The art of persuasion
Written by: Philip Mason | Published:

Two-way radio distributors and dealers need to persuade customers that their business is the one to work with, so a well-conceived marketing strategy is all-important, as James Atkinson finds out

No-one in the two-way radio industry has marketing budgets like Microsoft to throw about. Nonetheless, the industry has a wide customer base covering many different types of businesses and organisations, which have to be reached and persuaded that two-way radio is the right answer to their communication needs.

For that reason, having a convincing sales and marketing strategy is vital. “As an SME, marketing is massively important for raising our brand awareness and making prospects and clients aware of all our offerings,” says Michelle Williamson, marketing manager at independent dealer DCRS.

“Our business value proposition (BVP) ensures we focus on our offering across three core factors: what we do; the key benefits of using us; and how we are unique. We don’t waste time offering products that are not attractive to clients/prospects.”

The two-way radio market is arguably different from many sectors in that it often deals with customers for whom communications are mission- or business-critical.

“That means you can’t approach it using standard marketing methods,” asserts Ola Gwozdz, head of innovation and business development at independent dealer PMR Products. “You need a marketing message that is informational, but still easy to digest, and which is sensitive to what we and our customers are trying to achieve.

“It is important for the company to set out a vision of what it is trying to achieve internally and externally. Only when you have a vision can you start building a sales and marketing strategy.”

It is also important that manufacturers, distributors and dealers/resellers align their marketing strategies to provide mutual support and make the most of limited resources. The emphasis for distributors is to align the messaging from manufacturers and their own value-added services with their dealers. As James Dobson, marketing manager at distributor Airsys, puts it: “We want the channel to provide a single message to the end-user from manufacturer to reseller by having all parties go to market with the same voice.”

“An added-value distributor will take time to educate, train and form a relationship with the dealer,” offers Andy Wilson, managing director of Syndico Distribution. “The skill and USP of an organisation like Syndico is with the contributions we make to the dealer’s business itself.”

Brand awareness

Dobson observes it is “extremely important” to have a marketing strategy that raises brand awareness and knowledge of the company’s BVP. “We are more than just a distributor of stock. Our marketing strategy ensures that we are able to interact with different marketing touchpoints to inform the channel of our continued investment for the future.”

Distributors need to persuade dealers that they have the right marketing strategies and clout to support them. Dealers tend to be smaller business concerns, but are the ones who actually do the hard work of getting out into the market and make the sales.

The well-worn marketing adage of know your customers and be aware of what your competitors are doing still holds true, to an extent. Wilson points out that the majority of high-level market research is taken care of by the manufacturers, which have after all (it is to be hoped) developed products to meet requirements.

“If a company is trying to push a product where there is no demand, or if we feel that we can’t add any value to the vertical we are trying to open up, we just won’t do it,” says Wilson.

Dobson adds that for Airsys, customer and competitor research is also directed at helping the reseller. “By understanding the demands our resellers face, we can ensure that we market the right services at the right place that will support them.” He adds: “We treat every reseller as an individual.”

Marketing challenges

Price obviously matters, but lowest price is not necessarily best value. “Major price discounting will have negative results, which can normally be felt through the whole industry,” warns Wilson.

“If you are only using price as a differentiator, that is not good enough,” agrees Gwozdz. “Someone will always be cheaper, but that won’t help anyone.”

The other major challenge is countering the view that two-way radio is an outdated technology. “We are trying to break this view and demonstrate how innovative two-way radio technology can be, especially among younger people,” says Gwozdz. “One way to do this is to shout about applications, which is where the innovative aspects of the technology can really be explored.”

Dobson feels that another challenge is keeping pace with all the upgrades and new products being released. “This is great for the industry, but from a marketing point of view we need to ensure we support our resellers in bringing these to market. We aim to get any notification to the reseller from the manufacturer as quickly possible, while also including our specific value-adds that will be relevant to the content. We also act as a link in getting the necessary marketing material from manufacturer to reseller.”

Williamson argues that it is also essential to have a good team of engineers and sales people behind the marketing effort to strengthen the core brand and help not only sales, but also customers to understand why they should use DCRS.

Best practice

It is not easy to sum up what works and what doesn’t when it comes to marketing. Williamson suggests five best practices: get to know your customers before you start marketing; stay on top of customer data and nurture your leads; focus on quality over quantity; use a marketing content calendar; and insist the sales team talk to the marketing department.

“Our marketing is based around our core strengths, BVP and our products and services’ USPs, but there is nothing better than getting in front of the client, allowing them to see the actual value of a product or application in the flesh,” she says.

