and set them to post and be boosted when you want. It’s a really nice tool.
Boosting Posts on Facebook
Lets get the lingo right first.
- Paid media – Boosting your posts
- Paid views – Number of people who have seen your post because you boosted the post.
- Organic views – Number of people your post reached without paying to reach them.
- Shares – A fan shares your post on their personal page, leading to higher organic views
- Likes – People who like your photo/post
- Comment – Highest level of engagement. You should reply to each comment and answer each question.
Content boosting is the expense to get your message out to your followers. The rules of Facebook are constantly changing and now do require some advertising dollars to reach your fanbase.
In the grand scheme of advertising, Facebook ads are very affordable. Over 4th of July weekend, a properly targeted Facebook post can easily get 10,000 views for about $100. These kinds of posts can impact buying decisions in your market when they hit local shoppers’ news feeds.
We also really like to boost posts about our involvement in community outreach or charitable activities. Posting something like a company volunteer day or scholarship giveaway can be viewed by 15,000 to 20,000 people for as little as $100 in paid views. Usually these kinds of posts get lots of shares by your fans, and that helps your organic views and new Likes grow very quickly.
All right, so who’s going to do all this?
The Danger of Interns & New Employees
A lot of business owners thinking about technology, marketing, and social media immediately want to hire a high school or college student because they “get” technology. Don’t do this. Seriously, don’t.
Interns or high school part-timers are the wrong choice to lead your digital marketing. Think about it. Would you give the keys to a logo’ed vehicle to someone who was still trying to learn how to drive? It could be disastrous to your business and your reputation.
Although young people understand technology and how to technically use social media, it’s another ballgame to know how to market using social media. They do not just naturally know what content is most engaging, and they often don’t have the discretion to choose the right messages to post on your social media.
So how about hiring an experienced marketing person to handle all of this for you? This can work, but use caution. You want someone you can trust with your brand and your reputation, as well as someone with a good knowledge of your business and your customer. The work that distributors do can be hard to understand, so you’re going to lose some effective time just teaching them about what your business does before they can help you market it.
So who do we really recommend? We think the person with the best insight into your business and sales activities is probably your Team Leader. It’s up to you to decide, though, if this person can write with the right voice and tone and has time to add social media to their to-do list.
You also have the option to outsource to an agency. We recommend an agency with other distributor clients or distributor experience. 11Web is our chosen outsourced agency for social media.
Security of your brand
Security of a company’s brand is overlooked by many companies. You absolutely cannot just hand out your main password for your social media accounts. The person with these main passwords can change them and lock you out of your own profiles.
As one option, you can have someone set up Hootsuite for your team so they do not need admin passwords.
You can also employ a password management system that will centralize your admin passwords in one location and allow you to share these with other team members or outside agency and take them away as quickly as you set them up. We like to recommend LastPass to our clients. LastPass is really fast to learn and pick up on sharing passwords between your team and others.
Security needs to be taken very seriously. You don’t want to be letting a long time employee go that has all the admin passwords to your social sites. That’s just not good business.