The boom in ecommerce and wholesale marketplaces has made it possible for even the smallest wholesale businesses to stand up against the big guys. This has created a cut-throat industry filled with brand new competition, which is especially apparent as the industry recovers from the novel coronavirus pandemic. In truth, you can start a wholesale business tomorrow if you have the right marketing plan. That’s just the perks of the internet, but not every wholesale marketing plan will be successful.
Wholesalers have a lot more to think about than the average B2C or B2B retailer. Most businesses are trying to build relationships among trade customers like retailers, distributors, but also end customers too. Ecommerce has also made room for wholesalers to venture into the world of B2C and adopt a B2M model. This can make developing a marketing strategy feel like a major undertaking, since there isn’t just a single target customer. Nonetheless, all successful B2B wholesale marketing plans have a few elements in common.
You need a good website — a really good website
Wholesale business is no longer something that happens solely on the ground through word of mouth, cold calls or trade shows. It exists online. In fact, some research has shown that ecommerce sales have exploded by 44% in just the last year. While about a third of that can be attributed to Amazon, Alibaba — one of the world’s largest B2B marketplaces — saw a 37% increase in 2020. In other words: the time to go digital is now.
Before a wholesaler can have a successful marketing plan, they need an optimized website. You don’t want to sink a budget into marketing, only for your website to drive away the users you’re hoping to convert. Some CMS tools (like Magento, Shopify, or Woocommerce) have better B2B options than others, but the main focus should be on creating a streamlined search and checkout process so B2B buyers can find products easily and pay for them quickly. For example, Shopify Payments has integrated different payment options for consumers around the world. In one fell swoop, they’ve given any national business the opportunity to go global.
As it stands, research has shown that 18% of online shoppers in the US abandon their cart because the checkout process is too long or complicated, but an optimized website can actually serve as part of your marketing plan too. Rather than actively deterring sales, SEO-optimization will help bring in B2B buyers organically from search engines like Google.
Define your brand’s messaging
Confused messaging can completely sink a brand. Case-in-point: American Apparel. The company was initially launched in the ‘80s as a made-in-the-USA wholesale business, eventually expanding into retail. This messaging model helped them amass a yearly revenue of about $630 million across 250 stores at their peak — but along the line it got lost between controversial ad campaigns and CEO misconduct. When Canadian wholesaler Gildan bought the company after its second bankruptcy filing, they aimed to revive the brand based on its original USP (unique selling proposition), but three years after the re-launch, American-made options dwindled. Today, American Apparel is viewed as a shell of its former self to its core customers.
While there’s an argument to be made that American Apparel was a perfect storm of bad business decisions, some of the blows to its reputation among customers would have easily been avoided had the company stuck with their original message (ethical, sweatshop free, American clothes) rather than relying on marketing campaigns that appeared to contradict that.
For this reason, a USP and consistent brand voice should be at the heart of every wholesale marketing plan. It could be something simple, like how John Hancock positioned themselves as the longtime sponsor of the Boston Marathon, but it does need to be something consistent.
You’ve done a market analysis and defined your target customer
You can’t market to everyone. Some people will love your product, and some people will hate it, or simply have no need for it. If B2B wholesalers don’t identify the buyers that need their products, even the best marketing efforts will fail.
Most wholesale businesses have multiple target markets which include retailers, distributors and even B2C consumers in some cases. In order to craft the perfect target markets and gain enough insight to run a nuanced, optimized campaign, you should perform a market analysis. This, at the very least, should include:
- A consumer analysis: where you dive into who’s buying your product, who might buy your product, what their needs are and their various demographics (like company size and yearly revenue for B2B or household income for B2C).
- A competitive analysis: where you look at the competition, their product lines, their prices, their target customers and their marketing efforts.
You can actually learn a lot about what your target market will purchase and how they purchase it (i.e. successful marketing campaigns and price points) by looking at your competitors. In fact, a failure to look at the market as a whole can hinder your business’ overall growth. For example, Kodak invented the digital camera, but the brand’s choice to focus on a different product line and ignore the changing needs of consumers left a hole in the market that was eventually filled. In effect, Kodak made their own business obsolete.
You’ve defined your budget and goals
For smaller wholesalers, budget is often inhibitive, but you’d be doing your business a disservice by bankrupting yourself for the sake of marketing. It’s a delicate balance, and thankfully, the digital age has actually created a number of inexpensive marketing opportunities for wholesalers. It only costs a few hundred dollars to run an extensive LinkedIn and Facebook campaign, whereas trade shows could cost tens of thousands of dollars. Taking a look at who’s purchased products from your competitors and cold-calling those B2B buyers will only cost you in time.
Once you define your budget, you can shift your focus on your marketing goals. Most wholesale marketing plans focus on two things: customer acquisition and customer retention. The school of thought is that about 80% of your sales come from 20% of your clients. At the beginning, you’ll want to generate new leads, but once you’ve established a base of customers, it’s actually cheaper and more effective to market to existing customers. A good wholesale marketing plan will make room for both.
You’ve ironed-out the where
Narrow down where you want to market, and craft a campaign around the platform. The digital age has unfolded a wealth of places where wholesalers can market. You can reach B2B buyers by email, through social media, through paid and organic searches, through trade shows, and through nurturing your existing list of contacts. Some wholesalers have even seen increasing success using marketplaces like Alibaba, eWorldTrade, Global Sources, and Handshake. It’s all about omnichannel marketing, and research has shown that businesses that adopt omnichannel strategies have 91% greater year-over-year customer retention rates than those who don’t.
You’ve created a conversion optimization strategy based on analytics
The last piece of a successful wholesale marketing strategy is a path forward. You should constantly monitor the analytics of your existing campaigns so you can optimize your marketing efforts in the future. This won’t just save you money. The right tweaks can bring you more conversions and help you retain the customers that matter most.