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Episode 23: Distributor Sales Reps of The Future

by Matt Johnson, on Feb 14, 2020 3:09:34 PM

Distributors who fail to deliver an omni-channel sales and marketing experience may soon go the way of the dinosaur. Today, it's more important than ever for traditional sales reps to utilize technology that better serves their customers. In this episode of the Takeover, we'll share some creative ways that you can leverage technology to grow your business.


Innovate or Perish!

Innovation in the distribution world isn't anything new. My father sold safety signs to distributors in the 80s and 90s. A lot of signs! But not every distributor was able to keep up with the demand. He noticed that new technology at the time had the ability to reduce friction in the ordering process, get sales reps off the phone and out of the office, so they could win more business.

What was this innovative new technology?

Fax machines!

That's right, and he was so convinced that these fax machines would increase order volume and free-up time for distributor sales reps, that he even purchased one for every distributor office along the Gulf Coast who didn't already have one.

He was right! Sales boomed, the fax machines paid for themselves overnight, and among his distributor customers, his business became synonymous with innovation and growth. But for some distributors, the fax machine was a technological paperweight. They didn't embrace change. So while their competitors were keeping 40 cents on every dollar they sold of safety signs, they were stuck pinching pennies.

Today, our modern-day fax machine is B2B eCommerce. How do we use it the right way? How can traditional sales reps (you know, they guys who were around when fax machines hit the scene) utilize online tools to help grow their accounts and attract new business?

Let's explore some ways to teach these old dogs some new tricks.


Turn Spreadsheets Into Memorable Brand Experiences

How does the sales process work? You may be familiar with this. In fact, this may be your life. A distributor sales rep will call on an end-user. Sometimes he's joined by a manufacturer's rep, but most of the time, he's alone. He walks around the worksite, identifies the customer's needs, and puts together a list of items that he believes will help his customer operate better and safer.

Of course, price is always a consideration. He needs to be able to compete with three other nearly identical distributors submitting nearly identical bids. Will he win with price? How much margin will he need to sacrifice? Will he charm his customer with his bubbling personality.

At the end of the day, when the sales rep leaves the worksite, the customer is left with three green and white files containing various numbers and prices in his inbox.

Riveting, I know. 😏




Imagine a Different Way to Do Industrial Sales

What if instead of doing what everyone else does, your "spreadsheet" was a compelling brand experience that separated you from your competition?

Imagine if you took your boring spreadsheet and used it to build a custom eCommerce experience for your customer? To do that, you would first locate the items you're bidding on from a comprehensive product content database. Once you bring them into your customer's account catalog, you can personalize the pricing, add a banner to the home page with your customer's logo, and send your customer an email with a login link, username and password.

When your customer logs in to their personalized website, they SEE the items. Product images and descriptions help the equipment they intend on ordering come to life. They also see everything else that you offer.

It's impressive. 😎

They visit your marketing pages where they learn more about your value proposition. They discover services they didn't even know you offered. They read a blog article that helps them understand more about compliance or maintenance-related best practices.

In short, you blow your competition out of the water! You win the bid, and your customer needs to only add items to the cart and checkout to seal the deal.

Oh, and you didn't need to sacrifice precious margin to get it. 🙌




This Isn't a Fantasy. You Can Do It!

This is reality for small, independent distributors who utilize the Spinstak B2B eCommerce. Best of all, they do it for less than half the cost of one full-time employee. Of course, this isn't just a sales pitch.

If you're fortunate enough to afford a full-time development team or have the budget to outsource the project to a B2B eCommerce developer, you can utilize open-source platforms like Magento or BigCommerce to accomplish a similar experience.

Would a better online brand experience improve your chances to win more bids?

You bet it would!

Speaking of a Better Online Experience...

Have you registered for Industrial Marketing 101: eCommerce Master Class? This is a 100% FREE video course and methodology that you can use to build an online experience for your customers that will help you build, launch, and grow a thriving industrial distribution website. industrial marketing 101 ecommerce master class

Take The Friction Out of The Purchasing Process

More and more end-users are doing their best to AVOID phone calls and/or in-person visits from your traditional sales reps. By the time they type everything up in an email, couldn't they have logged into your website and placed their order online? Can you blame them? We are working harder than ever, more hours than ever, and responsible for more roles than ever before.

If we're going to avoid extinction, we have got to make the ordering process as streamlined and frictionless as possible.

