"Inbound Channel Marketing Feat. Ed Marsh" (Inbound Success Podcast Ep. 6)
Can you use inbound marketing to increase sales when you sell through a distributor channel?
Ed is sharing his experience developing a channel marketing campaign that leveraged inbound marketing principles to boost sales for an industrial manufacturing company that sells through a global distributor network.
Listen to the episode here, or read the transcript (below).
This week on The Inbound Success Podcast, my guest is Ed Marsh, the founder of Consilium Global Business Advisors, a company that specializes in helping B2B manufacturing companies achieve their growth goals.
Here’s what Ed and I discussed on this week’s show:
Kathleen Booth (Host): I am so excited to have you on the show this week Ed. Tell us a little bit about your company, the types of clients you work with, and what you do.
Ed Marsh (Interviewee): Sure Kathleen. So, although many might categorize us as a marketing agency, we're really very different than that. My background from my international business experience, my time in the army, my education, and the companies that I've run in the industrial space really makes me more interested in the strategy and executive management end of things, even the role of independent board directors. And so, unlike an agency model, which outsources entire functions, we really advise companies, typically middle market industrial manufacturing companies.
We work with companies that have in-house teams that have specific revenue goals and understand strategically where they need to take the
Kathleen: I love that you do this international work, and we're going to get to that in a bit because that's something pretty different than what I've talked about with some of my other guests.But first, you have a really interesting campaign that you've run. Tell us a little bit about that.
Ed: Because of the kinds of companies I work with, it's often complex sales, it's frequently capital equipment kind of things, and it's often sold through sales channels. And one of the really interesting things
This creates an interesting challenge for companies, particularly where they've built their business model on a sales channel. They've probably got a fairly substantial piece of a gross margin that's committed to a distributor discount, and so it's creating this unease, which has always existed to a certain degree.
Manufacturers never thought channel did enough, and channel never thought manufacturers did enough. But now it's really distorted. And so, part of the role of a strategic revenue growth program is to begin to understand where sales channels are going, and how customer buying habits will influence it in the next five to ten years, but also how to evolve the channel, both in its composition (changing the criteria for an ideal channel partner) and in developing a much more fruitful relationship than the traditional transactional one.
This campaign is an example of that. One of the things I coach companies on doing is developing campaigns that use channel partners for co-marketing - not just in a “put the sticker on the spec sheet” sort of a way like these companies traditionally
What we do is take a standard offer that a manufacturer created - a downloadable e-book or something like that - and co-brand it with the distributors’ logos and contact information (so very little work is involved in adapting the offer to the distributors’ brands). We build a parallel conversion path - literally as simple as cloning a campaign that already exists and doing a little bit of co-branding on the landing page and
This approach saves a lot of hassle, ensures that everyone stays compliant with CAN-SPAM laws, and avoids concerns about sharing contacts. It works because the distributor isn't asked to do much. We're basically spoon feeding everything to them, and all they have to do is approve the document, the emails, the landing page, make sure that they're comfortable with the co-branding, and then send that initial campaign.
Kathleen: Those distributors are often resellers for a variety of different types of equipment, are they not?
Kathleen: So I imagine that if you're a distributor and you're working with ten manufacturers and one of them is supplying you with all of this marketing material and collateral, you're going to take the path of least resistance and promote the one that makes your life easier.
Ed: Exactly right.
Kathleen: Before you do the work for the other ones that require you to build your campaigns from the ground up. Is that the case?
Ed: Precisely. And in many cases, the campaigns aren't even happening with the other manufacturers. In the industry, we use a term called "
What's fascinating is not only does this develop a lot of great leads for the manufacturer, it's amazing how many conversations it stirs and renews with latent contacts that the distributor had forgotten about but who call up and say, "You know what? Thanks for sending that. I'm not interested in that. But now that I've got you on the phone, I keep meaning to call you about X, Y, and Z." And so, it creates a really interesting business dynamic for the distributor outside of the manufacturer's products as well.
Kathleen: That's really interesting. So, let's talk about your specific campaign. What were the objectives of this one?
