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Five Steps to Transform Your Distribution Sales Model

Five Steps to Transform Your Distribution Sales Model

January 24, 2019

With customer preferences changing nearly as fast as the technology that’s available to them, it’s no surprise many distributors are struggling to keep up, never mind stay ahead, in today’s market. But savvy distributors are finding a way. And it truly isn’t that complicated. I’ll be talking about this at the upcoming Sales GPS 2019 conference being hosted by MDM in Las Vegas, Feb. 20-22, where I’ll be kicking off both days by addressing the challenges distributors face in this transition, as well as how they can adjust their incentive plans to drive behavior.

In the meantime, here are five steps that will transform your sales force for future success.

Create an Omnichannel Sales Team

Distributors who are successful today – and beyond – are those who implement an omnichannel model. In other words, salespeople are no longer lone wolves. In this model, field sales folks operate as a team alongside inside sales, support and inventory staff. And they will be backed up by detailed, integrated e-commerce data that helps everyone work smarter and more efficiently.

Get Your Sales Reps Out of the Transaction Business

Your outside sales team is one of your most valuable assets, and you probably pay them accordingly. So, it makes no sense to have them answering phones and taking orders or checking on delivery dates. And you may not have to, if you implement an omnichannel sales system that includes support specialists and helpful people to answer calls, and you link your customer’s ordering patterns to your computer. When you integrate technology, ordering becomes automatic – something we call LOOP, or Lights Out Order Processing. The result is that your field salespeople are free to focus on what they should be doing: high-impact market-making that builds your bottom line. 

Seize the Opportunities Technology Offers

It's easy to feel overwhelmed or intimidated when competitors adopt new technology. And it's true that implementing new technology takes time and money, so many distributors hesitate. But modern omnichannel systems give you the ability to automate tasks previously performed by your sales reps and other team members. They also offer the opportunity to sell more to your customers. Today’s technology gives you the capability to track customers’ previous ordering behavior to not only alert them when it’s time to re-order, but also to suggest similar or related products they may not have realized they needed. The right technology can even predict which prospects are most likely to become customers. That information can help your outside sales team know where it’s wise to invest time – and where it’s not.

Adopt a Management-directed Approach to Sales

Traditionally, your outside sales force has operated fairly independently, calling on customers, building relationships and cultivating new clients largely at their own direction and on their own instincts. Those days are over – or at least they should be if you want to stay ahead in today’s market. A management-led team can bring in the big picture, analyzing things like geography, market segment, market potential and service output. With that information, management can redirect reps to higher-potential activities and opportunities, using a strategically designed sales incentive plan as reinforcement.

Take Advantage of Critical Selling Events

Our research shows that most customers will continue doing business with their existing supplier as long as everything goes smoothly. But when there is a quality issue, delivery problem or other glitch that disrupts business, that customer may go looking for a new supplier. I call that that a critical selling event, or CSE. For your field sales team, a CSE is the best opportunity for growing market share. And when you’ve implemented an effective omnichannel model, your field sales team is free to pursue these CSEs.

What’s more, thanks to your omnichannel system, when your sales rep does approach a customer who’s ready to make a change, she will be armed with more than a firm handshake and engaging personality. With the right analytics, your sales rep can demonstrate how firms in the same field save money and improve their position by doing business with your company.

These innovations undoubtedly will make some in your company uncomfortable – change always does. But ultimately, this technology-based team approach provides the tools for your business to master the changing market.

For more ways to help your sales team work smarter instead of harder, join me at Sales GPS 2019, the only sales event for wholesale distribution executives. This intimate, interactive event will take place Feb. 20-22 in Las Vegas. Register today.

Mike Marks is the managing partner of the Indian River Consulting Group, which he began after more than 20 years in distribution management. Learn more at


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