Earlier this year, MDM led a research project where we surveyed a few thousand customers of distributors to measure how the pandemic has changed the way these customers want to interact with suppliers. It dug into different points on the buyer journey to better understand which touchpoints and capabilities customers expect and value, and to see what’s shifting.
Beyond the specific insights our distributor participants gained, there were some key takeaways and nuances that helped advance my thinking around transformation efforts — not just digital but across all aspects of a distribution organization’s core capabilities. I’d like to share a few of these.
1. Re-evaluate the current relationship between your sales team and digital tools.
How seamless is it? Most distributors have not solved this equation well, yet. Our research indicates a customer-experience barbell effect, where the current best practice is that the transactional parts of the customer relationship are digitized, which empowers your sales team to focus on the other end of the barbell: higher-level selling and customer-service interactions such as education, problem-solving and process improvement.
2. Segment and serve your customers based on how they want to do business with you.
Sounds simple, but one type of customer’s perfect digital solution is another’s frustration. One size fits no one today. There are sizable B2B segments that value in-person, offline interactions. It’s important to not only understand those nuances, but also to be sure your sales managers have clear guidance on how to translate these unique customer preferences into opportunities to deepen engagement and not allow competitors a foothold in this volatile market environment.
3. Differentiation is tougher and more important than ever before.
More sophisticated self-service digital tools for re-orders, inventory/delivery status and pricing are becoming table stakes as more vendors implement e-commerce capability. The core value distributors have provided to customers in specialized knowledge, problem-solving and support beyond the product sale itself hasn’t significantly changed. But the “next” business model for delivering and monetizing it is the existential challenge facing every distributor.
Too often it seems that conventional wisdom guides strategy on transformational efforts. There is indeed a fundamental shift in how customers want to interact with vendors, and there are specific misalignment points that have formed with the traditional distribution business service model. Digital transformation lit the fire, then the pandemic threw gas on the flames. Specific data about your unique customer segments and behavior won’t put the fire out, but it is essential to inform where to best focus your efforts for keeping your customers close to you on this hard ride.