How One Distributors’ Small Team Entered and Conquered the Digital Marketing Arena
It can be difficult for B2B organizations to break from their traditional mold and adopt a new mindset. The old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” still resonates with many small to mid-sized distributors who feel they don’t need to attract new types of buyers, or provide more than what they think their customers need.
New York-based wholesale distributor Hill & Markes knew that outdated thinking would get them nowhere fast, so they chose to embrace an innovative spirit and explore new paths to help drive their future viability and success. The foodservice disposables, janitorial supplies, office supplies, and industrial packaging products distributor understood that as their customers’ needs changed, their company had to adjust to accommodate those needs. With their newly hired eCommerce Manager, Mike Powers, leading their initiative, Hill & Markes partnered with Unilog in 2015 to implement a complete overhaul of their eCommerce platform. When the new site went live in December 2016, it gave customers a more sophisticated way to shop online and provided an enhanced user experience complete with custom functionality, user-friendly features, and robust product content.
Through effective internal and external promotion, the distributor quickly experienced high website adoption rates, including a 60% increase in registered online users and a 65% increase in online orders within their first year. Hillnmarkes.com quickly became a beneficial sales tool for the company and opened the door to future marketing opportunities for them.
With their unique online offerings putting them ahead of the pack, the wholesale distributor decided to take advantage of their website by launching their first digital marketing campaign in 2017 to promote one of their suppliers, Clorox. Powers and his team marketed Clorox’s cleaning and disinfecting products, including their Total 360™ System, via their social networks, e-mail campaigns, and on their website for one month. The campaign results were astounding. Hill & Markes experienced a 14.7% increase in Clorox items sold and an impressive 72.0% growth in Clorox sales revenue. Powers admitted, “What we saw made us realize that we needed to completely rethink our marketing program from previous years.”
Soon after their successful beta test with Clorox products, the cleaning and janitorial distributor began approaching their larger suppliers to discuss digital marketing opportunities with them. Armed with the impressive results of their Clorox campaign, Powers and Digital Content Specialist Katie Bruno showed manufacturers that with the new Hill & Markes eCommerce site, they could showcase their products with call-to-action banner ads, promotional blog posts, product spotlight videos, dedicated landing pages, social media promotion, and more. “In many cases, we were the first distributor to come to them and discuss how we could leverage our digital environment to grow sales and track conversions,” stated Powers. “We wanted them to know just how dedicated we are to our eCommerce efforts.”
In 2019, Hill & Markes officially launched their digital marketing program to their vendor network.
Led by Powers, now Director of Marketing & E-Commerce, the multi-tiered program offers manufacturers a choice of investment levels, with associated benefits and deliverables at each level. Any vendor who wants to participate in their digital marketing program must first sign up for the Hill & Markes Standard marketing program, which includes a number of traditional marketing perks, including enriched product data for their item, a custom flyer, SPIFF campaign, and ride-along opportunities to promote their product with their salespeople. After becoming a Standard marketing program member, the vendor has the opportunity to upgrade to either the Pro or Preferred level digital marketing programs for enhanced online exposure. For smaller vendors and brokers who lack the marketing bandwidth to invest in the Pro or Preferred digital marketing programs, Hill & Markes also offers a la carte options so they, too, can leverage digital benefits.
At the end of the promotional cycle, Pro and Preferred level members receive a summary showing how well their digital campaign performed. Bruno tracks all the metrics and presents vendors with a graphic chart and breakdowns by each initiative, including open and click-through rates via the email campaign, number of followers reached and engaged with on social media, number of clicks on their banner ads, and number of product orders. Vendors can see the varying levels of engagement and sales results, and can compare those numbers with the year prior during the same month. “The last promotion summary we just provided for a member showed a 57% increase in total revenue and 143% increase in total quantity sold,” said Bruno. “So we’re definitely seeing a boost in sales when we promote their items through our digital campaigns.”
In addition to the jump in sales for vendors, Hill & Markes is also reaping the benefits as they leverage their website and other digital platforms as lead generators. Now that they offer standout banner ads, informative product content, and engaging product videos, they’re seeing longer browse times and more items filling the shopping carts. “Our website is more than just a place to transact. We see our customers having a more enjoyable shopping experience; it’s very different from the typical online storefront other distributors offer,” Bruno explained.
It’s clear that many of their industry counterparts agree. In fact, Hill & Markes was recently awarded the Digital Innovator Award by Modern Distribution Management (MDM). As one of only 10 distributors to receive the inaugural award, they were recognized for their digital transformation and marketing capabilities. Powers said they were thrilled when they heard the news. “This award is not only for our company, but also our team. We couldn’t be more proud.”
For those organizations with a small marketing team, digital marketing may seem overwhelming. However, Powers has words of advice for them: Don’t overthink it; just do it. “We’ve proven that digital marketing is absolutely possible, even with a two-person team,” asserted Powers. “When Katie joined our company, she didn’t have any video experience; but now she’s writing, narrating, and editing all our product spotlight videos which are, by far, our number-one engaged piece of content.”
Powers also contends those who use Unilog’s CIMM2 eCommerce platform already have an advantage. “The Unilog platform lets you easily create banner ads, build landing pages in the CMS, and add a blog section on your website,” he said. “Those three things are the foundation of any digital marketing strategy, so CIMM2 users should feel confident knowing they have the platform to do it.”