Sales channel conflicts and industrial marketing...tread carefully

Ed Marsh | Oct 6, 2014

Really cool technology for MRO sourcing


What a great idea!  If you've ever been involved in identifying or sourcing a part, this has to reach out and grab you and put a smile on your face.  Where lots of technology is a solution searching for a problem, this seems at first glance to be one of those much rarer situations where the problem is painful, and the technology offers a valuable solution.

The animated explainer video is great too.  It does a good job presenting the essence of the software's function.  I'm a PartPic fan and I haven't used it yet!

But what about poor Linda?

Is Linda likely to be enticed to buy this software?  My sense is not.  While the promise of less wasted time is seductive, the bottom line from Linda's perspective is that very quickly this eliminates her value.  Today Linda assumes the hassle on behalf of someone else.  She trades her connections, knowledge base, supplier relationships and proximity in exchange for a buyers willingness to pay to hand Linda the hassle.

And whoever owns Linda's company (whether her or another) provides that service, and assumes operational costs and various risks in exchange for the margin they make.

Maybe there's something about PartPic software that requires it only be run by a supply house or distributor, but if so that's likely an artificial and arbitrary requirement that won't long survive.  Why couldn't ever factory maintenance tech have this on their tablet and connect to MSC, Grainger, McMaster-Carr, Fastenal and others?  In fact, with drone delivery imminent (and 3D printing not far behind) Linda ought to be pretty uneasy anyway...but in the meantime I don't imagine she'll be as excited about PartPic as the developers.

Channel Management & Internet Marketing

Linda's just an example of two common problems.  First, empathy in industrial marketing is unusual.  When you assemble a team of capable, technical folks, technology wins.  "The algorithms are awesome."  "Everyone who tries it is going to love it."  "You find the right part the first time and you'll never cross another thread again"....except how does that really sit with key players in that supply chain?  And does it provide value to the tech on the floor and the corporate finance guy?

Second, the vast power of the internet to level the playing field means that companies can compete regardless of size (based on the size of their brain rather than the width of their wallet as Brian Halligan is fond of saying) and can often disintermediate sales channel.  

Whether they want to, or should is a business strategy question - and it's one which should precede internet marketing.  Unfortunately it often comes after - once feathers are ruffled, egos bruised and customer satisfaction jeopardized.

I understand that this article is conflating two situations.  In one case industrial marketing jeopardizes the sales channel role by disrupting an industry.  In the other, internet marketing disrupts a company's own channel - or at least leads to conflicts.

But the theme is consistent - disruptive technology impacts business models in ways that aren't necessarily predicted.  That can accelerate or slow growth and should be part of every strategy conversation.

Industrial marketing with a business perspective

The problem is that most marketing is produced by marketers.  Nothing newsworthy there...but that means that they haven't walked in the industrial buyer's / end user's shoes.  The marketing is based on a hypothetical understanding - and it's easy to create stuff that looks good today, with cascading complications tomorrow.

So take a step back.  Forget about the website, forget about social media.  Start with business strategy and the real value your product creates.  Figure out who that makes your ideal buyers and how they buy.  Overlay special considerations you have regarding how to go to market.  Then start to build the marketing framework. 

It's work up front, but you'll have a much more successful industrial marketing program complimenting a well crafted business expansion strategy.

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