This week we’re joined by Tyson Ferraro: Marketing Director of Control Solutions, Inc: a specialty chemical company in Houston, Texas. And as it turns out, their outreach methods have to be even more particular than standard B2B marketing.
Since CSI is selling to distributors instead of to end users, their marketing model has its own challenges and best practices.
Ty is here to discuss CSI’s current challenges and favorite tips for their own different customer model, and how offering instructional courses is actually one of their best industrial marketing assets. Because of this, they’ve come to see that training distributors is a value-add to their business.
CHALLENGES OF THE DISTRIBUTOR MODEL
CSI is a specialty chemical company that sells into three key markets: structural pest management (companies like Terminix and Orkin); golf course, turf, and ornamental/landscaping organizations like John Deere; and the market of animal health and insecticides, like mosquito, flea, or tick treatments.
In all three cases, CSI isn’t selling to the final end users, but rather to distributors who will then in turn have to sell the products to their own prospects. That means that defining the customer is trickier than in other markets.
Even though they don’t sell to end users directly, Ty’s team still has to know who those end users are and how best to reach them.
There are some very big companies in the specialty chemical industry, and many of them have more distribution capabilities. In fact, CSI’s sales reps are usually outnumbered three-to-one.
CSI has overcome their comparative lack of staff by being very relationship-based in their outreach; and their value proposition has to be strong for both consumer groups.
HOW TRAINING AIDS THE DISTRIBUTION MODEL
One of CSI’s biggest tactics is product launches. They have many every year, and they do need to focus on successful outreach.
However, in their case, they especially need to make sure that distributors will feel comfortable selling these products, just as the end users need to feel comfortable using them.
Rather than focusing entirely on generating demand or awareness, Ty and his team are always looking for ways to incentivize and push distribution.
It’s important to make their message resonate further since they have less manpower than their competitors: whether they do so through Youtube, social media, or digital ads.
One of their top practices is offering online training.
Training isn’t a sales seminar for talking about how great the products are. They’re educational sessions so that distributors or end users can do their own job better and solve other people’s problems.
CSI learns a lot about their end users by offering these training courses; and that helps them to continue the education of their own customers: the distributors.
This data give distributors confidence and education about the products, so they can then reach the end users more easily. Then CSI’s training helps those end users utilize and trust the products more than they might have previously.
NOT ALL COMPETITORS ARE INVESTING IN TRAINING
Offering this form of education for leads is also key for another reason.
No other company this size is even thinking about investing this much in online tactics, let alone online training.
One of CSI’s central goals is to change the perception of their company from “generic” to a differentiated and proprietary partner in the industry, alongside DOW, Syngenta, Bayer, and BASF; and that’s a whole journey in and of itself.
Training is turning out to be a valuable asset to that mission. As an example, if Ty’s sales reps manage to get 10% of 20,000 private golf courses into a training session, that means a few thousand superintendents spent time learning about their products.
Getting distributors on their side could be like hitting a gold mine, since any one distributor may in turn have hundreds if not thousands of sales reps of their own.
And the training is valuable in connecting with end users, too. Ty and his team like to offer educational courses to “warm” end user leads, and then send those leads to the distributors to finish the buying cycle.
Of course distributors will follow up if you hand them warm leads; why wouldn’t they want to?
THE COSTS VS. THE RETURNS
After the distributors follow up, Ty and his team measure how many sales were closed as a result of the training; and the numbers are pretty darned good. They help not only to show effectiveness, but they also generate a measurable ROI so that the marketing team knows how much they can invest in future training sessions.
“If [the reps] get 5% of 20,000 golf course owners… to sit in on a half-hour of incentivized training where they get, say, a $50 gift card afterwards… Think of what they’re spending to get that exposure.”
“What it came down to in our discussions was, my CEO and executive vice president said, ‘I’d happily pay X amount of dollars if I could know that they sat and took training about our products.’ ”
That’s how they gauge a lot of their marketing successes. Training isn’t their only tactic, of course – they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on print media… but they have “very little to no understanding of what success is, or what traction we’re getting from those tactics.” Tyson explains.
There’s still value to traditional methods, but digital is much more concrete.
“Nobody besides [us] are even thinking about doing anything [any distributor training], because it doesn’t tie back to sales. They have a hard time understanding that you have to spend money like this to train and to educate and get your word out.”
Training is a lead gen tool for building awareness. Even if people don’t finish the module, they’ll learn who CSI is and what they’re about.
A GRADUAL AND ONGOING TRANSITION
And naturally, if the marketing team wants to continue growing properly, their digital methods require a digital CRM database and an automation system. It’s not a quick process to build, though. Tyson and his team have spent a lot of time constructing the database, and it’s a gradual process.
“It’s a journey; and this [year] is one step, and we hope that this will be the first year of several to come.”
As we often repeat in this video-podcast, the transition over to digital is not an immediate or small one. For example, to this day, CSI’s website is still undergoing changes.
The site has to somehow to meet the needs of two different distinct parties: CSI’s customers, who are distribution; and the end users, who are the people who are using those products. To make matters even more difficult, CSI’s end users are also three different kinds of individual, very separate personas.
CSI’s competitors have separate sites for their distributors and customers. Tyson says that while there’s some overlap, that’s probably the cleanest way to do it. Their own company is still working on that change.
Another obstacle for them is one that is ever-present no matter your industry: budget.
Fortunately for Tyson, one of his own executives had a good point even before he was quite sold on the training module. “We need to take a risk,” he said. “If we don’t do anything different, by definition we’re going to be doing the same thing over and over again. And while it’s not hurting the company, it’s definitely not helping.”
“There’s a chance… any digital tactic we do… it could fail. But this way, if it fails with a digital marketing tactic, at least we know that it failed.”
So, to Recap…
Any company that markets to distributors may find great value in offering training and educational courses. Digital resources are becoming more and more valuable to B2B industries, because the data they produce will help you to track just how much you’re getting out of each investment.
In the case of training, you might spend a bit more at first – but you could end up solving not only the challenge of your end users, but also your distributors. And if you make their lives and their jobs that much easier, they will come to love you for it.
Want to find out more about Tyson? You can follow him on Twitter @tysonferraro!
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