Big Box. Big ROI.

What marketer doesn’t want a bigger budget? How often have you said, “If I only had more money, I could …”? One way to get more for your budget is by spending your customer’s money to aid your sales and marketing.

Step One: Stop Being Selfish

The first step in using other people’s money is to stop thinking of yourself. Stop thinking, “We’ve got to make this sale.” Instead, consider your channel customer, the retail category manager at Lowe’s or Home Depot.

Be prepared to step into their shoes. Learn what’s driving them from their websites, Google and online press releases. Retail category managers are driven by their bosses’ wants and the direction of the company. You can learn if they’re focused on:

  • Driving more traffic to the store
  • Creating additional sales per customer visit
  • Attracting more contractor business
  • Growing private label products
  • Increasing awareness of a category
  • Differentiating from the competition
  • Driving big projects or small projects
  • Introducing a new feature or service
  • Selling more across categories
  • Changing customer perceptions of their store
  • Increasing contractor-installed sales
  • Improving service

Think about how your product can help achieve these goals. You can make a case for how it will help them achieve any of these challenges. Simply take a fresh look at the role your product plays in their success.

Show You’re on Their Side

It’s important to show you truly have their best interests in mind. If possible, act like the leader in the category. You may not be the biggest, but you can still be the leader in helping them achieve their objectives. Being a leader means you recognize they probably need to carry your competitor for best overall results for their category.

Another effective way to show you’re on their side is to share an idea or new information about their category every time you visit them. If the buyer is new to the category, educate him about it. How did it get started, who are the customers, why do they buy, what are the trends and who are the major players? Do this before you tell him about your company and products. The buyer will appreciate the help learning the category.

The Store is the Advertising Medium

Think of the big box retailer as an advertising medium. When you buy an ad, you are paying money to reach many people whom you believe are interested in your product and are qualified to buy it. If you consider that each Lowe’s or Home Depot store has around 25,000 visitors per week and they each have more than 2,000 stores, the numbers add up quickly.

And these people are qualified. Whether they are a contractor or homeowner, they come to the store with money in hand ready to make a purchase that will improve their home. Home Depot and Lowe’s have spent a great deal of money to build and staff stores, and on advertising to bring in these qualified customers. Grocery stores recognized the value of this years ago and now regularly charge companies slotting fees to put their products on a shelf. Someday, Lowe’s and Home Depot may wake up to this potential source of added income.

Consider your exposure to such a large group of potential customers as a source of free or low-cost advertising. For example, end cap displays have tremendous value at no cost for the space.

Step Beyond the Aisle

It’s astonishing how companies sit in their aisle waiting for customers to find them, then use point of sale to steer people to their brand and perhaps to up-sell them. They are content to fight with their competitors for each sale instead of growing the category. This behavior does nothing to help the category manager or store.

An example of this is the door category. They do a great job of hiding in their aisle and waiting for the few people who have decided they need a new door to wander in. More than 70% of people enter their homes through their garage, so they rarely see their front door. It becomes invisible, in essence, so they need to hear the benefits of a replacement door.

A smarter way is to get out of the aisle and reach customers who are making a purchase for another project. If you make them aware of your product, you put it in their mind as a possible next project.

Sell the Category, Not Your Brand

A poor strategy is to have an end cap selling one brand of door and its limited benefits versus the full range of doors and their benefits. The door manufacturer that scored the end cap probably thought they did a great job, but they are missing a much bigger opportunity.

A better way is for one door manufacturer to become the leader in the eyes of the buyer and create an end cap designed to sell all doors instead of just theirs. If the buyer agrees to it, he may even get all the door manufacturer’s to share in the cost of the display design and production.

Pursue Seasonal Displays

Another opportunity to use the big box stores’ money is to develop seasonal out-of-aisle displays and promotions. This links your product to one in another category that complements it. Doors and door hardware go together, but they’re usually displayed in separate aisles with no cross selling signage.

See if your product can be displayed outside, near the entrance, on a seasonal basis. Everyone entering the store will see it. These spaces are often available if you just ask and show how it would benefit the store. Give the buyer the ammunition to lobby for the space successfully.

Go Local

Consider if demand for your product is stronger in certain locations than others. A manufacturer of dock and swim platform components would be smart to develop a map of which big box stores are closest to lakes where these are used and push for a display each spring in those stores.

Determine how much latitude local store managers have in the products they display, and enlist your sales reps to negotiate better display space. As you explore every opportunity to leverage your big box relationships, consider developing an in-store clinic idea, and show the buyer how it will benefit him and his store.

Get into Their Circulars

Finally, always look for ways to place your product and category into their circulars, where they spend millions of dollars each year reaching your prospective customers. Show them ideas how to feature your category and drive overall sales growth — once again, with their money.

In addition to expanding your marketing budget, you’ll end up with much more measurable use of your dollars. Next time you’re fighting for your budget, you can show senior management the return you got for their money.

This requires sales and marketing to work together. It’s also more fruitful if you spend a little money to have your agency or creative supplier develop some layouts so the buyer can visualize the idea and how it will make him more successful.

Step back from how you’ve always done business and think how to help the buyer instead of yourself. Chances are, you’ll expand your marketing budget with his money.

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