How Preval prevails, connects with customers BY RICH KARPINSKI

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It's a common challenge for manufacturers with complex, b-to-b distribution chains: While they typically talk to their channel partners on a daily basis, their contact with those partners' customers—the ultimate users of their products—can be limited. Enter social media, where everyone is talking everywhere. Smart b-to-b marketers, including those that sell through distributors, are using social media to stay attuned to end-user conversations that can help them. That's the case at Chicago-based Preval, a maker of spray guns. Preval's products, sold exclusively through distributors, reach customers in the paint and automotive industries, as well as individual consumers, including artists, auto-customizers and do-it-yourselfers who buy their spray guns through retailers. “We believe that driving awareness among [end-users] is going to help us with our distributors and our business relationships,” said Sam Averbuch, owner of Preval, which sold 2.5 million spray guns last year. In the past, achieving that volume of sales would have meant advertising. This time, Preval and its Chicago-based agency partner, BlueEye Creative, opted to “take more of a social media approach,” in order to, Averbuch said, “connect with people more directly and understand their needs.” BlueEye built and maintains Preval's website but also moved strongly into social media circles, highlighting the manufacturer's presence on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Preval's blog. Averbuch both listens to what is being said about his brand and products—including encouraging customers to create videos about how they are using their spray guns—and responds directly via online forums and Facebook posts. “It's not so much about technology but about connecting with people and engaging in conversations,” Averbuch said. “Working in b-to-b, you don't get a chance to hear what the consumer ever says about your product,” he said. “By working through social media, you get a chance to understand your market better. Even though our market is working through distribution, if we don't understand what our ultimate end-users needs are, we have a disconnect with our distributors.” “Sometimes,” Averbuch said, “the best way to learn about a market is just to listen.” M
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