Sales Channel Communication Tools

Among the many online and automated forms of communicating with channel partners recommended by Hanson Marketing — all of which are intended to ENHANCE and not REPLACE person-to-person contact, right class? — two are particular favorites. We prefer them for their quick and responsive handling and speed (just like your favorite sports car)

NING: Huh? NING is your very own social networking site… like a custom Facebook. This nifty social marketing tool became part of my channel marketing toolkit when our hard-working PR agency pitched it… and at a price tag of FREE, I have expanded its function by inviting channel resellers to join. What is it? Take a look here.

Constant Contact: Back when dinosaurs roamed Earth, my weekly outbound correspondence was via automated fax transmissions. All the news fit to print on one, black and white, curly piece of paper. Now, Constant Contact and similar solutions unleash a can of powerful, quasi-personal communications tools. A channel leader can reach all or parts of his active partner roster, with rich visuals, polls, and calls to action. A good reseller becomes a great one, when armed with industry- and product-specific info, and a brief, valuable newsletter does the job.

Tip: Think of what you’d say to the channel partner if you had 5 minutes, face-to-face… then put it in writing and send it!

What’s a Book, Anyway?

Phones, TVs, now books …the form and capacities of all are forever changed, in our digital age. Usage habits, functions, and portability are re-writing the rules on how to convey channel management information for Hanson Marketing’s clients who are channel leaders in consumer and trade sectors.

Now comes a Wall Street Journal survey that reveals an increase in reading and in the purchase of new books. 40% of the 1200 respondents say that they read more books since owning an e-reader (Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader, iPad).

E-Screen Interface Changes Work and Play Habits

The norms of digital interface and its effect on work and leisure patterns are established in the consumer world, but as always there are implications for business-to-business channel management. At Hanson Marketing, we advise current and prospective clients that securing and maintaining face time with their channel partners is priority one, whether they be consumer retailers or trade wholesalers. Using personal e-screens is a natural next step.

For instance: as head of channels in the b-2-b space, you can push daily dashboard readouts on sales performance to your partners’ e-screens, for real-time assessment and on-the-go corrective action. The value you provide your partners trumps your competitors — as you shape your partners’ daily management styles, you take on the role as preferred provider.

Reading the WSJ survey results, I noted that about half of all Americans ages 18 to 24 read no books for pleasure. I had one of those “we’re not like the others” moments. Reading for pleasure in my family is a reflex action, like channel surfing or texting. We’ve seamlessly cut over to e-reading and e-viewing, too, with a collection of Kindles and iPads strewn about.

Read more: A Look at the Reading Habits of E-Reader Owners

International Business Pre-Flight Checklist IV

Previously, I touched first on the need to Get Executive Thumbs-Up, then to Analyze Market Horizons and Prove Demand. Up next: Allocate Resources.

Can you afford the trip? Or, rather, trips. Lots of them. Face time with selling partners and customers is your key to success, especially when up against local competitors. Your sales and support co-workers and staff can count on a few new passport stamps every year, as you cultivate international revenue for your company. So budget accordingly across all departments to cover the special skills and resources that are needed when dealing globally.

Yes, your company may be in for an extreme makeover: accounting, product management, operations, and sales teams will take on new duties, and have to re-think basic procedures. For instance, does your accounting department need to hire foreign exchange and letter of credit experts? Does your HR director know how to recruit, hire, compensate, and motivate employees located in local markets? Will you need to contract with a logistics company to outsource fulfillment, support, and warehousing?

If you’re the one in charge of developing international markets for your company, you will quickly find out which of your co-workers will be on your case about moving their cheese, vs. those who become avid cheerleaders for you as you build up international sales. Like it or not, nearly all American workers have a direct hand in international trade. Most of us work for small to mid-sized companies, which in turn contribute the lion’s share of export/import revenue for our nation’s economy.

Handling most international transactions usually requires extra time, flexibility, and patience … all of which are in short supply in many businesses these days. In your role as international sales leader, have a weekly to-do item that will advance the cause of team-building. Enlist the help of those cheerleaders and your bosses to help you convert angst to adulation across add departments. Jumbo-sized boxes of chocolates from faraway lands won’t hurt, either, so leave room in your bag and shop the duty free retailers before taking off!

International Business Pre-Flight Checklist III

In 2 previous entries, I touched first on the need to Get Executive Thumbs-Up and then to Analyze Market Horizons. What’s Step 3 on the checklist? Prove Demand.

Is the destination worth the time and resources? There has to be tangible, measurable demand for your products and services in international markets, which signals long-term revenue growth, which you’ve already quantified in step 2’s analysis. Are your solutions able to reach new markets in their current or altered form, motivate local partners, win new revenue?