Dobson advises treating customers as individuals, arguing that the days of mass marketing are gone. “It is all about quality rather than quantity.”

For Gwozdz it is about being relevant to the customer’s needs and problems, which means understanding those needs. “Otherwise your marketing efforts are just a noise and a waste of time and resources.”

In Syndico’s case it is a matter of helping the dealer emphasise the elements of its business that makes its offering different from the competition. Don’t, therefore, send out the same marketing collateral from the manufacturer with just a different logo on it. “For an end-user to see exactly the same collateral and message from many different resellers, in my opinion, is the opposite of where a reseller should be,” says Wilson.

Reputation

However, it doesn’t matter how good your marketing strategy is if you are not trusted to deliver. Communications are vital for many two-way radio customers, so they want to deal with suppliers who are experienced, reliable and who will be around to support them. “Reputation is paramount in this industry,” affirms Gwozdz. “If a company delivers a mission- and business-critical radio system in the way it should, then great.

“If it does not, your reputation will be tarnished and you will struggle to get engagement from other companies. It is a small industry. If you’ve done a bad job, everyone will know. Conversely, if you have done a good job, that really helps and you will get referrals. At any big tender, the first thing they ask is: what other customers would recommend you?”

Referrals are probably the best way to win new business, but nonetheless it is important to keep the company name and BVP ‘out there’ through advertising, press releases, emails, social media, relationship-building, networking and the various types of content marketing, such as blogs, case studies, videos, newsletters and press articles.

Most firms seem to use all of these to a greater or lesser extent. Wilson explains that Syndico works closely with individual channel partners to tailor advertising, newsletters, email marketing campaigns and promotions. Although he is reluctant to disclose details, he says: “It is extremely important for resellers to have a distribution partner that can support them in this activity.”

Airsys sees its website as its most useful marketing channel.

“Other forms of marketing involves us going to the reseller, whether it be sending an email, posting a social update, or content in relevant publications. Our website involves a reseller coming to us, meaning they are an interested party in what we can offer,” points out Dobson.

DCRS still uses traditional methods for its marcoms, but Williamson says the company has “truly embraced the digital era”. “We are an independent partner, so we like to show a wide variety of options of products and applications available to any market sector we are marketing to,” she adds.

Wilson sees social media platforms as a great way to create awareness, although he makes some distinctions. “Syndico takes a light-hearted approach to our Twitter social marketing because most of our business is repeat and therefore we can have some fun with it. LinkedIn, however, is a different platform and we prefer to keep our communications on this tool much more functional, professional and to the point.”

The view on marketing consultants produces a mixed response. Dobson believes they can be helpful for large projects that will have a major impact on the company, but Wilson is emphatically against using them, arguing that an intimate knowledge of the industry is “imperative to make a campaign a success”.

Content is king

Perhaps the most important marketing tool is content. Everyone sees case studies as the best way of showcasing their skills and for explaining to customers how relevant and innovative two-way radio solutions can be.

“People like to read stories,” notes Gwozdz. “A case study can capture the essence of what you are trying to achieve. They help establish your presence and that creates awareness of who you are and what you can do, and that builds up trust. I also think that interactive digital channels using videos and visuals are hugely important.”

“Case studies are a must for DCRS,” asserts Williamson. “You are marketing to prospective clients, they want to see how you perform. Case studies allow you to build trust and showcase your capabilities.” However, she concedes it can be challenging to get agreement from end-users either to use their name, or sometimes to even write anything at all.

Wilson reveals that content promotion is the marketing approach that sees the best returns. “With two-way radio we sometimes suffer from end-users thinking the technology is outdated. Showing them first-hand, with references from trusted sources, it is far easier to show the benefits.”

Content is also vital for introducing new products to the market and explaining the benefits they can bring. “Content marketing, especially through the medium of video, is a hugely effective way to get these more complex messages across, not least of all because it is a format that is both enjoyable and easy for the recipient to take in,” says Wilson.

Exhibitions and conferences are yet another way to promote solutions to potential customers, as well as being a good forum for networking and building up personal relationships. Financial and other kinds of support from up the value chain are also important. Both DCRS and PMR Products operate independently, but say they do make use of the direct support offered by manufacturers.

However, Wilson says resellers do not always take full advantage of the support available from distributors. “Of course, no two dealers are the same, but overall I would say there is far less activity in the industry than there could or should be. I really wish I knew the reason for this; if I did, I would fix it!”


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