Traditionally focused on field sales, distributors have not historically been strong in marketing capabilities. But as customer demographics change, how distributors market has become increasingly critical to long-term survival. Because if distributors don’t keep pace with how customers want to shop and buy – which is largely electronic – they’ll lose ground against the competition.

Each year, Real Results Marketing conducts a State of Distributor Marketing survey to track distributors’ progress across sectors. We partner with industry publications and organizations to examine how distributors prioritize marketing goals and the tactics they take to reach them, as well as how they would rate themselves in performance.

Here are three takeaways from this year’s soon-to-be-released results:

Very few distributors are “extremely satisfied” with their marketing results. Just 6 percent said they were “high performers,” which is about half that of a broader cross-industry survey from salesforce.com, which identified 12 percent that labeled themselves as higher performers. Most distributors are “moderate performers” when it comes to marketing.

Distributors have continued to move toward digital channels: Three of the top four most important marketing vehicles for distributors in the survey are digital. This includes email, search and social media. Print, on the other hand, is falling quickly in importance to distributors.

But distributors aren’t fully embracing newer digital tools: Distributors now recognize the importance of digital channels to their marketing efforts’ success, but many are still not implementing these tactics in line with best practices. That may be holding them back from the ROI they’re seeking. In tracking frequency of use, for example, fewer than half of distributors responding to our surveys say they use email in line with best practices, which would be daily to weekly.

It’s no longer OK for distributors to lag on digital. The gap has widened, and our research into customer preferences shows that now is the time for distributors to restructure their go-to-market strategy around Millennials’ buying and shopping behavior. Millennials, who make up a larger percentage of the labor force than each of the Baby Boomer and Gen X generations, are already making or influencing the final purchasing decision.

Getting this right is key to competitive advantage in the long-term.

View other research studies by Real Results Marketing, including past years of marketing surveys.