The rules are changing fast. Schools have closed, businesses have shut down and community gatherings have become a risk. Some economists predict a recession. Distributors in hard-hit industries project big losses. Even so, distributors do not have time to be victims of the coronavirus. There are people to employ, businesses to supply and critical decisions to be made. Over the next few weeks, distributors can develop a battle plan that can transform an unprecedented medical crisis and a weakened economy into new market share.
AI will be a large part of this plan, but only insofar as it supports the key values that distributors provide: stable supply chains, reliable service and personal connections. When the coronavirus eventually fades and we enter into recovery mode, the right sales enablement technology can be the differentiating factor between distributors. Some will succumb to the crisis. Others will take this as an opportunity to gain customers and outdistance competitors. Which will you be?
In Weeks: Reclaim Market Share with Your Dependable Supply Chain
During the present crisis, distributors are likely to see a flight toward quality. That is, supply chain strain will make customers realize the value of working with dependable distributors.
When times are good, digital marketplaces and online-only distributors can get away with just-in-time inventory and weak supply chains. This dynamic has helped disruptors and hurt distributors for years. However, in a matter of days, the situation has flipped. Suddenly, traditional distributors who have laboriously maintained good manufacturer relationships are in a position of relative strength.
Distributors can benefit if their customers know this information. Mobilizing an effective campaign around this value prop will be slightly more difficult, given that sales reps are working from home, but it will be well worth the effort.
With the right communication and sales enablement tools, proactive distributors will be able to sell customers the items they want, win back market share in a strained environment, and then multiply those gains when the market recovers.
In Months: Explore and Deploy an AI Sales Strategy
For those who always have too many initiatives and not enough time, this temporary shutdown may be a blessing in disguise. While business is slow and employees are working from home, distribution leaders can create and pursue an effective recovery plan. This is an opportunity for distributors to modernize by doubling-down on technology that supports their core values: product variety, availability and reliability.
The key to a good recovery strategy will be high impact, high ROI investments. On those terms, omnichannel AI may be the best investment possible.
There likely will never be a better time to digitally transform your business. An efficient, undistracted team can install a sales enablement tool in a matter of weeks. Finding those weeks is typically hard, but our current situation should make that very easy. Plus, if the social distancing efforts last for an extended time, this digital transformation will become an even more effective tool.
Distributors can use this type of technology to make data from every sales channel improve each customer interaction. That way, when a customer shops online, distributors can make personalized product recommendations based on their conversations with reps. Likewise, when a customer consults a sales rep, that rep can use the customer’s online history to make better sales pitches.
This technology can also facilitate upsells and cross-sells, a function that will be absolutely critical in a strained supply chain. AI can use data from every sales channel to figure out interchangeable items and products that are often sold in pairs. Without AI, running out of an item means losing sales and customers. In contrast, omnichannel AI will protect distributors against the effects of a strained supply chain. Customers will quickly flock toward whichever distributors can provide them with the products, services and substitutions they need.
Finally, this crisis will create downtime for technical resources, a true rarity in the busy world of distribution. Now could be the perfect moment to implement new technologies. Later will be the right moment to cash in on those technologies.
In Years: Turn Earned Customers and AI Sales Tools into Market Domination
The distributors that invest in the right tools today will be able to set themselves up to win tomorrow. The coronavirus threatens individuals and businesses with grave medical and economic consequences. But distributors have a duty to provide the best service possible, and an opportunity to win customers in the future.
Although today’s world is very uncertain, we can still be sure of two things: Business will eventually return to normal, and the distribution landscape will change. Some distributors will have been unable to weather the storm, other distributors will have become the storm. What you do now will make all the difference.
Benj Cohen founded Proton.ai to help distributors harness cutting-edge artificial intelligence. He learned about distribution firsthand at Benco Dental, a business started by his great grandfather. Later, while studying Applied Math and Data Science at Harvard University, Cohen saw an opportunity to bring his two worlds together. He’s on a mission to supply distributors with the innovative technology they need to thrive in modern markets.