Forming a wholesale marketing strategy is very important if you want to succeed in growing a wholesale business in 2020.
In this expert guide, we will discuss marketing strategies for wholesale distributors that will actually get you results.
We’re going to give you some practical strategies you can apply to your wholesale business whether you’re just getting started adding wholesale to your store, or if you’ve already had a wholesale side to your business for a while and need to re-focus on growing it, or even if wholesale is the only thing you do.
If you’re looking to grow a wholesale business, get more wholesale customers and get larger, more frequent orders, then you’ll love this guide.
Let’s dive right in…
- Understanding the three areas of focus
- Creating your execution plan document
- The first (and most essential) tactic
- Cold calling
- Direct mail
- Cold emailing
- Sending samples
- Identifying prospects in your current customer list
- Attending tradeshows & meetups
- Customer profiling
- Industry directories
- Creating an amazing wholesale recruitment page
- LinkedIn prospecting
- Put yourself in the customer’s shoes
- Pay close attention to customer needs
- Reduce or eliminate order minimums where possible
- Free shipping for the first order
- Bonus samples
- Coupon discounts
- Consistent follow-up
- Leverage seasonal campaigns
- Celebrate your anniversary
- Free shipping offers
- Quantity based discounts
- Regular contact as a scheduled habit
- Painless ordering process
- Limited time offers
- Free samples of new products
- What to do next
Formulating Your Wholesale Marketing Strategy
Marketing plans don’t have to be stuffy complicated documents. In fact, the best ones are those you can write down on a single page or two.
If it’s easy to explain, it’s generally going to be easier to execute.
The sad truth is that most people follow the uncooked spaghetti approach to marketing: they throw a bunch of tactics at the wall and see what sticks.
This is exactly what I don’t want you to do.
One of the greatest but simplest insights into marketing strategy I have come across in recent times came from entrepreneur Noah Kagan (founder of Sumo.com) who recently wrote about lessons he learned growing an 8-figure business:
“When something works do more of it.
At the same, you need to aggressively cut the things that aren’t working.
There’s nothing wrong with experimenting and trying new channels. But you need to know when to stop. Be ruthless.”– Noah Kagan, Founder of Sumo.com & Blogger at OkDork.com
What I want you to take away from our article today is this:
You can use all the tactics you like but focus hard on the ones that are working and don’t be afraid to cut the non-performers.
In other words, plan to test lots of things, but as soon as you find things that are working, double down on them.
Focusing Your Wholesale Marketing Strategy On Three Areas
A focused marketing strategy with just a few key tactics that actually work is far more powerful than having an unfocused marketing strategy with 100 tactics and you’re not even sure if any of them are working.
There are three facets that make up a wholesale marketing strategy.
I’m going to direct your attention to three areas of focus:
- Attracting new wholesale customers
- Getting more orders from your wholesale customers
- Increasing the sales from your wholesale business (we’ll be focusing on increasing order size in particular)
I will be giving you a big handful of tactics in each area to test. It is going to be up to you to determine what will work for your company.
Creating Your Plan Document
Firstly, you’re going to want a way to manage this. The easiest way is a simple document. I want you to open up a fresh Google Doc or a Word document and write down three headings:
1. ATTRACT CUSTOMERS
2. GET ORDERS
3. INCREASE ORDER SIZE
These headings will represent our areas of focus. You will jot down notes under each heading about which tactics you are going to try first in each of these areas.
Ideally, you should start with 2 tactics in each area to start your process of testing and iterating.
This amount is small enough to be measurable but big enough that you can get through the list of tactics quicker to determine what works best.
When you first start wholesaling the biggest challenge is going to be finding and attracting customers.
Let’s look at the first area of focus and really the pre-cursor to all of the marketing ideas outlined in Part 2…
The First (And Most Essential) Tactic
I recommend your first tactic be making a list of 100 ideal businesses that you would like to become wholesale customers.
Why 100? Because finding the first 20 for your list will be easy. But finding the other 80 is going to be a challenge and that’s where the rubber meets the road.
Also, 100 is just the beginning. But let’s work with 100, for now, to make it easy to conceptualize and to give you something to work towards.
Create a new Google Spreadsheet (or Excel document) and title it “Wholesale Leads”.
You will need to add a few columns to this spreadsheet to give you the information you need to contact them later.
