The coronavirus outbreak continues to spread across North America canceling most events, closing restaurants, schools and businesses and forcing consumers to stay at home to help prevent the spread of the disease. For an industry that’s largely dependent on personal client visits and trade shows for promotional product orders and on store promotions, conferences and live events, among others, to generate sales, distributors and suppliers are using their creativity to think outside the box to continue to serve customers. Many have taken to social media and email to talk about ways they can continue to sell and help their customers meet their needs.

Dave and Gaye Ribble, owners of Westlake Village, California, distributor StandOut Marketing Strategies, are among those who recently posted several ideas on social media, including asking suppliers to create tabletop presentations and deliver them by video or webcast to distributors. “Have fun with it,” their post stated. “Set up your ‘booth’ and help us with virtual samples. You can even send those samples directly to our clients.” For fellow distributors, they suggested showing clients products via webinars, Skype or Zoom in lieu of personal office visits. “You can stay in front of your clients and keep them promoting their businesses just as you have in the past. Only this time around, you will do it virtually for a while.”

The pair also suggested distributors put themselves in their clients’ shoes to discover new ways to serve them. “Did they have to miss their own trade show because it was canceled? This might be a golden opportunity for you. Show your client that they, too, can set up their booth and put on their own show for their clients and prospects, one-to-one, and they can promise to send a nice promotional item or items to their client/prospect as a thank-you for watching your client's show.” They admit the product quantity for this kind of promotion may not net the distributor a huge order, but that could mean they will opt to spend more dollars on fewer promo items of higher value because they can prequalify those who are genuinely interested in seeing their virtual presentation.

“We’re all in this together, and the world needs to know that we are here for them with great support and smart ways to extend their brand and image, even when their employees are at home for a time,” the post stated. “Your client's business still needs to be promoted and you are there for them, demonstrating to them that they need to continue to market and promote their business, no matter how the information is delivered.”

Distributors are also using this slower time to catch up on projects that will help them be more organized and set them up to hit the ground running when they can make sales calls again.

Melinda Tarkington, business development manager, promo and apparel division at Marietta, Georgia-based distributor OnePoint Proforma, posted these ideas, “Like many, my clients have shut down all travel and events and many of my contacts are at home with their kids. Some are working remotely, some are not. I have a few projects that I will keep moving forward on but feel this is an opportunity to finally catch up on pre-sale planning tasks. Here’s what I'm doing: requesting spec samples, requesting virtuals, ordering samples, creating future presentations for upcoming events/opportunities, organizing my office including purging catalogs, organizing samples, etc.”

Mark Graham, chief platform officer at Toronto, Ontario-based business services company commonsku has shared a blog post, Disaster Preparedness For The Promo Industry, with five practical and bold ideas to help distributors and suppliers navigate their businesses through this crisis. “Prepare for a crisis but plan for a powerful future,” the blog states. Among the ideas is this one: “They may have to cancel the physical gathering, but they don’t have to cancel their plans to inspire or motivate attendees. One idea is to work with your clients to create inspiration kits to ship to attendees. Yes, it might be more expensive, but you can suggest borrowing from the excess of the available budget from the canceled event. Event budgets encompass a wide array of products and services, from rentals to catering to speaker fees, and instead of a canceled event completely eliminating a budget for merch, borrowing from other budgets will help fund an alternative project to accomplish the organization’s goals.

“Also, some clients might order merch to gain visibility at an event (like a sponsor or exhibitor at an event), and again, a canceled event should not necessarily cancel their plans to market their services. Help your customers think of alternative ways they can reach their prospects, such as a direct (lumpy) mail campaign.”

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