One way to do that is to give your customers options when it comes to placing orders with your business. Wouldn't it be nice to say to your customer, "You can place your orders online through your very own customer portal"?

Of course, they can always call, email, fax, or write your order on a cocktail napkin. Some of your customers are not ready for eCommerce. They want to keep ordering the same way they have been for the past 25 years, and that's fine. But retirement is coming soon. Who will replace them?




Millennials Are Replacing Your Customers

I'll tell you who is going to replace them. The largest workforce in the history of the world, that's who! You know, the same people who invented Facebook, SnapChat, and the "Selfie" (ok, not our proudest moment). These are the purchasing managers, safety directors, and operation managers of the future. The very near future! They think outside the box, they order online, they shop for savings, and perhaps most-importantly, they have a built-in instinct to find the path of least resistance.


3 Easy Ways to Create a Better Sales Experience

If your business creates resistance for these millennial buyers and decision-makers, then you might be in trouble. But don't lose hope, there's a few simple things you can do to make it better overnight with little cost to you.




1. Email Marketing Automation

There was a time, just a few years ago, when email marketing automation was very expensive. Software companies like HubSpot still lead the way when it comes to innovation and powerful features, but other email marketing companies like MailChimp and Constant Contact have been catching up in recent years and have made it very simple and affordable to create simple, customer drip campaigns.

A drip campaign (I call them Customer Buying Journeys) are essentially a series of thoughtful emails that help your customer do their job better and offer opportunities to learn, shop, or purchase equipment when they are ready. When you implement these customer buyer's journeys, your sales reps will be able to spend less time on the unprofitable, smaller customers, and more face time with the customers who really move the needle. You might be surprised how some of your customers will appreciate these emails more than your persistent phone calls and drive-bys.

Does anyone actually pick up the phone today?




2. Chatbots Are Taking Over The World

Just kidding. They're not really taking over the world. Not yet. But they are taking over many distributor and supplier websites. This is the NEW form of consultation. In Tom Nichols' book, The Death of Expertise, we are told that the Information Age has essentially made the expert obsolete. With WikiPedia, SafetyPedia, and a host of other online libraries of searchable information at our fingertips, anyone can be their own expert. They no longer need someone to tell them what to do, which product they need, or how to maintenance that product.

Scary thought, I know.

But there's something we can do to push back. We can show up in the gap where online information falls short of satisfying the customer's questions.

That is why setting up a chat bot to collect questions, customer information, and service requests can be a game-changer for your distribution business. When chat software first came out, nobody used them because unless you were already online and waiting for your customer to begin chatting (which was nobody), chances are you would lose your customer's attention after a few seconds of non-human response, and they would just leave. Soon, website visitors learned that a chat software was little more than a fancy way to leave a message.

Not so today! With AI (artificial intelligence), we can program chatbots to answer real questions, route requests to the right salesperson, and even provide resources to help your customer continue their buying journey. The future is scary, but it is also pretty cool!




3. Utilize Better Copy and Tell A Better Story

For this last one, I could just save my breath and point you to our last episode: Episode 22: Clarify Your Message with Better Storytelling. But since I like to talk, and you like to listen, I will summarize here.

When it comes to customer activity online, I can tell you, they are a fickle group. I have utilized software in the past that actually allows us to "spy" on website visitors.If you thought chatbots are creepy, you might want to turn back now. If you thought chatbots were creepy, you might want to turn back now. This software allows us (with the consent of the visitors of course) to literally watch their screen like a video to see how they read pages, where they click, how they scroll, etc. I think it's pretty cool.

What we learned was that website visitors quickly scroll and skim-read content. Especially on your home page. If you are not crystal clear about what you offer and why it will help your customer within 5 seconds of them hitting your home page, you will lose them. Possibly forever.

Your Customer is The Hero. You Are The Guide!

You do not necessarily need a $20K/month marketing campaign to be incredibly successful online. You just need to tell a better story. Use sales copy on your website pages to meet your customer (the hero) on their quest to solve a problem. Help them solve the problem with a simple, well-thought plan, and then call them to action.

It's really as simple as that.

Time to Put This Into Action!

Of course, execution is what separates the top-performers from those who know what to do but fail to put that knowledge into action.

So let me call you to action. You want to grow sales, right? You know you need to do something other than throwing more sales bodies at the problem, right?

If this is you, schedule a consultation with me today so I can share a plan that is innovative, effective, and affordable.

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