Why do strong B2B HVACR distribution websites fail? It’s often a much simpler answer than you might expect

Has your distributor digital transformation journey seemed like an endless race with hurdle after hurdle? I’ve been in the B2B digital race many times as a distributor in my career, and have crashed into more than a few hurdles.

It can be a hard journey to make your ERP and tech stack work, build the right functionality, get the product attributes and pricing to work, but even when that is finally in order – why do digital distributor websites still fail?

The brick wall at the finish line to digital transformation is most often your culture and team. This is not a criticism, it’s just that the reality of end customers using digital self-service can be very hard for your team to accept.

For years we have all been in meeting after meeting, where we all talk about serving our customers. Distribution is a complex business with highly technical products sold and installed by end customers in custom situations.  No job or project is the same, as they say.

Your customers have depended on your team for decades to be that one stop shop. Any problem, any need, anytime of the day – just call your distributor team and they will help.

You’ve all told stories like “that time you delivered a product in terrible storm to get the heat running at a school 75 miles away.”  Your superhero customer service culture is what sets your business apart and has helped you build long standing customer loyalty and relationships.

So, is it a surprise that your team is skeptical and not excited to drive your customers to your website to perform self-service digital work themselves. Your sales team has been relationship selling for their entire career. If you have told your customers that you are on the job for your 24/7/365 it is very reasonable to have trouble with ever telling them to use your digital tools.

I’ve asked and surveyed distributor inside and outside salespeople what they really think about their digital transformation. Here are some common responses.

“The prices on the website seem too high. They will get better pricing by calling me.”

“All my customers want to talk with someone when placing orders. The website is not how they want to order. I take care of my customers and that is how they like it.”

“We lose the sale most likely because I know what the customer needs, and I get no credit for writing the ticket. It’s a Lose-Lose”

As distribution leaders it is critical to help your team clear that last hurdle. Your customers now want to do many things digitally versus calling your team. It’s not just ordering products they want to find their own invoices, proof of delivery, check stock, shipment status, download product specifications., and much more versus calling your team. Your customers still need your team for their great customer service, but they also want to do more and more things they used to call you for themselves on their phone or computer.

If the tech stack is built, the ERP is connected, and the features of the digital platform are in order, it is time to relentlessly tell your team how your digital solutions are crucial to long-term success.

Your customers want more self-service digital tools and it’s time to sell and tell that message to your associates relentlessly. Without internal support that last and biggest digital hurdle – your team – may just keep tripping your business up.

As always, we would love to get your feedback, so please feel free to comment below or reach out to me directly at john.gunderson@dorngroup.com

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3 thoughts on “Why do strong B2B HVACR distribution websites fail? It’s often a much simpler answer than you might expect”

  1. Our biggest challenges are with the content, images attributes, search ability. Venders need to do more to provide us with great content so independents aren’t all wrestling to do it for ourselves. We also have some struggles integrating our web store with our ERP. On a positive note, our customers snd our team embrace it enthusiastically. They are challenging us to make it better, more complete and easier to use. Search snd Ease of finding items is the hottest topic.

    1. Jon – content is a huge challenge. In fact, I’m going through this right now for a manufacturer. They have data in multiple places and ERP data isn’t the same as in their marketing content and no one has time to share product expertise. Objective changed from developing “best” data to delivering a MVP (minimum valuable product) and then enhance over time. And pulling graphics (and developing a naming convention for the digital assets) and creating the value-added content takes more time since it has never been thought about.

      For distributors, one source I’ve used in Distributor Data Solutions, which has aggregated content from hundreds of manufacturers. It can be a great starting point and many use it “out of the box”.

      And, remember the phrase “misery likes company?” We recently did distributor research for a manufacturer asking distributors about eCommerce content … many have the same issues you expressed and desire for manufacturers to do more (but will they as the economy slows?)

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