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Headwinds in the e-Distribution Evolution

Headwinds in the e-Distribution Evolution

July 23, 2012
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I had the opportunity to present and facilitate a discussion on the rapidly evolving competitive landscape of e-catalogs, e-commerce and content for industrial product marketers at the Industrial Supply Association’s Executive Development Retreat last week. Here are a few challenges on this front discussed during this workshop.

Resources
Every company today, no matter its size, is resource-constrained, and especially so when it comes to managing email campaigns, web content and even LinkedIn or Facebook marketing. It’s hard to make a case to invest in specific online marketing efforts without a clear ROI.

Building a new e-commerce site or a content management system is hard work. Everyone in the room voiced frustration over the details and finding ways to manage the pieces, whether web, mobile, email or social, that are part of a major shift in how customers are consuming information and interacting with companies and their brands.

Related: The State of E-Commerce and Catalogs in Distribution - Special Report

Managing Content
There were some great conversations about the need for better ways to manage content in all its forms – product data, descriptive information about products and services, feedback from customers and application knowledge.

Part of the challenge is to change the ways companies currently market and communicate, and to get budgets allocated to develop better quality content and content delivery systems. This may require new skill sets and different roles within companies to manage these new tools. It is critical to at least address how to start.

Impact of Amazon
AmazonSupply.com’s official launch in April was a wake-up call. Over-hyped, to be sure, in the short-term impact, but probably under-hyped on the longer-term change it will have on the competitive landscape. It certainly brings more complex channel management issues for manufacturers. I think that distributors and manufacturers of industrial products have a few years to strengthen their abilities to engage more deeply with customers and prospects by leveraging all the tools available – whether online or traditional.

Amazon today doesn’t have the strong customer relationships that many distributors have built. But its transactional expertise will keep getting better, and it will scale as it learns more about how to meet customer needs in these markets.

If distributors can clearly communicate with and engage customers online, they can build the same powerful interactive personal relationships that made them successful and valuable business partners to their best customers offline.

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