A Letter To Suppliers


One of the most frequent questions I receive from my promotional products supplier clients is, “What can I do to get distributors and their sales reps to sell my products?”

After years of working for two large suppliers, and now owning a business that helps both suppliers and distributors market themselves, the answer is … ask them.

Here’s what I have learned that distributors like, want and aren’t getting from most suppliers in the promotional products industry.

Case Studies 

How do we sell these products? Give us examples of what works for other buyers. Who’s buying these products? What’s the strategy behind the promotion? How did it work? What were the results? 

Remember: distributors are not selling products, they are selling solutions, scenarios and results. They are busy. They want to be good storytellers but they need good CliffsNotes. So, help them tell your story in sales presentations and in their social media storytelling with good case studies.

It may be hard to develop these if you don’t know the whole story of how your products are used. So, why not have a distributor case study contest and offer future order dollars or self-promo products as your prizes. It’s a win-win!

Be sure you receive the distributor’s and buyer’s permission before you publish anything, particularly if you are showing the product with the buyer’s logo.

Social Media That Doesn’t Sell

Have you seen some of the many social media posts from suppliers? Their posts sell, sell, sell. Specials. Product pitches. Buy this. Push, push, push. What do distributors need? Specials, sure, but remember—they’re busy. They want posts they can cut and paste, that are worded for their end-user clients, not posts designed for distributors. Tell buyers how to use your products. Explain why a certain item is a great promotional vehicle. Discuss the types of campaigns where your products work best. And remember to be as specific as possible.

How you say it can also make a difference. Write in a warm, friendly kind of way—me to you. It’s called social media for a reason—one person to another. Make it familiar, not formal. Write like you talk. And show a great photo of that product in use. The photo doesn’t have to be catalog perfect—a lifestyle shot of the product in use is even better, and you can take it with your smartphone.

Next, create an archive of suggested social media posts your distributors can use when they’re pressed for time. In general, create an easy button for them to promote you.

Three Types of Photos

Today, it’s a visual world. (Sorry, fellow copywriters. Pictures attract and short copy sells.) People look at pictures, then read captions and short stories, not novels. So, distributors need photos to tell your story. When shooting the product photos for your catalog, be sure to get these three types of images to make it easier for distributors to choose your products:

1. A great product shot, along with different angles of the product, particularly to show off imprint areas.

2. A “lifestyle” shot showing the product in use. This is particularly effective when used on social media.

3.  Group shots of products. You’ll need these in traditional photo sizes, but also in a Facebook banner size—820 pixels wide by 312 pixels tall on computers, and 640 pixels wide by 360 pixels tall on smartphones. (Or, for us non-techie folks: four inches wide by one-and-a-half-inches tall.) The reason for these is that many distributors are looking for a big main header photo for their Facebook page, so they can refresh it often. They want to see multiple products beautifully displayed to fit the Facebook cover shot area so they can show what they do.  Give them that, and your products could be the centerpiece shot of your key distributors’ Facebook page. Who doesn’t want that exposure? Believe me, very few suppliers provide photography in this size with multiple products for this use. You will be their Facebook billboard and their hero.


Show distributors how your product works by using videos. Reference who uses your products, the features and benefits. Your video doesn’t have to be fancy—it can feature just one person in your office demonstrating the products. Make your video short and sweet, 30 seconds to under a minute in length. And please, please, please edit it so their clients can see it, without your address or phone numbers. It has to be client- friendly, talking to the buyer audience, to be repurposed by distributors.

Promote The Promotion

Whatever tools and resources you provide, make sure distributors and reps know about them, and make them easy to find. Feature these prominently on your home page. Promote what you have available in your email signatures, in your email blasts and on your phone message on-hold recordings. Request that your customer service reps and sales reps mention these tools every time they can. Frequency sells. Let your customers know these sales and social media pieces are available. You know you have them. Most times, distributors don’t.

Too busy?

If you’re like that one-armed paperhanger doing it all yourself, or have just a small lean and mean team running your day-to-day operations without the creative in-house resources to get these ideas done, you can outsource inexpensively. Hire a college intern from a local marketing program. Look for a budding copywriter to write for you or a film student dying to build up a portfolio with corporate videos. Tell them what you have in mind and then put them to work for a minimum investment that can benefit both of  you. 


Mary Ellen Sokalski, MAS,  a popular industry speaker, direct marketing expert and 20-plus-year industry marketing veteran, owns the Scarlet Marketeer in Cherry Hill, New  Jersey. www.scarletmarketeer.com

filed under PPB Magazine | Marketing | June 2018
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