At a minimum I recommend the following collecting the following information:
- Company Name
- Contact Person
- Phone Number
- Email or Contact Link
- Mailing address
- Estimated Size (1 = small, 5 = huge)
- Revenue Potential (1 = low volume, 5 = high volume)
- Score (the average of the previous two columns)
- Contacted Yet? (Yes/No)
The Estimated Size and Revenue Potential columns give you a way to rate the leads. Not all customers are created equal so we want you to focus on the biggest potential winners first, though the aim is to get through them all eventually.
Once you have your 100 leads listed, sort the list by the Score column in descending order which is the average of the Estimated Size and Revenue Potential ratings. This will give you a priority order.
Wholesale Marketing Ideas To Attract New Customers
The following group of ideas covers a lot of ground and I don’t expect you to use them all at once. The idea is to provide you with the tools and options, but have you execute on them one at a time to find what works for your business.
Remember, every business is different. Pay attention to what the data is telling you and adjust course as necessary.
A tried and true method of guerrilla sales is the cold call. It involves *gasp* picking up the phone and talking to the people you just put on your list.
Can it be so easy?
Well truthfully, cold calling can be a bit of an art form to get right. There is a right way and a wrong way to approach it.
Here are my top 3 tips for making cold calling work:
1. Make your calls in the morning
More people are at their freshest in the morning. This includes you and the person who you’re calling.
Morning calls before opening time can also help you get past gatekeepers (receptionists and personal assistants).
2. Have a list of talking points, don’t use a script
When you write out exactly what you are going to say word for word you’re going to sound like a robot.
I suggest using a list of talking points instead. This will give you the freedom to talk more freely and actually respond to what the person is saying while still steering the conversation where you need it to go.
3. Make it habitual and reward yourself
In his book “The Power Of Habit” by Charles Duhig, he suggests that the key to forming a new habit is to add a reward to the habit creation cycle.
You do the desired activity at the same time each day, then reward yourself to reinforce the habit.
Sam Ovens knew this too. When he was starting his consulting business he used cold contact to bring a rush of new leads to his business.
He did so by making it a daily habit.
Creating 5-10 cold direct mail pieces immediately followed by conducting follow-up cold calls for previously sent pieces -> Goto the post office to post the mail -> Cross the street to the fancy cafe over the road for a cappuccino and 30-minute break.
The reward at the end of the process reinforces the former activity and over time it becomes a habit. It was through this habitual effort that he started growing his company consistently.
Does direct mail still work in 2020? The short answer is yes. Only when done correctly. In fact, direct mail works in a very similar way to cold calling.
The basic principles are the same: you make a list of prospects, send them some direct mail and watch for the response rate.
Because of its easy nature, the temptation with direct mail is to send a generic mailout to thousands of people at once.
This shotgun approach used to work well. But in today’s sophisticated market you need to do put more consideration into how you are going to stand out. I personally believe the future of direct mail is personalization.
Personalization is great for increasing the response rate on direct mail pieces.
If you can go beyond just the “Hi [First_Name]” type of personalization, your prospects will appreciate that you’re taking the time to really get to know them.
It shows you have put some serious thought behind why you are contacting them in particular.
Cold email is a relatively new technique. It works in a similar way to other cold contact methods such as calling or direct mail with a couple of added benefits.
The first benefit of using cold email over other cold contact techniques is that there are many systems out there that will help you automate the process.
Using a system like these also allows you to easily monitor the response rate to your campaign.
The second benefit of using cold email is the live feedback loop. What makes direct response marketing so effective is the ability to monitor the response to your campaign. This lets you tweak your campaign and try again for improved performance.
Cold email is particularly effective because the feedback loop can be near-instantaneous.
A common technique of manufacturers all over the world is to send samples out (and a lot of them).
As a wholesale distributor, you can use a similar technique quite effectively. Sending samples can give your direct mail pieces a great means of standing out.
As with many of these tactics the key to making it work lies with the work you put into researching your target.
Remember, for each sample you send you’ll need to recoup that cost in sales somehow. Sending your sample to a prospect of unknown worthiness is a waste of those resources.
Along with your sample, you should include information about your company, details about the sample itself, a list of other products that you offer and an invitation for them to register as a wholesale customer. It might also help to include an incentive for them to register.
Send your package via registered post or a reputable courier with a signature required on receipt of the parcel. That way you know exactly when they have received it.
Finally, schedule a phone call a few days later to check they received the sample and to ask if they would like to place an order.
Identifying Wholesale Customers In Your Current List
A great way to kick-start your wholesale distribution would be to see if you have any existing customers that might qualify for wholesale status.