Here is where time spent at industry fairs in your target countries will pay off. While I encourage you to make friends with local distributors and brokers — they are great at local networking, and can introduce you to trusted resources in banking, legal and logistics circles — I advise against signing ANYTHING resembling a distribution agreement with them, exclusive or not, for the time being. It is just too soon to go steady, and you want to protect your goods and services from sandbagging by nefarious competitors or those who intend to steal your intellectual property. Sorry if I sound jaded here, but I’ve seen this scenario play out more than once.

While planning your trip, don’t forget to enlist the aid of the hard-working team at the US Department of Commerce Export Assistance Center near you. Though they work for Uncle Sam, these people think like entrepreneurs, have global-scale rolodexes, and act with the sense of urgency that business owners can appreciate. Their services, many at no cost, include access to in-market studies for your particular industry, ranging from political and regulatory obstacles down to current and forecasted market growth based upon point-of-sale data from retailers and world-class research. Put your tax dollars to work for your business!

At this step, companies very often make the strategic decision to split product lines down domestic vs. international lines. Feature sets that are vital to winning international revenue — multilingual interface, for instance — may be of negligible value to your domestic customers. And once this happens, be certain that your operations, accounting, and logistics functions can handle it. More on that in future entries.

Next installment on the list: Allocate Resources.

Socially-Aware Branding

“Brands belong to customers, not companies.” The authors of Groundswell posit that social networking phenomena have turned the tables on how brands are conceived, launched, and shepherded towards their intended customers. Readers are encouraged to view those ominous clouds looming on the horizon not as threatening hailstorms, but as promising abundant rainwater and bumper crops.

I recently advised a client to let his company’s reputation for personal service and quality craftsmanship make its own way into the social networking sphere. How? By gathering customer and prospect fans in such venues as Facebook. Let the good word on stellar service and top-rate products linger, in places where friends and families talk about everything from soccer tournaments (“silkscreened T-shirts, free delivery”) to prom dates (“buy one corsage, get one free”) to new blenders (“let’s pulverize Chuck Norris… if we dare”).

I’m especially gung-ho on this idea for providers of community-based goods and services, who can place calls to action that trail user social networkers of a certain age or affinity group or sports team who live within a slice of nearby zip codes. And that, dear friends, is why the latest Yellow Pages is about as hefty as my 8th grade yearbook.

Although your brand’s reputation roams far and wide online, you can still help shape its perceptions. Forrester Research (see Groundswell) reports that over 75% of online shoppers rely upon word-of-mouth endorsements. We fill virtual carts and book travel while hanging on the words of anonymous reviewers, as if they were yakking with us across the back fence. How do those vital ratings make it to e-tailer sites, you may ask? From the likes of companies such as the delightfully-named Bazaarvoice, who make tools that gather unbiased reviews seamlessly into any e-commerce page — yours or your retailers — wherein your products are displayed and sold.

I purchased Groundswell at Amazon because it was recommended by another marketing professional whom I trust, and because Amazon hinted that I might enjoy it. I then gave it a high five because it improves how I earn my living. Socially aware brand campaigns lead to high customer rankings and abundant business. Reap the harvest with the right tools!

Hello world!

My name is Tom Hanson.  I make a living in marketing by linking products to markets worldwide. My bag of tricks is hefty: I have worked in a host of industries, promoting products to help people live and work smarter. My hope is that this blog will spark some ideas for you, allowing you to see your work from a new angle. It’s my aim to convey how amazing I find the world of international commerce to be.

Why marketing? Well, I inherited a mish-mash of family genes for creative writing, avid reading, wanderlust, wry humor, silent observation, and, well, for yakking with anyone who fogs a mirror. Along the way, I became fluent in Spanish and hijacked a workable French and a smattering of Japanese. All this jived, and into the work world stepped a fellow who likes to communicate and gets paid to do it.

I started out carrying a sales quota and a bag, pitching and wooing my way deep into a territory known ominously as ROW (Rest Of World, i.e., “them”). I learned how building channels and alliances that put feet on far-away streets would help me make my numbers, easing my bosses’ angst over those always-suspect expense reports. I soon realized that when it comes to marketing strategies, one size does NOT fit all. So, sure enough, I joined the thundering herds of marketers, striving to ensure that my sales colleagues would carry timely, focused, and practical selling tools in their own bags, always suitable for local consumption.

In the ensuing years, I’ve worn holes in my soles and stamps in my passport, and gained valuable insight into what works in the world of international marketing. I invite you to read my blog — peek into my bag of tricks, listen to some stories, and get my views on what’s happening in the market that moves customers and makes them take notice.

I don’t think any of our childhood dreams involved growing up to become a bleary-eyed wage mule, so I hope to have some fun along the way as I cover a variety of topics related to where I work and what I do. All work and no play makes for a deadly boring blog.


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