How to increase sales with trade marketing

6 min read
Benjamin Taylor

Influencing the purchase decision of your target customers takes years of strategy development. It can swing in your (or your competitor’s) favor in a flash, perhaps like the roll of a dice. For instance, buyers can be put off by your product’s packaging or by it being placed slightly out of reach on the category shelf. To improve the prospect of a sale, you must master the art of “selling to the seller” — also called trade marketing.

Trade marketing is promoting your products to enterprise buyers like retailers, wholesalers and distributors.

They, in turn, sell your products to end consumers. Your objective is to have your trade partners place your products in prominent or convenient places in their retail stores in order to drive sales for both of you.

If you are new to the business or are taking a refresher to refine your B2B (business to business) marketing strategy, you are in the right place, especially as we find ourselves in a new business climate regionally and globally.

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First, a little background

Before we get into the thick of trade marketing, let’s understand the essential elements that can enable positive outcomes:


Grocery Cart with Groceries in It

Research doesn’t just help you know the layout of the business ecosystem but can also give you a first-mover advantage.

Steve Jobs is famously quoted as saying that you should try to get so close to your customers that you can meet their needs before they can realize it themselves. Except in this case, your customer is the retailer, wholesaler or distributor. What are their needs?

Competitor intelligence

You are in a virtual combat with them. As such, know their online trade marketing strategies. Find their blind spots and use them to your advantage.Today’s ‘new-normal’ forces you to generate more from less. You have unusual opportunities, as some marketers are pulling back promotions given consumers are not spending.

Use empty media space to build awareness of your brand.

Craft differentiated content to fuel your inbound marketing funnel— that will make retailers or wholesalers come looking for you.

Plan well

Failing to plan is planning to fail. You get one shot at a meeting with your target retailers or distributors to make your case. Or that big-ticket trade event to meet your Q4 revenue. Plan backwards by accounting for everything needed to win.

The new rules of trade marketing

Trade Show Booths Seen from Above
Although traditionally held in person, trade shows can also be hosted online.

Now that a framework is in place, let’s get into the inner workings behind pulling off an effective trade marketing campaign. Here are your core competencies to get there:

1. Make service your new mantra

A recent Accenture study of 748 buyers and 1,499 sellers across 10 countries found that “to survive in the digital ecosystem, some B2B sellers have focused on digital upgrades only, while others remain focused on organic 1:1 sale cycles, disregarding critical digital tools.”

You need to be both high tech and high touch.

Focus on making it easy for wholesalers, distributors and retailers to do business with you online, while paying close attention to your relationships. Personal relationships that are nurtured will bring faster sales and more growth — for both you and your partners.

2. Create SMART goals

Let’s refresh the SMART goal methodology — your trade marketing campaign goals must be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-Bound

Use this acronym to define goals that can surely set you up for success, given there is not much margin for losing in the B2B game. Be flexible to ride on trends that unravel as you run your campaigns.

3. Stop thinking of your brand and trade marketing budgets as separate

Looking at Criteo’s 2018 global study, we see that businesses are spending a third, if not more, of their budgets on trade marketing.

The traditional separation between trade and brand marketing is starting to blur.

“Trade marketing is in a period of significant flux with online sales causing a reexamination of both tactics and budgeting,” says Criteo. Prioritize and plan for contingencies.

4. Strategise your placement

Armed with precise data and insights, your goal is to convince your B2B buyer to place your products in “prime real estate” on their shelves. A few useful tools that can help:

  • Retail display allowances for product positioning
  • Temporary price reductions
  • Shelf talkers
  • End caps
  • Shopper marketing

You must earn the premium placement by showing how well your products sell.

5. Handpick marketing mediums

Trade channels might not look as glamorous as consumer-targeted channels, but do the trick in conveying value to your buyer.

Rack of Colourful Clothes in Clothing Shop

Marketers surveyed in the Criteo study mentioned above said they expect these local media to be the most effective over the next few years:

  • Radio
  • Display Advertising Online
  • Paid search on search engines like Google

Evaluate the investment vs. returns ratio of the most highly visited channels to create the right mix for your business.

6. Spread the word through content

Match your short- and long-term trade marketing plans to market opportunity and your business goals. While trade fairs and radio are great short-term investments, you should also focus on content marketing as it has a longer shelf life.

Related: Blogging for beginners

7. Monitor and master execution

Tracking the performance of a trade marketing campaign helps you:

  • Adapt
  • Reassess
  • Double down on high-performing mediums or high-interest buyers

Online trade marketing channels offer a level of automation that can help marketing teams. According to the Red Fern article linked above, 57% of these teams in the manufacturing industry are quite small but serve the whole company. The more automated your feedback, the better the campaign can be kept on track.

8. Analyse and test well

A slew of big data analytics tools can unify results gathered from a campaign, and in some cases, even suggest improvements in real-time. That way, you can refine the campaign on the fly and boost results.

Data can include customer intent, high-engagement channels and more. Now, offline channels are becoming increasingly digitized too.

Better online trade marketing = business growth

Trade marketing has grown in prominence due to an increase in the number of supplier brands vying for limited shelf space.

You must persuade the seller to place your product by proving a higher likelihood that the customer will buy it.

Making that happen multiplies your chances that your target retailer, wholesaler or distributor will keep your product in their ‘prime real estate.’

In the times we live in today, trade show organizers are quickly adapting to presenting vendors through digital means, from the confines of their home or a nearby coffee shop. Marketers need to stay relevant and devise strategies to place their products in these forums and continue to schedule face time with their B2B buyers, who hold the future of their company in their hands.