Customers and prospects may learn about, shop for and buy products from your company in a variety of ways—online searches, website visits, interaction with salespeople and more. It is more important than ever to have a cohesive customer experience regardless of where and how that interaction occurs. When a customer walks into one of your branches, one of your associates may greet him/ her by name. Let’s face it, that personal touch is nice in our increasingly impersonal digital world.

You may be wondering, “How can I put that greeting or personal touch into my digital communications?” First, let’s discuss why it is important to personalize digital touches. According to Experian, using a customer’s (or prospect’s) first name in an email subject line can result in 29 percent greater open rates. Better yet, including that name can yield more than 40 percent greater click-through rates, which is a much better indicator of engagement.

How do you start being as personable in your digital communications as you are in person? Most e-commerce platforms offer at least some level of personalization. Most distributors have customer-specific pricing. That pricing should be reflected when a customer logs in. Another example, when I go to Amazon, I’m greeted with a simple welcome (assuming I’m logged in) telling me I’ve been a customer since 1997.

If you’re in a store looking for a specific item, a good branch associate will guide you to the area where those products are located and may even recommend a specific product or two. That experience helps you, as a customer, to quickly find what you need. E-commerce sites can provide a similar experience by showing products that customers may be interested in based on the product they’re viewing. More sophisticated platforms can even display visitor-personalized information based on the type of products viewed, even when that visitor isn’t logged in.

In a recent survey by Unilog, personalization of the e-commerce experience was cited as the highest competency critical to the success of business by 63 percent of respondents. Whatever the capabilities of your e-commerce platform, understand and start using them. The reward will be greater customer loyalty and a higher number of conversions.

A marketing automation platform, such as HubSpot or Act-On, can provide personalization in your email marketing campaign and go one step further by creating sophisticated triggered campaigns. In our research and practice, we find marketing automation is a powerful yet underutilized tool for distributor marketers. Even simple email platforms, such as Constant Contact, allow personalization in the subject line and body of the email, which is a great start. If you choose not to use a marketing automation platform, use the personalization capabilities that you have when creating an email marketing campaign. Once you outgrow those capabilities, you can move up to a more powerful solution.

Personalization, albeit important for a distributor’s success, is just one area of opportunity to bolster e-commerce success. One of the best ways to launch or relaunch a website is to get existing customers to create a log-in. There are many reasons and advantages for customers to have a personalized log-in, including customer-specific pricing, access to prior orders and invoices, technical support access and so on. One effective method for starting a registration campaign is to send an email encouraging new users or existing customers without a log-in to create an account and describing the benefits of doing so. The registration campaign should include a username (ideally the customer’s email address) and provide a temporary password that can be changed when the account is created. There are lots of details that go into that, but it’s a good start in getting registrations on your site.


Some distributors have successfully supported registration offline, too. Signs posted in the branch to encourage customers to open an account and sales contests for getting the most users registered are just a couple of offline activities that support online usage.

An email campaign to encourage customers to make their first online purchase is effective and something we recommend after the registration campaign. Most often this takes the form of a percentage off the customer’s first purchase. Ideally, this offer is time-sensitive, so it encourages swift action. Just like the registration campaign supported at the branch and by the sales staff, this campaign should also use those channels. Even in our digital age, print can be a very effective option if done right. And, yes, it’s also a great way to promote online business.

Transactions may be the key online priority. Significant benefits to your customers and to your organization can include tech support, invoice lookup, product configurators and so on, which can be completed online. Distributors must tell customers and prospects about all of the benefits and not assume they will figure them out by visiting your website. Supporting this, effective distributors may create a three- to fivepart email series to be sent to newly-registered customers every two or three weeks that highlights key ways to get the most value from your online presence as well as your company. Do not assume that a long-time customer knows all the key valuable benefits you offer them. Essentially, have a solid value proposition and tie all of your communication to that. Don’t have a solid value proposition or it needs to be updated? Our company works with distributors often to help create or update value propositions.

Other tools distributors can use include analytics, SEO (search engine optimization), local SEO and print best practices. Analytics identifies the segments and lifecycle that each customer fits to help determine what type of marketing can be most efficient and effective. SEO is critical and must be an ongoing activity. For distributors with a physical branch or store, local SEO is essential and can help to set you apart from other distributors. Again, print can be quite effective if done right and can also support the online presence.

A key goal is to ensure that you support offline what you do in the digital space. Your customer should have a consistent experience whether it’s in a branch, on the phone with a customer service rep, talking with a sales professional, seeing marketing materials from you or seeing some form of digital communication. Every distributor has the ability today to do at least some form of these. Start with the resources you have today and upgrade capabilities as needed. If you’re already well down this path, congratulations! Now the goal is to take it to the next level.

Dean Mueller
Dean Mueller has more than 30 years of experience in sales and marketing, including several senior-level positions in marketing and technology leadership in both public and private equity organizations. Using market research, he has a deep understanding of distributor customer needs.