Buyer behavior is changing. Convenience is now a differentiator. Customers expect it. It\’s the new definition of service. It started in the consumer world and is quickly transitioning to B2B buyer expectations, and it will become distributor reality (and is defined as \”ease of doing business\” by distributors in considering manufacturers.) While customers expect competitive pricing and services are nice, services are typically needed only episodically. Leading retailers are now realizing that they can combine eCommerce and service to win … they are delivering convenience.
This evolution has significant marketing and service implications for manufacturers and distributors.
It’s not only online buying, but expectations of convenience.
Consider, from a day being a consumer
- The dry cleaner offers drive through drop off; and offers to deliver when ready, next day (and they offer pick-up services.)
- A regional department store offers pickup of online orders in front of their store. No need to park in the parking lot. Park curbside. (Order online, pick up in store commonly, called \”click and collect\” or BOPIS. Here\’s a good article on the concept and executing it.)
- Nordstrom’s offers pick-up curbside with drivers calling a special telephone number to have the order delivered to the car. They are taking Order online / Pick up in store to a “white glove store to car delivery service … will be popular come Christmas time!)
- The hamburger shop has call-in and also offers delivery … from them (for free) as well as offers DoorDash, Uber Eats and GrubHub. (And now we have McDonald’s ads promoting McDonald’s via Uber Eats! The McDonald’s service is called McDelivery.
- Lowes, and Home Depot, offer in-store pick-up of online orders … and took two parking spots in front of the store for these online buyers to park. Home Depot offers a comparable service. (Evidently customers who are coming into the store can walk from a further distance.)
And, when I was at IDEA’s eBiz conference last week someone asked me if I use McDonald’s mobile app to place an order, remotely pay, drive to a parking slot at McDonald’s for them to deliver. They commented, “faster than drive-through!”. Consider what this means from a service delivery viewpoint … prioritizing customers based upon how they order and, potentially when they order, not if they are in-line.
- As consumers we’re buying online.
- And then wanting service delivered to us.
So, the buying process goes from computer to door or computer to car.
Elements of marketing get impacted
- The need for branding to ensure mindshare … get them to think of you for the product / service.
- Marketers need to diversify from promoting products to promoting their service differentiation. Why should someone buy from you, especially when x number of your competitors are offering the same products (sometimes brands) to your customers?
- The need for eMarketing. Capturing contact information, aggregating purchasing and other data and then direct and e-market to the buyer’s mailbox.
- But at the same time, remember that multiple impressions and media are needed to 1) break through clutter, 2) repetition is needed and 3) people learn, and remember, differently. Many don’t read eMail, they scan. You hope they click, but print has a different capability to bring information to life.
- The role of in-store merchandising is changing (and distributors have seen counter sales as a percent of overall sales decline.)
- Service expectations are changing. Buyers “want it when they want it and how they want it delivered.”
What it means?
- For your website, you need to envision the experience you want your customer to have while replicating the current customer journey.
- While not every company can, or should, offer the ability to consummate transactions online due to ERP integration challenges (ERP capabilities, IT resources, cost), every company can have an online catalog to facilitate customers searching for information (which is the #1 reason why contractors visit websites). Distributor Data Solutions and EvolutionX-Electrical by ES Tech Group offer very cost-effective, robust, solutions for distributors. Distributor Data Solutions also offers an online catalog solution for reps that is tailored to the lines the rep represents.
- Delivering eCommerce orders solely from a centralized warehouse is only a small part of the solution. This benefits the distributor, not the customer. Customers want the material when they want it. How can you deliver? And they need to know your inventory (and the offering) locally as well as from your centralized resource or that you’ll acquire the quantity from throughout your network.
- Distributors should think of how they can re-imagine counter service. While some distributors have developed drive-ins, perhaps there is a separate “Will Call” window for “Online”? Perhaps delivered to the truck based upon receiving a text? Perhaps mobile counters? Perhaps counter quick pick lists on websites that are automatically routed to the counter to be picked? Perhaps …? With counter traffic, nationally, declining, could this service / space be developed to be more effective from a customer perspective? Or what does the counter experience need to be from a sensory / utilization viewpoint?
- Customers want to be able to determine if they want to do pick-up, same day delivery, next day delivery and have their deliveries tracked. All capabilities that are becoming “site requirements.”
- They expect a quality brand experience.
- And much more … “now.” (the days of waiting 12 months for a website are not acceptable. Customers expect a phased approach and that you are always launching new services. The launching of new services also infers you are understanding, or anticipating, their needs. This becomes the definition of being known as an “innovator.”)
- Website up-time is essential. If your provider cannot guarantee 99.99% up-time, you probably need a different provider (we heard recently of a company whose eCommerce site was down for more than two weeks and we have heard of three distributors in the electrical industry who have RFPs out to change providers due to site performance!)
- Your marketing staff needs to focus on your brand as well as integrated digital marketing.
- Your sales organization needs to be a supporter. If they are not, they will never know the business that is lost to other companies that are offering your customer’s desired “e” experience.
Buying experiences change. Keeping your ear close to the ground. Observing B2C buyer dynamics is a precursor to what comes in the B2B space as buyer expectations are set by consumer experiences. It’s also important to seek input from a wide array of customer as well as conduct ongoing competitive intelligence.
Business is moving faster than ever. Multiple dynamics change simultaneously. How you react, and eventually become proactive, is the difference between surviving and thriving.
Staying close to customers to understand their needs and determining if they are \”satisfied\” (defined as \”meeting their expectations) is critical to staying ahead, innovating and driving sales. While sales is charged with interacting with customers and hopefully gathers input and feeds it upwards, frequently, if it occurs, it is only input from the largest customers.
Gathering insights, interpreting the feedback and suggesting opportunities can help drive strategy, sales and profitability through new services, enhanced ease of doing business and, in general, knowing the customer (and they feel better that you asked!). Channel Marketing Group offers customer satisfaction feedback tools to help manufacturers, distributors and reps solicit input from various stakeholders.
- For Manufacturers: Rep360, National Account Insights, Distributor and Rep Advisory Councils (for Senior Management and Marketing)
- For Distributors: Customer Satisfaction Survey, Customer Interviews, Customer and Manufacturer Advisory Councils, Focus Groups,
- For Reps: Distributor Surveys, Manufacturer Interviews, Manufacturer Advisory Council
Additionally, we have helped distributors gather eCommerce interest, and satisfaction, from their customers.
We\’re also launching a Digital Marketing practice to support distributors and reps who do not have in-house resources. We\’re focused on the marketing elements that reinforce brand and drive results. We\’ll combine industry expertise, insights, and cost-effective resources to deliver tangible results.