Missed Opportunities #1: "We Don’t Do Internet Marketing, We Sell Through Distributors"

The above is a true statement that I heard today from the senior vice-president of a manufacturing company. The sad thing is that the senior vice-president really believes what he said. Let’s call him Al Backus in this discussion. I was so astounded that I had no ready response. Now I’ve had a little time to marshal my thoughts.

This company has a website and a pretty lack-lustre one it is too. I assume it would be justified by some defence such as, “Yes, We do have a website but it’s purely for reference since people expect you to have one now.” So why is this a missed opportunity?

Well the world has been changing very dramatically over the last decade. The Internet changes ways of inter-relating and the relative power of different individuals. It’s now the era of Permission Marketing. Even one of the oldest advertising agencies in the world, JWT, has reinvented itself on February 28th this year in acknowledgement of this tilting of the playing field. It’s not sellers trying to sell, it’s purchasers trying to purchase. Sales persons cannot be at all demanding or they will find doors shut in their faces.

Even more, it’s the age of people power. People expect and demand that their individuality be recognized. They want to have whichever channel of communication works best for them.

So what does this mean for our friend, Al Backus, as he tries to sell through his distributors? He may well be relating to that traditional model of the sales person as a hunter. He assumes that the process is that Distributors and Manufacturers’ Reps. look for potential customers. It’s all linked to the company’s objectives of what it wants to sell and how it wants to sell it. The website is there so that the reps. and distributors can use it as a sales support, a type of electronic sales kit. Al is quite correct: this is not Internet Marketing. Al is operating as if the Internet as a communication channel did not exist. His selling process would work equally well by using CD’s. This is the missed opportunity, but it could turn out to be fatal.

If Al could see physically what is happening on the Internet, he would slap his head and realize that Internet Marketing should be his key priority. Many prospects will be proactively searching the Internet for potential suppliers as they do their purchasing homework. The Internet is international so there are few barriers to competitors from around the world. Such competition will try to make sure that these prospects find them first. Many of the prospects who are in a purchasing mood will never come on to the radar screens of Al’s reps. and distributors.

To stand out from the Internet crowd, only Al can arrange that his company has a website that can act like a beacon. If it’s left to the distributors, their divided efforts will do very little and this leaves a clear field to the competition. So, Al, if I could have thought fast enough, what I might have said was, “The competition must be overjoyed that you leave the Internet to them.” That certainly is a very big missed opportunity.

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