If you’re able, export the orders from your store into a CSV file, then open it up in Excel or Google Spreadsheets to inspect the list.
There are a number of red flags that you want to look out for:
- Customers that have provided a company name while ordering
- Customers that have ordered larger quantities
- Customers that have ordered multiple times over the last 12 months
If you find any matches, do some research on them and, if it makes sense, reach out with a friendly email to clarify their situation.
Attend Relevant Tradeshows & Meetups
While tradeshows are not relevant for all industries, you’d be surprised how many niche tradeshows there are. Beyond that, there are also hundreds of smaller meetups where your prospective customers might attend.
Tradeshows are great for spreading awareness of your company and your products. Be proactive in attracting people into your booth by using games, free samples and inviting them to try your products.
Make sure you collect contact information for as many attendees as you can.
Because the cost of having a booth at a tradeshow is so high, it’s super important to follow up on every single lead.
Finally, the other indirect benefit of attending tradeshows is that you can also get to meet other business owners.
You never know where things might lead – often little conversations can turn into referrals, business ideas, and other positive results.
Profile Your Existing Wholesale Customers
Do you already have a few existing wholesale customers? Profiling them to find more just like them is an excellent place to start.
What is it about your existing customers that make them good wholesale customers?
- How big is their business?
- What is their industry vertical?
- What geographical area do they serve?
- What other products do they sell?
- Do they have a physical store? Is it in a complex, strip mall, a department store?
Getting specific about the characteristics of your existing wholesale customers can help you narrow down and identify others who match the same profile.
Add Yourself To Industry Directories As A Supplier
Industry directories can be a great way to allow customers to find you.
Here are a few of the larger more popular business supplier directories you can be listed in:
The easiest way to find relevant directories is by Googling the phrase “industry directory [your niche here]”.
I encourage you to list yourself in the smaller, more niche directories for your industry as the larger ones can make you a small drop in a big ocean of companies.
You can also ask to be listed on the websites of any manufacturers that you utilize too.
Make Your Wholesale Recruitment Page Shine
Do you have a dedicated page on your website to introduce yourself to new wholesale customers and recruit them?
Creating a page like this on your website gives you the ability to:
- Dispense general information about your wholesale program
- Set expectations and terms
- Provide a rosy picture of what it’s like being a wholesale customer
- Encourage people to register for a wholesale account
It’s worth investing your time to create a brilliant recruitment page for your wholesale customers. Your potential customers can’t read your mind, so give them everything they need to make a decision about whether to register with you or not.
If you aren’t on LinkedIn as a business owner/professional you really should be.
It’s the social network for business and it can be used for more than just displaying your work history and resume.
You can actually use it as a sales tool.
LinkedIn Premium is a fantastic way to open up business searching tools to get accurate data. It costs around $50-60 a month (current as at 2020) and is well worth the investment for the time savings it provides.
But if you are unsure about LinkedIn as a customer recruiting tool, and you are currently sitting on a standard account, all is not lost.
There are two LinkedIn browser extension scrapers that you might want to look at using:
- Linked Helper – helps you automate the visiting of profiles and even messaging potential targets
- Dux Soup – also automates profile visiting to help your profile get exposure plus has a neat Google searching feature
As with any prospecting method, the whole premise of LinkedIn prospecting is to make a list, check their worthiness for your program (see if they are a good fit) and set up meetings to try to recruit them. It’s a numbers game. If you can make the numbers work then try it out but don’t go into it expecting a 20% conversion rate, you’re more likely to only get 1-3%.
LinkedIn is good for the first part because there are options for automating and making this process quicker than manually searching for companies. Just keep in mind though that this is only the first part of the puzzle.
Wholesale Promotion Ideas For Encouraging Orders
It’s one thing to get a wholesale customer to register, but getting them to place their first order is a whole different ball-game.
There’s a number of wholesale promotion tactics that you can use to encourage people to make their first order as fast as possible.
The focus here should be on removing barriers. Barriers stop people from ordering.
Barriers can be things like:
- Not knowing enough about your products
- Surprise shipping charges
- Order minimums
- The ordering process itself
- Not being sure about returns terms & conditions
- Lack of sales support
Have you thought about how your new wholesale customers are perceiving the experience?
If you put yourself in your customer’s shoes for a moment it can help you visualize where the gaps are. Try to imagine that you know nothing about your business and the way it works.
Q. Do you provide enough information about your products and how to go about selling them?
Give them sales brochures, product information & specs, step-by-step guides on how to display your goods for maximum effect, videos on how to use your products, plus anything else you think might be useful.
