By John Sekevitch
Dec. 1, 2011
Most consumer electronics (CE) manufacturers today understand the importance of a strong direct-to-consumer (D2C) online sales strategy to sustain their brand over the long term, but robust partnerships with retail, distribution and value-added reseller channel partners are equally important. Ironically, even as OEMs strive to minimize conflict between these two critical sales pipelines, many components of a D2C strategy can be repurposed or adapted to help drive channel sales.
For larger channel partners - such as U.S. retailing and distribution giants like Best Buy, Amazon, Wal-Mart, Target, Costco and Ingram Micro - consumer electronics manufacturers typically provide support through their direct sales organizations. When OEMs do participate directly in sales and marketing initiatives mounted by these major market players, they tend to play a supporting role.
For the small and medium enterprises (SME’s) selling consumer electronics products around the world, however, the scenario is quite different. In this case, CE manufacturers have a genuine opportunity to provide effective sales and marketing leadership. This can be accomplished by enabling SME channel partners to piggyback on the manufacturer’s established D2C infrastructure in an indirect manner.
Let’s consider a few examples of how that can be accomplished.
Leveraging Content Investments
Typically, CE manufacturers make a considerable investment in creating in-depth sales and marketing materials to support their direct-to-consumer initiatives. These core information assets can easily be shared with SME channel partners who need tools to engage and close customers but lack the staff, infrastructure and resources to develop these materials themselves.
The list goes far beyond brochures and data sheets to include interactive content such as YouTube videos that share customers’ product experiences, demonstrate products in action, or train salespeople. Social media assets like blogs and reviews as well as internal company product comparisons, discussion forums and white papers can also be leveraged to assist SME channel partners - all without reinventing the wheel.
SME-Specific Catalogs and Pricing
Another area in which consumer electronics manufacturers can leverage existing D2C capabilities to support SME channel partners involves supplying electronic catalogs tailored to each partner’s product selection and pricing. The manufacturer’s complete product portfolio can be filtered to present only those items that a given SME is authorized to sell, and pricing can include quantity discounts, buying quantity limitations, special promotions and/or other bundling opportunities unique to that retailer, distributor or value-added reseller.
Again, the ability to deliver this kind of sales support rests on a strong D2C foundation. Without first developing the tools required to implement a direct-to-consumer sales and marketing strategy, OEMs cannot produce partner-specific catalogs cost-effectively, nor provide the level of interaction and self-service that fully supports the partner’s client service needs.
One of the cornerstones of a successful D2C sales strategy is the ability to provide a wide range of online payment options, including credit card, wire transfer, PayPal, multiple currencies and localized payment methods unique to individual countries. Once that payment infrastructure is in place for direct-to-consumer use, manufacturers can provide the same tools to SME channel partners for self-service online sales.
In addition, automated support is emerging for SME-specific payment types such as purchase orders and credit lines. These additional payment alternatives can help drive cost-effective expansion of the SME’s business.
Bottom line: an effective D2C sales strategy that is free of as much real or perceived channel conflict as possible can also help nurture (rather than inhibit) a robust partner network that can drive substantial sales for the manufacturer as well as the individual channel partners.
With 62 percent of all retail foot traffic today starting with an online search, almost always including a visit to the brand website, investing in a direct-to-consumer online brand experience is not a choice but a necessity. The good news is that the same investment can help generate business in the channel at virtually no incremental cost. That’s a powerful formula for multi-channel success.
John Sekevitch is vice president and general manager of consumer electronics for Digital River, a leading provider of global e-commerce solutions. He can be reached at www.digitalriver.com.