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Commentary: Digital Strategy: An Ongoing, Company-Wide Initiative

Three real-life examples of distributors who have adopted successful strategies

Justin King, owner of e-commerce consulting firm B2X Partners, had three pieces of advice for distributors attending this summer’s MDM Digital Distributor Summit: “Improve the search on your website. Improve the search on your website. Improve the search on your website,” he said. It’s a simple premise, but anyone who’s ever visited a website as a consumer knows the frustration that can quickly build when you can’t find the product you’re looking for with a simple search. What are you likely to do? I know what I would do — look elsewhere. And fast.

As King continued, in a series of more than 4,000 interviews with distributors’ customers conducted by B2X Partners, poor search functionality was their consistent, top complaint about distributor websites. “We type hammers in and we don’t get hammers. We type fasteners in and we don’t get fasteners. Bolts and we don’t get bolts. Water heaters, we don’t get water heaters,” he said. “Your search has to be effective.” He also urged distributors to remember that search functionality — and the related product and content attribute work that goes into making it effective — must be viewed as an ongoing company program. Not as a project with a start date, end date and set budget. 

The emphasis on search quality was just one of a series of key takeaways from the speakers at the Digital Distributor Summit. In this issue, you’ll find more insight from King, as well as fellow presenters MDM President Ian Heller and Michael Wu, chief AI strategist at SaaS provider PROS, on why investing in a comprehensive digital strategy is an imperative for distributors. 

One thing I particularly appreciated about their presentations: they didn’t just spell out doom and gloom for those who are technology adverse or haven’t started to make the investment. Instead, they provided real-life examples of distributors who have adopted successful strategies. They shared tips on how to make strategies stick in the real world of limited technology budgets, a sales and marketing landscape completely altered by the internet age and employee populations that are really resistant to change. 

Not surprisingly, those factors were all top issues brought up by distributors and manufacturers in our annual Trends Survey. We’ll be sharing the full results and digging deep into the stories behind them in the next issue of Premium. But a sneak-peek analysis shows respondents are concerned about the impact of tariffs, shrinking margins, finding talent and the stability of the economy. Changes they’ve made in the last year to combat some of those concerns include investing in new marketing efforts, training initiatives and, of course, technology. 

These efforts are all to support their key business priorities in the next year. The top three survey responses were revenue growth (71%), increasing profitability (61%) and customer retention (40%). Interestingly, one of the lowest reported priorities at just 8.4% was employee support. As Wu mentioned at the Digital Distributor Summit, as much as 84% of companies fail at digital transformation. I think a little more employee support, especially in times of dramatic change, will go a long way in reducing that failure rate.  

© 2019 Gale Media, Inc.

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