Background: Earlier this month, I met with Mark, the founder of $100K B2B cabinet hardware company. His five product lines consist of colorful knobs and handles, and he’s just about to launch two new lines in neutral colors. Like most companies in this space, the bulk of Mark’s business comes from showroom sales to interior designers. 

Mark and I were first connected by a colleague a few years ago. At that point I had encouraged him to forget about marketing for the time being and to focus on sales sales sales. Now, three years later, thanks to this focus on selling, his business has grown. And with the launch of his two neutral colored lines, his new goal is to grow 10x revenue. Mark thinks that the key to this growth will be implementing a marketing that will drive more sales directly from e-commerce and designers.

His Plan

  • Get a product review in Elle Design. He’s already sent product samples to the appropriate editor with no response.
  • Send a mass email to the list of 5K designer’s email addresses he has painstakingly researched and compiled over the last 10 years.

His product designer had also been telling him that he should use social media and PR to generate greater awareness and sales. But Mark is neither familiar with social media, since he doesn’t use it himself, nor does he know how to “do” PR. So he reached out to me to see if I could help him.

My Recommendations

  1. Don’t try social media right now. Mark has zero personal knowledge of social media and he does not have the money to hire someone to help him find and target interior designers. Plus social media is generally not the best choice for targeting true B2B customers like the larger volume interior design firms. 
  2. PR is not a magic bullet, especially when you’re severely resource-constrained and have nothing newsworthy. As exciting as Mark’s line extension is to him, it’s unlikely that a publication will be as excited, and it’s not worth the time and effort to test this out.
  3. Don’t send unsolicited emails. With a likely response rate of .01% (considered a good response for an unsolicited email), he wouldn’t even get one response from 5K emails! Plus he’s been working on the list for 10 years but hasn’t been updating it, so many of the names are likely duds at this point. (Corollary: If you have an email list, 1) Keep it up-to-date and try to ensure that you have permission to contact them and 2) Use the list! Send occasional industry-related emails in order to stay more top of mind with your customers and potential customers.).
  4. Leverage the knowledge of your sales team. Mark’s “sales team” consists of the personnel/owners of the showrooms that carry his products. Mark has NEVER asked them questions about the industry, what sells, or why/how designers buy. With the launch of his new line, he’s planning on flying to see his most profitable showroom customers. I recommended taking some of the showroom owners, managers or senior sales people individually out for a meal or drinks and learning from them. For that kind of research, I told Mark to make sure that he thinks of a list of questions in advance so that he can make sure to cover the most important topics.
  5. Do learn more about your target customer. Mark has NEVER talked to an interior designer about what they like, what they look for, or how they choose the cabinet hardware for their clients. I suggested that Mark reach out to some of the individual designers who have used his hardware to learn more about why they choose to use his products and the kind of clients that they think are most appropriate. Here, too, a pre-written list of questions can help Mark think carefully in advance about the kinds of things he’d like to learn more about.

Once Mark knows more about his customers, it will make it easier for him to not only sell better (which will still be the most important driver of his business growth), but also to move into more proactive marketing. But without that knowledge, it’s highly likely that spending money on marketing would be a waste of time and energy.