(This article is the winner of the 2017 Equestrian Creative Network Awards – Best Informative Article)
B2B commerce is fairly common in the equestrian world, and we’ll look at some key ways you can help build these relationships into a win-win for both parties. The biggest misconception is that marketing in a B2B environment is different from a B2C approach. It isn’t. A brand connection is essential for your buyers no matter if they are a large distributor, small shop or end user.
Strategic B2B for equestrian marketing – Think big picture
Your customer is human, like the rest of us. First and foremost, your brand development is the key to B2B success. As a Google-sponsored study found, while only 14% of B2B buyers “see enough difference between suppliers’ ability to provide business value,” most buyers can be moved to action when marketing focuses “on moments of emotional intensity.” Be present and show emotion. When you are talking about the daily partnership with horses, finding that emotion is a pretty easy reach for most equine brands.
Know your customer. That same Google study from 2015 showed that millennials make up nearly half of B2B influencer or decision-makers, and are growing. The key takeaway is that millennials do not silo their concerns between personal and business. Millennials and also most women want the same purposeful feeling from their business dealings and prefer to buy from groups that also have a strong purpose.
Determine your purpose to create your business advantage. Most people want to work for a company that does something meaningful in addition to whatever they provide. This is not always an easy journey, but it can change your role in whatever you do and how you approach business as a whole. Think Warby Parker or Toms Shoes. Changing your purpose is not an easy task and will not happen overnight. If your business feels stale, this can inject some much needed life into something that is not just about meeting your numbers this quarter.
Once you have taken the time to define that purpose, it is essential to spend some effort creating and showcasing the passion behind the product. Your purpose becomes a large part of your brand and becomes memorable when done well. Shinola Detroit does this very well, and has been expanding as a result. Their purpose is to create skilled jobs in Detroit making high-quality handcrafted products, such as bicycles, watches and leather goods.
Tactical B2B – Execute wisely
One of the best ways to reach potential distributors is to attend a professional, closed show such as BETA or AETA that invite only resellers to attend. Aside from the obvious opportunities to network, check out the competition and pick up some volume sales orders, many shows now offer additional marketing sessions on various topics to extend your knowledge base.
If you are in the US, the AETA has been making some improvements to the structure of their twice-yearly show, so check it out if you have not attended in a while. If you handle western tack and togs, check out the WESA show in Denver.
Bring your A-game for your booth, pro-level branding, free samples, swag and comfortable shoes. If you are a manufacturer, stage a fashion show and/or free drinks session at day-end close. Don’t forget the business cards and data sheets for more technical products, and be prepared to do a lot of talking. The busier your booth, the more appealing it is to large volume distributors. If you offer an expensive high-tech product, be sure that your sales staff is fully trained on it and can explain how it functions to a layperson. If your team can’t explain how or why it works, it’s going to be a long road ahead to building trust and gaining sales.
Once you have representation, either from for-the-trade events or picked up by a famous ecommerce/catalog distributor, don’t drop the ball. I have seen companies reach the deal conclusion and think that their work is now over. This is not a dust off your hands and walk off into the sunset moment.
Fact. Large distributors push their own house line of products more frequently than not. They happen to also sell yours. Small distributors (tack shops) frequently do not have a large marketing budget and work mainly by word of mouth or by show trailer. They’ll stock your things, but not specifically push them. You need your brand to flourish, and you will still need to do the promotion work to keep the momentum and growth.
As a new product brand, or any product selling via distribution, you should continue to help your distribution channels sell your offering. Distribution gives you a much wider reach and a built in audience, but chances are those groups are not going to run special advertising just for you. It’s not in their budget. And, if that product doesn’t move, your shelf time will be up quickly.
And now for a quick word on co-marketing. Some companies are terrific at this. Combined budgets have more power and it’s fairly easy to create a plan that benefits both of you. Again, talk to your reps and see what can be done together. Most are willing to work with you as long as there is a clear benefit on both sides. You may need to jump some through some hoops with production and securing branding approvals before anything goes out the door, but it can be done.
Did you forget to be visible at point-of-sale events? Again, bring your show A-game and talk to your customers directly. What do they like, what don’t they like? Are they excited to see you there and shop? Which products seem to be most popular?
Letting your buyers know about the all of the convenient places to purchase your fantastic product is up to YOU. Unless you already have a gold-standard brand name in the industry or possess ninja negotiating skills, the bulk of this effort is going to fall on your shoulders. Be professional when you walk in and let your distributors know they don’t have to do this alone.
If you still need some branding or B2B advice, contact me directly for a consult session.
(Originally published on the Equestrian Creative Network)
About the Author: Amanda MacDonald, Founder of Full Gallop Communications, is a marketing veteran that works with equine-based businesses on improving brand communication, marketing strategy and content marketing. With over 15 years of experience, and a life-time of riding behind her, MacDonald loves to work with the companies that enrich the life of her riding partners. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire about how your marketing efforts can become more successful.