While the distributors have made great strides over the past decade in their digital sales transformation, especially over the past three years, it hasn’t come without internal friction.
Most distribution sales staff — by their nature — crave face-to-face interactions and delivering the personal touch that sets them apart from the competition. That element has been continuously tested amid the rise of eCommerce these past two decades, and especially recently as buyers of industrial, commercial and building material products have quickly shifted toward a preference for a digital buying experience that oftentimes bypasses a salesperson altogether.
The digital shift has made getting complete buy-in from sales teams all the more challenging for distributors of all demographics. Management has to: 1) Calm the fears from sales staff who assume they will be burdened with extra administrative responsibilities or even be replaced by eCommerce technologies; and perhaps even more challenging, 2) Get sales to support the company’s transition to being a digital-first distributor.
MDM’s Nov. 17 webcast, “Six Steps to Accelerate Sales Using Digital Strategies,” explored both of these elements and illustrated that when all critical components of a sales enablement program are in place, those aforementioned fears become nothing more than misconceptions.
The webcast featured a presentation from Susan Merlo, who is a digital sales and marketing consultant specializing in wholesale distribution. Her forthcoming book, “The Digital Distributor: Six Steps to Accelerate Sales,” is a workbook-style guide that shows distributors how to build a strong digital foundation from which they can successfully communicate their value, manage and convert more valuable leads, and serve their buyers on their buyers’ terms. She is also the founder of The Digital Distributor Program on which the book is based.
Merlo emphasized that, pre-pandemic, a robust digital sales strategy was a ‘nice-to-have’ for distributors.
“It was never a top priority, because what we’re talking about is grabbing leads from the top of the sales funnel,” she said in the webcast. “Before COVID, distributors had a very focused view of the bottom of the sales funnel. So as nice as it would be to capture leads from the top, they were focused on the bottom. Sales has to be a very active participant in this process, and they didn’t have time because they were out making sales.”
She added that many small- and mid-sized distributors may have only one or two marketing people, leaving them without the resources to enact a full-scale lead management strategy that distributors with a fleshed out marketing team can support.
With today’s digital demands from customers, those smaller distributors have to get creative to achieve the personalized marketing that has proven effective for national competitors. Per Merlo, this means going beyond a one-size-fits-all approach.
“Buyers do expect more personalized attention. They don’t want to have to wade through the details,” she advised. “They just want to know what’s in it for them, and why you’re sending it to them.”
Merlo walked our audience through those six steps, showing that distributors’ digital sales and marketing strategies are only effective when you:
- Align Your Sales and Marketing Functions
- Segment Your Audience
- Communicate Your Value Clearly and Effectively
- Implement the Right Technology for Your Company
- Capture, Nurture, and Qualify Leads BEFORE Passing to Sales
- Monitor, Measure, and Modify for Positive Results
Merlo detailed the real-life benefits both the distributor and its salesforce will reap when those six critical and often forgotten components are not overlooked. Throughout her presentation, Merlo explained why these steps are so important for distributors in their efforts to maximize efficiencies of digital strategies, generate more valuable leads and increase sales cycle trajectory. While these steps are easier to executive the bigger the marketing team is, Merlo emphasized that distributors of all sizes can execute these steps, even if that marketing team is one person.
For those distributors particularly strapped for capital resources and unable to buy digital tools to scale up their marketing efforts, there is still low-hanging fruit to grab. Merlo advised that the very first step distributors should take is for marketing to get the “brain dump” of customer information from sales staff so that buyer personas can be built.
“Until that’s in marketing hands, they (marketing) can’t really do anything for you,” she said. “It doesn’t cost anything except for man hours. No one knows your salespeople, your your audience, better than your salespeople. And you know, sometimes salespeople leave, and then what are you going to do? You want to make sure get that brain dump, and then give the salespeople what they need to do their job. And it’s free.”
Meanwhile, don’t miss MDM’s upcoming Dec. 7 webcast, “Accelerate Your Productivity Path – 3 Areas of Focus for 2023,” hosted by Tom Gale.