Promotions should always be on your to-do list

Wholesaling continues to get more complex, but we think there is one basic that should not be ignored.

Wholesaling continues to get more complex, but we think there is one basic that should not be ignored. While the list of activities for high-performance wholesalers continues to expand, there may be a temptation to reduce the emphasis of some of the long-standing basics on the list. Wholesalers must continue to re-evaluate the proper application of their own limited resources. We think there is one that could easily slip off your list that probably should not:


Some people don’t seem to like the term “promotion” since it seems immodest or even boastful. We like to think of it as a process of continually reintroducing, reminding and informing your customers and prospective customers about the products and services that you offer, and why they should buy those products from you. You must continue to tell your story; otherwise the only people talking about you are your competitors … and we’re guessing they are not nominating you for wholesaler of the year.

Create pull through demand

Given that contractors are notorious for their lack of marketing skills, wholesalers may want to build promotional initiatives that specifically target the homeowner or end-user of the products in order to create product demand that sweeps over the contractor. 

Let us count the ways

The number of vehicles for this ongoing communication continues to expand. Where promotions were once hand-carried by salespeople directly to customers, there are now many ways to transmit your message that may need to be adjusted on a customer-by-customer basis in order to hit each customer’s sweet spot. Many wholesalers have abandoned direct mail promotions yet a large percentage of the contractor base probably reads and responds to well-executed, snail-mail promotions.

Social media

Most wholesalers we’ve talked to don’t seem to be getting much social media traction with their trade customers. As more and more millennials enter the trades, we think this will evolve. But, frankly, we haven’t got a clue as to how this will take shape. We have heard that several wholesalers use social media to build their credibility and brand with end-users who might use their products.

Promotion reminders

These apply to promotions regardless of the media.

  1. Consistent appearance: You want the look of your communications to be the same month after month, year after year. Your direct-mail pieces should have a distinctive color and appearance so the customer can easily pull them from the big stack of other promotional materials that they get every week. E-mail and fax blasts should also remain consistent so the customer can easily determine that it is from you. (If your promotions are interesting, this will allow them to read and act upon the materials. If your promotions are boring, this will allow them to dispose of your promotional materials quickly and efficiently.)  
  2. Mix of messages in the communication:
  3. While some companies are mining data in order to send ultra-targeted messages to customers and prospects, most wholesalers will be well-served by more general communications that target a mix of interests:
    1. Items on special: Ideally, these “special items” will be products that customers need and use often enough that they will immediately know that the special price is, indeed, a special price. There is, generally, little value in promoting a special price on an item that customers don’t use or care about. It probably makes sense to show a “normal” price to demonstrate the savings, but that can be tricky when customer-specific pricing is offered to most customers. 
    2. Items on clearance: Clearance items must be cleared. But since they are often a list of mistakes or items that do not represent your future product offering, it is important to prevent these items from dominating any general communication with customers.
    3. Preseason price-impression specials: Since it is your continuing duty to remind your customers that what you offer everyday is fair pricing, in addition to the specials mentioned above, you may want to sprinkle some aggressive pre-season price points into your message. Typically, you would offer items in advance of when they would be needed. We are writing this column in August, for example, and getting snow-blower promos from one wholesaler. Our minds are still thinking about swimming, but that $399 price is stuck in our heads so when it starts to get cold, we will check back with the company even though the snow blower will then be at in-season full price.
    4. Reminders of the breadth and depth of your inventories: Your customers, and often your sales team, struggle to remember all the great stuff you stock. As a result, a continuing flow of reminders about your important lines and the deep inventory of repair parts for those lines can help them to remember you when they need those product or parts. 
    5. New product introductions: We have often bemoaned our industry’s poor skills in introducing new products that can result in failures to launch, not because the product is not needed or wanted, but simply that the customers and sales team never really got properly introduced to the product and its value.
    6. Fun: As a way to train customers to read your promotions, it may be helpful to include important notices in your promotions. The next picnic, for example, could be XYZ Vendor Day.
  4. Since you cannot be certain about the readers’ interests on any given day, try to cover a variety of topics that will generally be of interest to the target reader.
  5. What’s in it for the customer:
    1. Most customers operate under the principle of “uncompromising self-interest.” It’s your job to clearly communicate what is in it for them in terms that they will relate to. “Increased productivity” is good just like motherhood, but hits the spot when quantified to a dollar amount, such as “can save you on average $75/week.” I can spend dollars, but not “increased productivity.”
  6. Connect the dots:
    1. Sometimes the customer will need to connect some dots in order to understand what’s in it for them. Do not assume that they can or will take the time to do the connecting and always make sure you represent the value in units that they care about. Dollars, for example, almost always trump other units such as time, efficiency and customer satisfaction.
  7. Urgency to act:
    1. The only reason you would do promotions is to get customers to buy more stuff at a profitable level. However, promotions that do not have a time factor can cause the customer to drop the promotion into the dreaded “someday/maybe” box. Limited time offers — especially on special prices — force action, limit the costs and reduce the chance that your competition will stupidly respond by changing the market price permanently.
  8. Links to your webstore so they can buy it from you:
    1. With electronic promotions, it is often handy to link the customer to the item in your store to allow quick and easy acceptance of the promotion. If you create layers of barriers for customers as they try to take advantage of your promotions, it may tarnish your future promotional initiatives aimed at earning more business.
  9. Take the time to track your results and to get feedback from customers:
    1. Most promotions are fired blindly into the marketplace with no plan to understand the success or failure of the shot. We feel this kind of random effort seldom produces a good ROI. Minimally, there should be a promo number or other tracking identifier required to take advantage of the promotion. Different presentations (mail, e-mail, website, webstore) of the same promotion will have unique identifiers so you can track which version caused the customer to take action. This allows you to track what is working and what is not. Further, taking time to ask customers about what resonated and what did not catch their attention as they reviewed your offers provides a more nuanced understanding of how your efforts are being received.
  10. Promotions need to be smart but not expensive:
    1. It’s not how much money you spend that makes great promotions; it’s the amount of intellect that you apply toward achieving your objectives. We see lazy wholesalers phoning in their promotions using service companies and think that’s only a little better than nothing. Service companies are great for doing the production side, but your marketing team thanks to its customer touch, should drive promotions that focus on your markets, products and customers.

Wholesaling continues to get more complex, but we think there are some basics such as promotions that you cannot ignore along the way.