Q. Does your new customer even know how to place an order?
A quick video screencast can go a long way here. It’s surprising how you might think something is totally obvious but to a new customer could seem daunting or impossible.
Q. Do you tell them upfront about shipping charges, payment type charges, shipping lead times, and more?
This should be in your explainer on the recruitment page ideally. Or, if not, on one of the first pages they see after registering to become a wholesale customer.
I also recommend you follow up in email form with a PDF of the terms and conditions and a short highlight list of what they are. The key to avoiding surprises is good communication.
Q. Do you support your customers well enough?
If you’re not in touch with your new wholesale customers at least weekly in the beginning then there might be something wrong.
Give them multiple ways to reach you including phone, email, contact forms, live chat and any other ways you can think of. Make yourself available to them.
Answered all of the above? Great!
Now I want to show you some tactics which will elicit the one action you want from your new wholesale customer: a quick first order…
Pay Close Attention
Pay very close attention – your customer has a wealth of knowledge to give you. If you learn everything about them, their business, their customers you will be in a position to set them up for success.
Giving your new customer extra attention in the first 1-3 months of your relationship will keep you in front of their mind for longer and show them that you really do care and appreciate their business.
Provide them with everything they need for success:
- Product information
- Marketing materials
- Sales information
- Suggestions on product promotion
If you can give them some sort of action plan to follow that is even better. Make it easy to see how they can win by being your customer.
Reduce Or Eliminate The Order Minimum
For their first order, a great encourager is to offer to reduce or eliminate the order minimum barrier.
Making an order up to a certain amount can feel like an imposed limitation, and it is useful later on, but the very first order isn’t the time to be strict about enforcing it.
A smaller minimum order amount or no order minimum amount at all removes that barrier in their mind so they can focus on buying exactly what they want.
Free Shipping For First Order
Similar to the above on removing the order minimum you can also apply the same tactic to your shipping charges.
Shipping is a sensitive topic though since not all products are the same size & weight. This tactic might be hard for you to apply if you ship bulky goods or goods with thinner margins.
I suggest you only do this if you know you can cover your costs with the profit margin on this first order.
Give Them A Sample Pack
Making a “new customer” sample pack can be a great way to onboard your new customers. It gives them a chance to try all of your products for themselves at no cost.
It will also likely be a surprise since so few people do this.
Using samples to recruit customers is a well-known technique (we even mentioned it above) but not many businesses consider using it as an after-sale technique.
The old tried and true method of encouraging sales is to use a coupon. Most commonly this is a retail technique but you can use it with wholesalers as well.
On their first order create a personalized coupon for a % off their entire order.
This tactic works hand in hand with other tactics such as the sample pack.
The easiest way to get something done is to ask.
Maybe your customer registered for your wholesale program late one afternoon and forgot about it the next day? Perhaps they’ve just been too busy to read through everything you’ve sent them.
Reach out and follow up with people who registered and then did nothing. If a week goes by, that should give you pause. Pick up the phone and call them to find out what is holding them back from placing their first order.
How To Increase Wholesale Sales
Now that the orders are flowing, I recommend you switch gears and think about how to increase wholesale sales.
The goal is more orders but also more large orders.
Increasing wholesale sales can be done in a number of ways. Often it’s by giving monetary incentives, and this is the go-to option for most businesses, but sometimes you can make tweaks to the way you’re doing things and see just as good results.
Let’s dive right into the tactics…
Leverage Seasonal Campaigns
There are so many seasonal retail days you can take advantage of for your marketing purposes that it’s hard to even find a single list that captures them all – trust me, I Google’d for it!
A seasonal campaign can bring unique product promotion activities. Maybe you can tie in one of your product lines with the holiday theme. Maybe it’s just a great way to capture the attention of people at a time of heightened sales.
The trick to remember is to leave enough time to deliver the goods to your wholesale customers before the date. Adjust your promotion dates accordingly.
Celebrate Your Anniversary
Remember when your customer first signed up? They probably don’t which means it will be a nice surprise to see that you’re celebrating the occasion with a special offer.
This works best when you just send a personal email with a “thank you” rather than make it a formal looking email.
Try out the following email template:
I was looking at your account today and noticed that it’s the anniversary of you registering as a wholesale customer with us.
Just wanted to say a quick thank you for the past year. I hope we can keep working together long into the future ;)
Also, I’ve just added a coupon so you can get free shipping on your next order, use “METARZANYOUJANE” on your way through the checkout.
