By Joe Cogliano
Most water industry solutions providers rely on the independent rep model to drive sales. Ideally, these rep firms are focused on responding to RFQs, coordinating product availability, negotiating price, and getting new products into the market. It’s a dynamic that offers the most efficient sales pathway for solutions providers to establish a local connection with the municipal and industrial end-users and consultants they serve.
At the same time, however, these solutions providers typically miss the target on marketing themselves.
Marketing teams are often seen as an extension of the sales effort — tasked with things like producing new product literature for the rep network, coordinating tradeshow schedules, and booking entertainment for the annual sales meeting. The result is that marketing plays more of a tactical support role than a strategic one. When marketing does get the green light to invest in more strategic activities, executives instinctively want to tie those efforts directly to sales outcomes in support of regional sales managers.
This is a classic mistake. So how can executives stop misusing their marketing resources?
A New Mindset
For starters, stop misjudging your marketing team.
Define a different set of success parameters for your marketing activities that is completely uncoupled from sales. This will likely include an increase in brand awareness, such as the growth of engagement with content, as well as the rate at which your products are being written into specifications or considered during the bid process.
And with so much content engagement now driven by online searches, the data to support engagement-based returns is readily available.
Next, understand that the complexity and long lead times in capital planning and decision-making for water-and-wastewater-utility and industrial sales means it’s difficult to get “hot leads” to influence the right people at the right time. Uncovering those “hot leads” is what you want your independent reps focused on, not your marketing team.
What the C-suite typically underestimates is the wide scope of people involved in driving or stalling a project — such as the public works director, plant superintendent, or design engineering consultant — and how effective marketing can be influencing over the long process leading up to the bid cycle. Your company is more likely to impact the design specifications process and/or be given more favorable treatment during the bid process if it has been there all along as a trusted resource. This is where the marketing team can shine by building brand awareness and forging a connection.
Providing an ever-growing library of helpful content, which takes place over the course of several years and well ahead of the bid process, is one of the most effective ways to demonstrate your industry leadership to the vast array of individuals that may be involved. This goes above and beyond the connections made by your independent sales reps.
Here’s how one Water Online client summed up their experience with content campaigns:
“We’re getting more and more leads. I’ve been at this now four years and it takes a while in this industry to get people to think about it. There are a growing number of people inquiring and trying to understand our technology … and it keeps increasing. We’re probably seeing six or seven times (the engagement in our content) than we were four years ago. It takes time. To me that’s a good increase. That will result in more future business.”
When product, price, and availability all fall within an acceptable range for a municipal water utility or industrial customer, what’s your differentiator? It should be trust. This is where marketing shines if you support it properly. It’s near impossible to tie marketing to the current sales cycle, but when done well over time, marketing will move the needle and drive sustainable success.