“Start with the customer and work your way back.”
Many distributors would say this is easier said than done. But, while those distribution leaders are taking a sales-first approach to digital strategy, Amazon continues to obsess over this adage. Distributors who want to drive revenue and build a digital moat around their business to protect it from emerging digital competitors would be wise to build for the customer first, said MDM Technology Director Jason Capshaw in a presentation at MDM’s Digital Distributor Summit. Capshaw shared his experiences building customer-focused websites and e-commerce platforms in order to skyrocket conversion rates and revenues for distributors.
Amazon’s sophisticated customer-centric digital strategy may seem unattainable to smaller distributors, but the platform didn’t develop overnight, Capshaw noted. “[W]e, as distributors, did not innovate when [Amazon CEO Jeff] Bezos was innovating. All of those resources that were available to him were available to all other companies,” he said. “He didn't have an advantage when he started. And so, even though it may feel like for some of us that we’re behind, that's OK. There is a massive opportunity in this market. There is massive opportunity in e-commerce.”
One of the reasons for this missed opportunity, according to Capshaw, is the silos that persist in the distribution industry — the traditional separation of sales, marketing and operations — and the culture of mutual mistrust that they can encourage. But there is hope to bring an entire team up to speed in tech, he said. “You don't have to be a technologist to lead a great digital transformation project,” said Capshaw. “You just have to be in a position where you're willing to be wrong, and you're willing to give other people input into the process.”
Isolation from Customers
Historically, sales people have fiercely guarded their relationship with customers. The reasoning is that they do not believe that marketers and IT people will emphasize customer relations in the same way they do.
There’s merit in that concern, Capshaw said, as IT’s customers are typically internal — from their perspective, advancement happens by cutting costs and efficiently serving the organization itself. Marketing thinks about the customer, but can sometimes get lost in analytics and end up seeing the customer as a number. Likewise, customer-facing teams often lack technical skills and don’t always understand ecommerce.
However, reconnecting siloed teams and building a customer-centric culture don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Capshaw recommended sending marketing teams into the field with sales reps, customer service and delivery trucks. There is no better way to interact with the customer than in their day-to-day dealings, he said.
Capshaw also advised exploring the customer journey from the customer’s perspective. “Meet with a customer, choose one journey and participate like you're that customer as a team. Sit down, talk through, what does it feel like to be that customer in this process? Because you'll be amazed at how many ideas flow out of that.”