Hope you have a great day!
Free Shipping Is Always A Winner
If you’re having a low period of sales, a last-minute free shipping incentive can give you the boost you need before the end of the month. It can be a great winner to have in your back pocket.
Again this depends on the kind of products you sell, some products are larger and therefore more expensive to ship. I only recommend doing free shipping promotions if you can cover the costs in your minimum order profit margins.
You can actually use this same concept but without the free shipping. Change it up with an impromptu 20% off coupon, a 2 for 1 deal on certain product lines, or other promotion.
Lower Your Pricing Based On Quantity Ordered
A great wholesale marketing strategy for an ongoing incentive is to utilize quantity-based discounts. This is something we’ve worked hard to provide in our Wholesale Pricing extension for WooCommerce.
The way it works is by providing a discount on a sliding scale depending on how much they add to the cart.
You can see here how the wholesale price per unit is lower based on the quantity range they add to the cart.
This is a great incentive for boosting your order size as well since customers will often stretch themselves just a little farther to get to the next quantity bracket.
Make Regular Contact A Habit
Keeping in touch with your wholesale customers is very important. Catch up calls are great for this, but to mix it up, you could look at starting a regular newsletter aimed at your wholesale customers.
Your wholesale customers are your partners in reaching new audiences. There’s plenty you can tell them in a regular fortnightly newsletter:
- News about your business including where you’ve been featured recently, media mentions, events, etc.
- Product-based news – do you have a new product line coming up? This is a great place to let people know all about it.
- Case studies/highlights on specific wholesale customers and how they’re getting success selling your products.
- Industry news that is likely to affect your wholesale customers.
- Links to any articles you want them to share with their audiences.
Use your imagination – there is lots of information that might be helpful to your wholesale customers.
Using a newsletter format is also very scalable. If you end up with hundreds of wholesale customers on your list you can contact them all at once with information that is still relevant to them.
Make Ordering Painless
A dedicated ordering portal like the one our order form extension produces is absolutely essential once you get past your first few wholesale customers.
Wholesale customers are very different from retail customers. You can assume that they’re quite familiar with your product catalog already and just want to get in there and order.
Reducing the number of clicks it takes to navigate your product catalog can mean much less frustration for your wholesale customer when dealing with you.
Limited Time Offers
Setting a time limit incentive on your offers is essential when you want them to take action right now.
Knowing that there is only a short window to take advantage of a special price can encourage your wholesale customers to order now rather than later.
As the order size of a typical wholesale order is much larger than a retail order you might want to ensure you still leave enough time for them to count up their stock and find out what they’re in need of. Getting organized to make an order can sometimes take wholesale customers a few extra days – try to leave a small buffer to account for that.
Provide Free Samples Of New Products
New products are always tricky to launch but your wholesale partners are there to help. That’s why being forthcoming with free samples is so important for your wholesale marketing strategy.
Since they are already wholesale customers the goal of the free sample this time is slightly different than when I’ve mentioned it previously. You want to give them information so that it makes sense for them to add it to their next order.
I suggest you send your sample along with two additional items:
- An information card/flyer – give them all the information they need to know about the new product, how to sell it, who the customers are for it, and anything else that you think would be useful if they were to add this product to their catalog.
- An incentive for early purchasers – a limited time offer works great here and can help push those early adopters over the line to add them to their next order.
Putting Your Wholesale Marketing Strategy Together
A complete wholesale marketing strategy is about putting all the pieces together over time. It’s not likely you’ll have everything going exactly how you want it from the get-go. That’s why you chip away at it gradually.
Also, not every wholesale marketing idea is going to work the way you think with your wholesale customers. Every set of customers are different and will likely respond differently to offers. See what works for your company’s customers.
What To Do Next?
How is your document coming along? Remember way back at the start of the article the very first thing I asked you to do was to set up a new Google Doc (or Word Doc) with three headings?
1. ATTRACT CUSTOMERS
2. GET ORDERS
3. INCREASE ORDER SIZE
Focusing on these three areas will help you build a strong wholesale marketing strategy.
Your job now is to pick 2 tactics from each focus area above and apply them to your business today. Knock them off one by one and test their performance.
If something is working well, double down on it hard. If something is not working, be ruthless and cut it from your strategy.
Tell us about your wholesale marketing strategies below in the comments. We’d love to hear how you’re applying the above in your business and what kind of effect it’s having.