Ed: The objectives of this campaign were simple - to generate leads. Many of these distributors actually don't even have email programs that they run. They have decent contact databases, although aging in some cases. So we wanted to foster
Because they didn't have an email program, and we wanted to make sure that we were sending it from them as opposed to from the manufacturer who didn't directly have the relationships to send the
That was backed up, of course, by a typical conversion path with
There were three nurturing emails, the first two of which were sent by the manufacturer's marketing automation program, but came from the email address and with branding of the distributor. The third came with the branding and email address of the manufacturer.
Kathleen: Interesting. So you're mixing kind of the manufacturer and the distributor in terms of the brand presence within the campaign.
Kathleen: I think it's fascinating that, in this case, the manufacturer didn't even have an email marketing platform and this was really their first foray into doing this kind of email marketing. Tell me about who the audience was for this.
Ed: The audience for this, as is common with many of the clients I work with, is the plant manager, plant engineer, process engineer, manufacturing engineer, or maintenance manager. In some cases, there's P&L responsibility at the plant management or division presidency level. In other cases, there's no P&L responsibility, but fairly substantial operational responsibility.
Kathleen: I've had this experience where you upload a client's email list for the first time into a system and you send an email out and many of the emails bounce. I imagine they probably had a good chunk of their emails bounce.
Ed: There was a good chunk, and that's another reason in many of these cases to make sure you send it as the distributor rather than as the manufacturer because you don't want any sort of negative impact on deliverability. In this particular case, I think the bounce rate was about 25%. So you're right, it is quite high.
Kathleen: What's great about that is (and I don't think that most companies see this initially) is that it becomes a really effective tool for updating your contact database. All of a sudden you have information about which contacts have gone stale, and it's a way of identifying those and maybe prompting you to reach out and update your contact information for people.
Ed: Great point.
Kathleen: You sent out about 4,500 emails and after the bounces, that's probably about 3,500 that got delivered. Tell me about the performance of the campaign.
Ed: What's interesting is the performance is very close to what we see when we run this campaign directly in terms of open rate and click through rate. The open rate in this specific case was about 14% and the click through rate about 17%. That's common for what we see in this kind of industrial space.
We've had the benefit of tweaking and AB testing this campaign with a number of distributors and improving it along the way. What's interesting is
In one case, I remember a distributor sent it out and the subject line was "Email blast from X, Y, Z company." You can imagine that when that happened, it negatively impacted the results. So there's some great side by side data that shows that if you use the right subject line and send the email properly - at a good time of day, on the right day, et cetera - you can get great results.
Kathleen: It sounds like your open and
Ed: Of the folks that actually clicked through, we had 125 views of the landing page out of the 3,000 that were effectively delivered. And the landing page converted pretty well at a rate of 40%, so there
We also understand anecdotally that it resulted in several sales and some project discussions for the distributor with contacts on other products that they sell as well.
Kathleen: And what was the dollar value of the sale in this case? How big was it?
Ed: In this case, I would say it typically is somewhere around $10,000 to $15,000, although it can vary anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000.
Kathleen: Wow. So while three customers
Kathleen: Especially for the
Ed: That's exactly right.
Kathleen: That's great. So I imagine that manufacturer's now the distributors favorite as a result of that campaign.
Ed: It does really foster that closeness in the relationship. It's kind of like if you go and visit with people and make the in-person sales calls, you always have a more substantive discussion. This kind of collaboration has a similar sort of a nurturing effect on the relationship. People feel good and they enjoy working with each other, and there's a sense of direction toward mutual success. There are challenges with manufacturers and distributors, and so the other thing it does is it takes the edge off some of the frustrations as well. So it's really a cool dynamic that comes out of it, in addition to the leads and the sales.
Kathleen: The original offer that you sent out in the email ... tell me a little bit more about that. Was that a top, middle, or bottom of the funnel offer?
Ed: That particular one was a bottom of the funnel offer. Depending on the manufacturer, the distributor, how expensive their line card is, the range of product they have and the number and diversity of contacts, you may approach this differently. In this case, this distributor was really focused pretty exclusively on a fairly tight range of products that exist around the bottom of the funnel for this manufacturer so that's the offer that we used. In other cases, where the distributor has a much broader contact base and a wider variety of products, a top of the funnel offer may be more appropriate.
Kathleen: So, if you lead with a bottom of the funnel offer and somebody converts, how do you nurture that?
