The 2020 Mid-Year Economic Update_long

Don’t Get Stung by a Delayed Reaction to Customers’ Growing Digital Expectations

Digital commitments are paying off for the 2021 MDM Digital Innovator award winners, thanks to their quick action and customer-centric initiatives.
glowing jellyfish chrysaora pacifica underwater

On vacation last week, I was knee-deep in the ocean when I felt a sudden stinging sensation on my leg. “Oh, you were stung by a jellyfish,” you’re probably thinking. It’s the obvious answer — and the correct one. But despite the physical pain I was in, I remained oblivious to the source of it, allowing myself time to get stung across both legs. It finally clicked when my husband actually laid eyes on the culprit. By then, the burning had really set in. It was like I couldn’t process that this risk I’ve known about for nearly my whole life was actually happening to me. Even after the initial sting.

Excuse the clumsy post-vacation metaphor, but for too many distributors, this is their approach to digital investment. They’re already feeling the sting — one they’ve been hearing about for years and years — in the form of customer dissatisfaction or even defection, but despite the signs, it still hasn’t clicked and their denial is only leaving their companies open to further injury.

Customers like online access

We recently asked more than 500 distributors, manufacturers and other industry representatives whether or not their customers’ businesses had fully reopened for in-person sales rep visits. While about 25% answered with an unqualified “yes,” the other 75% report either that they have not reopened, or that they now have restrictions, qualifications or other roadblocks in place. Several said their customers simply prefer the virtual method now. 

Here’s a sample of responses:

• “No; significant barriers to entry with regard to customer locations and personnel still exist.”

• “Yes, but very often still opt for Zoom/Teams for time-saving and or efficiency.”

• “Slightly more than 90% of our customers are allowing face-to-face meetings. In many cases, our relationship is much more digital than prior to COVID. We have successfully leveraged our website, Zoom and digital marketing initiatives to improve customer intimacy.”

• “25% have, 75% still happy with video calls.”

As you’ll see in this issue of MDM Premium, the five winners of our 2021 Digital Innovator awards are not allowing their companies to get stung by lack of action on the digital front. All five of them — Kayla Repp of Sonepar USA; Gary Knight of Loeb Electric; Laura Phelan of ADI Global; Klaus Werner of Global Industrial; and Matt Hanlon of Source Atlantic — are leading the way on digital growth initiatives. 

I encourage you to read each of their stories. You’ll find similar themes in the ways that their digital commitments are paying off for their companies. Be it through improved access to customer data trends, a more accessible online presence that takes into account the way customers actually want their online experience to go, or continual investment in strategic digital relationships, you won’t catch them unawares. 

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