Is Your One Throat to Choke Sales Team Holding Back Your Customers? - Modern Distribution Management

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Is Your One Throat to Choke Sales Team Holding Back Your Customers?

More and more customers are moving toward self-service solutions.

Your tenured outside sales team have positioned themselves as the one-call-to-do-it-all customer service gurus. They take pride in being the one throat to choke (OTTC) problem-solvers for your customers. 

They enjoy telling those stories of heroic action, such as throwing emergency supplies in their truck and driving across the state to get an industrial plant up and running. 

Those stories are the super hero tales we all think drive distributor preference and loyalty. They probably do help, but is the “I’m your OTTC sales super hero” approach really the best way to help your customers grow their business with you? Is that the sales experience they want?

Mike Marks recently shared with MDM, “Whenever there's a problem, the customer's designated outside salesperson swoops in with a heroic solution, thus earning even more business from the grateful customer who is now loyal for life.

This view is outdated. Today's supply chains are much more reliable, reducing the need for these acts of heroism. Reliability today is merely table stakes for keeping customers. If you want to be a hero, provide flawless service — not drama.”

More and more customers are moving toward self-service solutions. A recent Forrester survey concluded that “79% of customers would rather use self-service than a human-assisted channel.”

There is still no replacement for the importance of the human touch in many situations. But there’s a catch – a growing number of customers want to talk to a human after they’ve tried and failed to answer their question themselves. 

So, how might you modify from the OTTC model to be more effective and efficient with your resources to help you grow faster than the market, and take share from the competition?

Here are three areas to examine:

1) Rethinking Your Sales Coverage Plan. Take a deep dive into your coverage model and understand your mix of outside, inside and customer service personnel. You need to examine the analytics of how many accounts buy from you, and their profitability. Do you have all your accounts assigned to channels like Outside, Inside (Hunters) and Digital? Looking at even slightly modifying your sales coverage plan in B2B distribution is often considered heresy. Unfortunately, the ways customers want to buy is changing rapidly, and doing nothing may not be an option you can afford.

2) EBusiness and Digital Self-Service. Develop programs that improve the digital experience to drive more customer self-service solutions. For example, there are B2B Distributors today that have self-service managed inventory solutions where customers can print their own labels using the distributor website, place them on the bins, and use a mobile device for scanning and reordering. It’s 100-percent self-service and working for distributors. 

Can you manage more customer service functions digitally? The digital solution for you is probably as unique as the distribution business you run. For example, the last B2B EBusiness website that I led just three months ago was radically different than the previous B2B Distribution websites, because the distribution businesses were unique. The best EBusiness solutions often require outside help, but be wary of one-size-fits-all solutions. Your digital solution is unique, and it needs to be flexible enough to change as your customers future buying behaviors change.

3) Rethinking Customer Service. Do you still have a customer service model that is unchanged from 10 years ago? I recently worked with a B2B distributor looking at their phone system and email traffic analytics. 

We found when we examined the Voice Over IP statistics that inbound calls had dropped 50% over three years and the rate of decline was accelerating. Inbound email traffic was growing 33% over the same time period. Also, the number of email orders typed into a standard email was growing at a very high rate.  

Overall the amount inbound customer contact was declining. I’m sure some of the loss may have been picked up by calls or texts to mobile devices, but the trends on changing customer behavior were evident. Their customer base is showing a preference for more self-service versus full service.

If you have similar trends in your business, it’s time to look at repositioning your customer service-focused inside team and receptionists. Is it time to split roles, develop expediting teams, or have separate inside sales customer service and inside sales hunters who handle accounts exclusively over the phone and digitally?

It won’t be easy, and your OTTC sales team will probably be highly resistant to any changes. 

A recent OTTC outside sales leader told me, “I asked my accounts this question, ‘Would you rather buy from me or on our website?’ Only half of them said they would rather buy online. See I told you, I knew you were wrong.” 

My response was, “You are right, so let’s find ways to help that small group of customers buy online and still call you.” It may require some finesse to make the change, and also checking your sarcasm at the door. 

Customer self-serve is not a fad, it’s here to stay. You have to adjust to the changes. I recommend you get started now. 

As always, I’m interested in your feedback. Post a comment below or reach me at




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