Mergers and acquisitions play an increasingly important role in how manufacturers grow their businesses.
But is there also missed opportunity in leveraging sales during mergers and acquisitions?
This question came into focus when I read a recent article in Crain’s Chicago Business. Shilpa Gadhok, vice president of brand marketing at HumanCo, begins with an important distinction: “Selling a product and building a brand are not the same thing. But the former benefits greatly from the latter — especially during nervous economic times.”
I think you’ll agree that “nervous economic times” describe our current moment. So, what are manufacturers doing with their newly acquired brands?
Let’s discuss why branding is important and why manufacturers can look to their sales force for help.
Consolidation Is Driving the Need for Manufacturers to Do Better Branding
Building a strong brand has always been an important part of increasing your sales, but I’d argue it’s more critical now than it has ever been.
Why? Because brand consolidation, driven by mergers and acquisitions, is changing the manufacturing landscape.
With consolidation, brand confusion often follows, and distributors and end users are the first to experience it.
When manufacturers purchase brands and then don’t promote them or communicate changes might give the impression that those brands have simply disappeared.
The market then reacts accordingly, moving on to find something new.
Whatever value the brand name had ends up squandered; manufacturers are left wondering why sales have plummeted.
In other words, during mergers and acquisitions, it’s not the time to get quiet about branding.
When brand consolidations happen, manufacturers benefit by increasing communication with the entire sales channel. If you want to increase sales, then commit to promoting your brands.
Be Prepared to Make an Investment
While there’s an obvious need to do better branding, many manufacturers still hesitate. One reason can be the investment required: It’s not cheap to build a brand reputation, and some manufacturers worry they won’t get the return to make it worthwhile.
But without investing in your brand, you’re in for an uphill struggle to stand out in the market. If you don’t have a strong brand, it creates opportunities for your competition to gain a foothold in your markets and chip away at your sales. It also makes it much more difficult for your sales team to get the attention of the customer.
Speaking of your sales team, have some faith in them. Once you’ve created a go-to-market strategy and invested in catalogs, new products, promotional program, and lead generation materials, be willing to share these assets entirely with the people who are selling your products, including distributors.
Branding plus distributor promotions go a long way toward effective communications during mergers and acquisitions.
“When your promotional programs are goal-driven and result in rebates/credits after a sales goal has been reached, those promos usually perform very well to incentivize your distributors. Just make sure you make the rewards exciting enough to motivate most everybody.”
– Dean Reidy, VP of Sales, Chicago Jack Service
Building that trust with your sales team creates a positive feedback loop on your branding investment: You give your sales teams the tools to sell more, and you listen to their feedback and market intel to help you refine your approach.
Ultimately, you end up with marketing—and a brand—that cuts clearly through all the competitive chatter and communicates your value loud and clear to exactly the right people. Yes, it might take some time and money, but it pays off in how the market responds.
How Sales and Marketing Work Together to Promote Manufacturers’ Brands
In all this talk about branding, it’s important we draw clear distinctions between your sales and marketing teams. Each plays an important role in helping you promote your brand and sell more of what you make, but the two are not interchangeable.
The easiest way to describe the difference between sales and marketing? One pushes your business out into the market while the other one pulls the market toward your business.
- Your sales team, whether it’s in-house or an independent manufacturers’ rep (IMR) or some combination thereof, is out there pushing your products into the market.
- Marketing crafts the messaging and branding that pulls your customers in and starts a conversation with them before, during, and after they talk to sales.
As Gadhok writes, the first step in the branding process is “to identify who your brand is, what it stands for, and why that matters.” Delivering those messages to the public is the work of a great marketing team.
Marketing and sales strengthen your brand in different ways, building and leveraging the brand reputation that helps grow revenue.
It’s Up to You to Unite Your Sales and Marketing Teams
In one sense, your sales and marketing teams take complementary approaches to solving the same problem.
But a disconnect happens when the two aren’t brought together.
Both sales and marketing see different data and glean different things from the market. If they’re not sharing their knowledge, then neither is able to see the full picture. That leads to problems down the line when your marketing fails to connect with your customers and your sales team struggles to leverage your brand.
As a manufacturer, it’s a good time to bring these two teams together. Give sales a voice in the room with your marketing team, and vice versa.
When you unite their efforts, you help the sales and marketing team identify where they’re on different pages, helping ensure the marketplace is hearing a single, clear, consistent message about who your brand is and why it matters. That eliminates confusion and helps your message stick.
How IMRs Can Help Manufacturers with Branding
You’re the expert on creating a great product that solves a problem for your end user. IMRs are the experts in helping you sell it.
When it comes to branding, your IMR can offer something no one else can: Expertise on how you’re positioned in the marketplace.
Every day, your IMR is having conversations with distributors and end users, gathering valuable intel on how you’re perceived (or not perceived) in markets all over the country. That kind of information can make a crucial difference in your branding decisions.
Your IMR Is Also Relying on You
Of course, communication is a two-way street. Your IMR can also be listening to understand your sales goals, your go-to-market strategy, and which of your products are selling the best.
By sharing this information with your IMR and treating them like a trusted partner, you give them the tools they need to help sell your product and put the best face on your brand. Remember, even if your product is the best on the market, people won’t pay money for a brand they don’t know.
As Gadhok says in her article, “Building a brand is about loyalty, not transaction.” People perceive much less risk in moving to a brand they know well. If you’re asking someone to switch from a brand they know and already trust, you need your name to be known—and trusted—in the market.
Successful Manufacturers Stand on Their Brands
As Gadhok writes in her article, a brand’s purpose is “meant to be acted upon.” When manufacturers add new brands to their offerings through mergers or acquisitions, that is the moment to act: Make some noise for your brands, bring your marketing and sales teams together, and trust the expertise of your people.
Independent manufacturers’ reps have experience in marketplaces all over the country, and a deep understanding of what your competition is doing, giving them a unique perspective to share. When you take that onboard, and build a relationship based on trust and communication, you’ll be in a great position to compete with the new brands you’ve acquired.