According to a report from Digital 360 Commerce (“B2B marketplaces are shaping the future of B2B ecommerce,” Digital 360 Commerce, Oct 18, 2022), sales in B2B marketplaces shot up 131% to $56.5 billion in 2021. They are projected to increase at a similar pace to $130 billion in 2022. How do we, as distributors in that marketplace, increase our customer share?
Distributors may find themselves overwhelmed by the idea of trying to compete with the internet giants. Sales industry guru Mark Dancer says, “Many distributors are slow to embrace online marketplaces because they assume that their offering is similar to Amazon’s perceived approach—providing customers with visibility to alternative sources and pricing, and adding sales capabilities to compete with distributors for financially attractive customer purchase occasions.” (“Heads Up: A new approach for leading in the digital age,” Mark Dancer, Oct. 18, 2022). As I consult with independent distributors, I find their online offerings are generally lacking. I look for the best way they can evolve their sales model, process, and methodology to compete in today’s digital marketplace.
Each independent distributor is unique — there is no general sales method that applies to everyone. However, there are basic fundamentals common to all. To compete with the expanding alternative vertical channels for a share of your customer’s wallet, the traditional sales company must improve proficiencies in three channels.
How should you evolve your sales model, process, and methodology to best capture your share of the customer wallet? Dave Bent, CEO of ES Tech, explains, “There are 3 channels (online, inside sales and outside sales). Each one has a different cost of sale and the channel used should ideally relate to the complexity of the purchase – complex consultative sale or a simple commodity sale or easy re-order. These three sales channels line up in a matrix against the type of buyer – millennial who wants to do everything online, and traditional buyer who still wants the ‘personal touch.’ A key role for sales leadership is to get customers to use the right buying channel to optimize margin and customer satisfaction/happiness.”
Inside sales representatives (ISR) take inbound calls from buyers who want a quote for Product X. Using today’s digital enhancements, their job now goes beyond this simple request. According to a report from NAW (“Why Heads of Sales Should Expand Their Inside Sales Functions,” NAW, April 14, 2022), the ISR is now also responsible for having an understanding of customer behavior and interests, making relevant upsell and cross-sell recommendations, and knowing when accounts are at risk of churning. He/she must also be able to make connections with small and medium-sized accounts, reach sales quotas quickly and efficiently, and coordinate with other teams and departments for a better customer experience.
Customers rely on distributors and manufacturers to provide knowledge not resident in the customer’s business. The primary goal of the account manager (AM) in the digital age is to conduct discovery with a committee of customer buyers. AMs must look for ways to solve complex business problems with engineered solutions and drive the development of an executive culture focused on digitalization throughout their organization.
As intermediaries, the distributor’s outside sales reps (OSR) seek better financial returns by using improved sales techniques and cost management strategies for both the distributor’s suppliers and its customers. They must demonstrate the strength of their value chain partnerships.
A key role of the distributor OSR is to demonstrate the use and optimization of the company’s ecommerce capabilities to both suppliers and customers. OSRs must offer ideas and work with manufacturers on redesigning the supply chain for a modern, connected, digital age. OSRs also must train customers on the use, breadth of products, and information offered on the company’s website. The goal is to ensure acceptance of the company’s digital tools by teaching customers how to use them. According to Bent, “It’s a fairly basic principle – how can you expect your customers to use the platform if the customer connect people have not used it and understand it? It requires a level of formal training. If a salesperson has to sell a new solution or product that has any level of sophistication, they must be trained on it.”
In an article on MDM’s website (mdm.com/enhance-your-customer-journey-with-omnichannel-sales-and-ai), Benj Cohen, founder of Proton.ai, describes the importance of a streamlined online sales experience. He writes, “B2B buyers want to focus on the work they’ve dedicated their lives to. They want an easy, personalized buying experience. They never want to run out of what they need. They don’t want to do their own research or deal with unnecessary downtime. They want the best buying experience distribution offers and are willing to pay for it. If you can’t make your customer’s shopping journey as streamlined as possible, they’ll get frustrated and spend more with your competitor.”
The Omnichannel Challenge
Do your customers struggle to get what they need because you don’t have an intuitive digital online sales process and methodology? Many distributors do not yet offer an omnichannel online buying experience, that is, a digital connection that links all sales channels, platforms and departments. The omnichannel enables a customer to see a complete picture of what he is looking for and what he has ordered in the past. The customer wants an easy, personalized buying experience. Be sure you offer one.
A Successful Distributor Solution
Cohen advises that using AI can really improve the customer buying experience. He writes, “Distributors who use digital ecommerce solutions have real-time insight into each customer’s journey, order history and other factors such as at-risk or returned inventory. Instead of searching through thousands of SKUs trying to determine what products to pitch, AI identifies what products to recommend improving the customer experience and maximizing fulfillment for the distributor.” (mdm.com/enhance-your-customer-journey-with-omnichannel-sales-and-ai)
To find an example of a successful distributor solution, I visited a gases and welding distributor website, General Distributing Company, shop.gendco.com. The company’s website represents a good model for distributors. It features easy log-in and user-friendly software that allows the customer to readily access the following functions:
- Product information
- Credit application
- Stock point location
- Ask an expert
- Video library
- SDS library
- Industrial brochures
- Service brochures
- Product category brochures
- SDS library
- User profile
- Place an order
- Recent Orders
- Saved Carts
- Billing and shipping addresses
General Distributing Company’s eCommerce tutorial page:
shop.gendco.com/video-library, provides insight into the power of a developed distributor digital offering.
Grow Your Market with Personalized Sales
According to McKinsey & Company, companies that personalized sales and marketing were 60% more likely to grow market share in 2021. Additionally, 72% of B2B buyers said they would actively look for a new supplier if their current one doesn’t offer a consistent customer experience across all channels. McKinsey survey respondents from the same study said that omnichannel capabilities were nearly as important to them as product availability, with 74% of buyers willing to switch suppliers for better online availability.
For a distributor to grow its market in the rapidly changing digital sales landscape, it needs to offer the best eCommerce sales model, process, and methodology. How much of your customer’s wallet share do you enjoy? A consistent and easy to use online platform will ensure success.