Ed: It's really nurturing toward a conversation and a proposal. It's not so much nurturing toward further investigation. We're saying, "Look, we know that you have these problems because you and every other company in the world have these problems. And we know it costs you these things and we know that you have urgently to fix it because you've got regulatory requirements that you have to comply with." In this case, it was related to EPA requirements. So the goal of the nurturing was simply to have a conversation, get somebody in the plant across the desk from them and basically have the opportunity to do a quote.
Kathleen: So more kind of classic sales nurturing as opposed to marketing nurturing?
Ed: Right. And that tends to be the way much of it works in the industrial world.
Kathleen: Got it. So, one of the things I find really interesting about the work you do is that so much of it has to do with companies operating at a global level. Talk to me a little bit more about that and how that plays into the way the campaigns are designed and some of the other ways that you use marketing, and the information you get from your campaigns for these companies.
Ed: This is fascinating to me because it's almost a chicken and the egg kind of a thing. I've done a lot of international business. I was partners with a German company in the US. I owned a company in India. I've done a lot of work in Brazil and in Nigeria and a number of other markets in most of the regions of the world.
In most cases, the decision by a company to export has been a high level, strategic decision - one that was fraught with a lot of concerns and a lot of
It's a very speculative decision based on a hypothetical “best guess” with a lot of resources committed
What's fascinating about the opportunity with digital marketing is that when companies begin doing their digital marketing really well - which they want to do because they want to succeed in their domestic market - an ancillary impact of that, which they may not even necessarily recognize immediately as a benefit, is they'll often start to harvest more international leads. When that happens, they've got a choice. They can throw them away, which many do, or they can begin to work on them. As they begin to work on them, what they'll find is that, in many cases, they get a bunch of leads from some country, for instance, that just isn't particularly fruitful. They follow up with them, nothing happens with them.
On the other hand, they may get a certain flow of traffic and leads, and
So now, rather than going to the library and having the interns search years or customs data to try to see where they ought to go, they can look at their own data and they can see where they're getting traffic from, where they're getting inquiries from, where are they getting leads from, and most importantly where they're getting deals from, and then where they're closing those deals.
Kathleen: I think there are so many companies that are sitting on mountains of really good data and they never tap into it. It's such a shame.
Ed: You're absolutely right. The beauty of it is they can just extend incrementally. Maybe they do a few local language
I'm actually an export advisor for American Express. Recently, we ran an event in Miami, the American Express Grow Global event, and the theme was how small businesses can begin to export, and reducing the barriers to doing it.
We had a great keynote from Andrew Davis, who's a well-respected thought leader in inbound digital marketing. He told a number of really phenomenal stories, including one about a lady - I think her name is Jenny Doan - from Missouri Star Quilting Company. She had a hobby of doing quilts and one day she got this crazy idea she'd do a YouTube video. The first video was rather awkward, and it wasn't very well produced. She decided she would do another, and then another, and suddenly, she began to get a following on YouTube. And then the videos began to get a little bit better produced. Before you know it, within five or ten years, she has built an international juggernaut. It's a $100 million conglomeration of, I think, five different businesses that began as her hobby with a single YouTube video. It is so successful that one of
So the point is that it's no longer the width of your wallet, it's the size of your brain. If you are willing to think creatively about how to use the digital tools available to you, you can take a small business- literally a hobby on the dining room table - and get the global reach of a multinational. It's amazing.
Kathleen: I love that. And it's funny because the story you just told about Missouri Quilt Company is not that dissimilar from the story of Gary Vaynerchuk, who started working in his family's liquor store and began publishing YouTube videos on what he called Wine Library TV. What the two have in common is that they both started without focusing and worrying about high production value. They didn’t let that get in the way of putting out good content. And the good content is really just what you have in your brain and what you're willing to share with your audience. It doesn't have to be slickly produced. In fact, sometimes, in my experience, the less professionally produced stuff does better because people connect with it more on a personal level. There's a relatability to it.
Ed: If you look at it, it's precisely the model that Hubspot itself followed. They created this amazing movement around inbound marketing, and they did it with the intent of selling to American SMBs and, lo and behold, they started to attract international leads. So then they had a few people start coming into the office in Cambridge at 4:00 in the morning to be calling leads in Europe. They got a few European VARs. Then they got more European customers. Then they opened up a Europe office. And then they started a German blog. And they've incrementally done that same sort of thing around the world now. And I think they've got seven international offices. So that's precisely the way that they built their business internationally.
