As a business owner, you wear many hats.  Even though getting business in the door is the most important one, it is likely order fulfillment related work is the task that takes most of your time. 

The problem is, without a reliable way to bring business in regularly, there is no growth. 

You might be able to maintain your current sales to a point and keep busy, but your business has become stagnant.

In working with hundreds of small and medium-sized business owners over the years, the last 6 with distributors, I have noticed three common mistakes most of them make that are hindering business growth. 

Let’s take a look and those three mistakes and what to do to correct them. Stop making those mistakes and you will see a big difference in your business.

Mistake # 1: Lack of Differentiation

Distributors have many free or low cost marketing resources at their disposal and most take full advantage of them. Since these resources are mass produced – so they can be sold for cheap – the result is that all distributors look-alike to their buyers.

Too many settle for one of the product-oriented industry provided websites and subscribe to one of the product focused social media posting services, to end up with a generic look everyone has seen before.   

This might be economical but it positions your business as a look-alike generic promotional products commodities outlet. 

When you look like anyone else and sell the same exact products, the only point of comparison is price.

How to fix it: Separate Your Brand

Standing out from the crowd is vital in any business, especially in a B2B mature market such as promotional products, with sophisticated buyers. Make a plan to communicate your branding expertise,  your business personality, and your own approach to promotional products implementation. You’ll have to put some effort into it and make an investment of time and money, but it has to be done.

Mistake # 2: Ignoring SEO

If you are not on Google, they’ll never find you.

Distributors tend to think of sales as an outbound activity. While this can be an important component, there are hundreds of buyers doing research on the internet, everyday, looking for companies like yours. 

How to fix it: Focus on Building Your Online Presence

Building an online presence on Google doesn’t happen overnight, it takes a plan and time. It’s very much like planting a tree. You plant the seeds today and can’t expect to be eating fruit tomorrow, or next week, or next month. But if you take care of it the harvest will be abundant

But it has to be done if you want to start generating leads organically, on a regular basis.  

SEO is a complex topic, but there are a lot of things you can do to get started, we have plenty of tips and advice on the resources section of our website.

The sooner they start, the better.

Mistake # 3 Not Understanding What Your Customers Want

If you don’t understand what your customers want and what’s important to them, you can’t provide value.

When asked, many distributors say the value they provide is that their clients just have to tell them what they want and they’ll do the research and the sourcing with good customer service. 

That sounds good, but that’s exactly what everyone else promises, so your client can get that anywhere. 

In this case, price remains the main differentiator and nobody wants to pay more for the same exact product.

The good news is, there are other considerations that come before price when choosing a provider. We’ve all heard someone say at one point or another “It costs more but I’ll gladly pay because it’s worth it”. Maybe you have said it yourself. 

So the question is, what can you provide so your clients feel that you are worth more?

You need to dig a little deeper to find out what do your customers value beyond the obvious. 

Here are some examples:

• Creativity in presenting ideas that enhance their overall marketing initiatives

• Do their own research

• Have access to a human

• Work with specialists in their industry

• Communications via text

• Convenience in the buying process

How to fix it: Communicate What Makes You Different

You’re probably doing most of the points on the example, but if your website and marketing pieces don’t communicate it clearly, nobody will know.

Develop content that speaks directly to your ideal buyer addressing the points that are important to them, so when they find your website they feel that you “get them”.

Mistake # 4: Marketing to Everyone

Most small distributor business owners fail to identify who their best customers are and end up targeting the general public. Or they tend to think that because they can get over 1 million products they should offer them all, not to miss out on any potential sale.

In an effort to reach everybody you end up with a very generic marketing message that doesn’t address the needs and wants of anyone in particular. Not to mention the fact that the sales conversation revolves around product features and price. And you miss out on those prospects looking for a partner rather than a commodity provider.

How to fix it: Narrow Down Your Target Audience

When you get to know your best clients well, you can narrow down your products and services to those that best suit them. You can learn about their target audiences and marketing goals, and the role that you can play in their marketing implementation. It becomes easier to find opportunities to increase the lifetime value of the client. This means increased sales, up-sells, and cross-sells while becoming a valuable partner. It also stimulates referrals of more customers like them.

Mistake # 5: Inconsistent and Fragmented Marketing

Small business owners don’t usually have a marketing plan, distributors included. This leads them to try different things, at different times, and not stick to any for very long. This lack of consistency builds no momentum and produces little to no results. Plus a lot of wasted money and time.

The lack of a plan leads to reactive marketing. They’ll buy a self-promo to take advantage of a great offer, without thinking how they’re going to use it. 

Or they’ll signup for a single video creation offer, without having a clue how they’ll use it to promote their business. Or they’ll post daily on social media without directing traffic to their site. You get the idea.

But it’s understandable. With so much information about marketing tools and tactics, it can be easy to try many different things. But there needs to be a strategy behind those tactics, so they move your business towards your goals.

How to Fix: Start Creating Consistent Marketing

Some ideas

• Start by setting a couple of hours every week to work on your marketing.

• Brainstorm all the ways you could reach out, and select only one to work on.

• Beginning with the end in mind, list all the tasks required to implement your program.

• Don’t start a new initiative until the one you are working on is fully in place.

For example, let’s say you want to start a prospecting program using direct mail. Your tasks might include researching prospects, designing and ordering marketing materials, sending the packages, plus a series of follow-up activities. Then, your weekly marketing activities might look like this: research 15 prospects, send 5 packages on Fridays, follow up 4 hours 3x week. By having a routine such as this you create consistency and build momentum, and with it, soon will come the results.

The point is that you don’t just do it once and then never again. That’s like going to the gym once and complaining the next day that you didn’t get results. Marketing is a marathon, not a sprint.

The point

From one business owner to another, it’s far too easy to get caught in the weeds of the day-to-day. After all, we must deliver. But we have to pay attention to marketing and make time for planning and implementation if we want to grow and scale. 

Fortunately, there is help available!

This article was first published on Action Marketing’s Blog