Manufacturing seems to be one of the last segments to embrace online sales tools. As recently as last year, industry research revealed that few sales reps were using the web to optimize sales. The digital trend is rising rapidly, and if you are still managing your website like it is a digital brochure, you are missing the chance to connect with shoppers and close sales. Wait too much longer and your brand will be left behind.
One bright note in arriving late to the game is that there are a host of effective digital channels that you can embrace, without investing in a ton of custom code. As you put together a plan for revving up your digital footprint, here are several opportunities that should be on your brand team’s radar:
Direct to consumer sales
If you are getting traffic to your site, you should be offering shoppers a way to purchase products. While there are divided camps in the manufacturing world about providing direct-to-consumer sales when you have existing retail relationships, this decision isn't something you should lose sleep over. At the bare minimum, your site should include a store locator system so consumers can easily find your product. A robust sales plans should include a "buy now" button (at MSRP) and a full-fledged shopping cart.
If you don't yet have the logistics to support smaller packaging and shipping to home addresses, make use of Amazon's network. Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA) is an easy entry to online consumer sales. The margin will be lower than if you are an Amazon vendor, but they've got delivery and logistics all figured out and will do it for you. FBA also qualifies for Prime, and in 2017 the number of Prime subscribers surpassed non-prime Amazon shoppers.
You can't ignore Amazon's presence in online sales, particularly when 49% of online shopping searches start on Amazon. With over 100 billion customers, Amazon should be considered a sales channel on it's own, much like the big box retailers.
Referrals and Reviews
Shoppers rely on reviews and ratings. Adding a review tool to your product pages lends your brand credibility.
The discovery process for a recent inbound project revealed that one of our client’s highest referral links was coming from a years-old customer comment on a Houzz page. People saw their product in use from a customer who shared a link back to the brand’s product page. Imagine how much traffic they will have as they add a referrals component to a mature inbound program.
Distributors and dealers need an easy way to replenish stock to keep up with how today's buyer shops. There is a lot of discussion about millennials as a buying group, but they are employees, too, and they hold positions along every touchpoint in the sales channel. They expect online experiences that are as seamless at work as they are at home. If you can buy shoes with no shipping charges at 2 am from your phone, why can’t you place a refill order when checking the back-room inventory?
Older merchant systems that rely on pen, paper, or faxed signed copies are going to fall by the wayside, in favor of modernized shopping carts. Again, you don’t need to invent the code for a shopping cart. There are several reputable providers to select from that support merchant orders as well as consumer shopping carts.
Several industries have been supplanted by web tools, and old-school distributor sales are another that will soon fall by the wayside. This trend started with retailers like Whole Foods directing vendors to their preferred distributor, UNFI. Now retailers are asking solicitors to post their product on RangeMe, a dashboard for buyers. This online sales platform presents retail merchants with a unified experience that is searchable, with a low cost of entry; it’s free to sign up, or for a small fee, your products can be RangeMe Verified.
Being on RangeMe won’t guarantee success, but it does give you a leg up. Just going through the process of setting up product pages will help organize even a small brand and get it market-ready. Like any other digital property, optimizing your listing will improve search results. Pairing your listing with a solid pre- and post- contact plan can markedly improve results.
Driving traffic to your site doesn’t need to end in a credit card transaction. Regardless of your team’s readiness to pull the trigger on a shopping cart solution, you should be directing shoppers searching for products to your site. An effective inbound plan will include landing pages that are separate from your product pages. Landing pages contain customized content and can track engagement in a different way than static product “brochure” pages.
Content campaigns should then be geared to specific channels. Want to capture shop owners who are interested in carrying your products? The inbound pipeline can connect them with the best distribution channel. Small chains? Lead them to create an account with your inside sales team or guide them to the best distribution partner.
Hoping to sell directly to restaurants and food service? Again, the top of the sales funnel starts with well-placed ads and social content, the landing page and lead flow at the bottom connects them to the right inside sales person and the right distribution partners. These audiences are already coming to your site, whether you recognize it or not. Inbound campaigns paired with automated marketing will provide deeper customer insight and help close more sales.
The days of “set it and forget it” websites have long passed. A mature brand recognizes that an online presence is an extension of the sales platform, and that a healthy digital ecosystem can add incrementally to the bottom line. Make it a priority to include shopping carts, Amazon, review tools, merchant sales and inbound marketing in your next strategic plan.