Kathleen: That's a great point. I hadn't really thought of it that way, but that's very true. I remember the days before they had any international offices. That might date me a little bit, but it has evolved quite a bit. It's a very different company today than it was five, six years ago.
Let's go back for a second to the types of campaigns you run. What specifically do you think makes those co-marketing campaigns so successful?
Ed: In many cases, it's the fact that the people that we're marketing to aren't normally marketed to. I don't know how many emails end up in your inbox
You're reaching out to people that aren't accustomed to being reached out to, and if you do it in that classic inbound way with helpful information that's going to help them do their job, as opposed to just hammering them with how they've got to buy something, generally it's a pretty receptive audience.
Kathleen: I feel like it's almost
What works better is to ask yourself "What is it that my competitors are not doing? I want to do that." Because you've got the blue ocean then, and I think it sounds like that has worked really well in the industries that you tend to work with.
Ed: Yeah, I think that's a good analysis.
Kathleen: So what do you think someone who is listening to this podcast and wants to improve their own inbound marketing campaigns can really take away from your experience and apply in their own case to get better results?
Ed: That's a good question. I think there's kind of a parallel opportunity. One is to apply the “Money Ball” approach to baseball to inbound marketing. You think about it always as a game of singles, then increase the efficiency or optimize each step by say half a percent or a percent each time you do it. So a slightly higher open rate, a slightly higher
The other piece is to look for those opportunities ... I'd hate to say where it's
Kathleen: That's a great
So you've got a really different way of looking at a lot of this than some of the other guests I've spoken to, which is refreshing. Where do you look to for inspiration about inbound marketing?
Ed: So, you mentioned Gary Vaynerchuk being irreverent, although I try to monitor my language a little better than he does. I tend to be a little bit irreverent in how I look at the industry as well, and although there are some very fine people in the industry and some terrific resources, I tend not to read inbound marketing related stuff because it feels like just sitting in an echo chamber, or breathing each other's exhaust.
I look at a lot of financial stuff. I look at a lot of global news stuff.
So I tend to read stuff around these trends that then help me in some cases find adjacencies or interesting
Kathleen: Who do you think does inbound content marketing really well? Companies, individuals. Who out there is really crushing it?
Ed: Because of my biases and preferences, I tend to believe very strongly that people that have actual operational experience, that have carried P&Ls, that have sold products similar to what they're marketing and even bought them, gives a really good base. So a lot of times, I hear from marketers who have never bought anything besides Mac computers and Adobe software talking about their expertise in reaching industrial buyers and factories. And I know if you've been on a factory floor at the beginning of
So I tend to look for people in the marketing world that have that background. I love having conversations with John McTigue from Kuno Creative for instance. He's got a very similar kind of an outlook.
Kathleen: Well, thank you for sharing all of that with us. It's so interesting and I love that we covered channel marketing or co-marketing, and global marketing - all topics we haven't touched on too much in the past. It's nice to have a different viewpoint than what we typically hear about on this show.
Ed: I'd love to have conversations with people that have questions about this. They can find me depending on what channels they like to use. I'm on Twitter and Instagram @edbmarsh. You’ll find me on LinkedIn as Edward B. Marsh and the URL for my website is www.consiliumglobalbusinessadvisors.com.
Kathleen: Go check out Ed's website and find him online. He has some interesting articles he posts on LinkedIn. I know I was looking at your LinkedIn profile and you've got some really different experiences, especially in the work you do with export advisory from some of our other guests, so very worth taking a look into.
Thanks for joining me this week!
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About Kathleen Booth
Kathleen joined IMPACT after successfully exiting her own digital marketing agency, which she grew from startup to HubSpot Platinum level partner. As part of the sales and business development team at IMPACT, Kathleen leverages her 11+ years as an entrepreneur and inbound marketing agency owner to advise businesses on digital marketing and sales solutions that will deliver measurable results in the form of customer acquisition and revenue growth. When she’s not working, you’ll find Kathleen spending time with her children, taking long walks with her two rescued Labrador retrievers, volunteering on community boards, or devoting her time to mentoring other entrepreneurs and business owners.