• Digital initiatives are more than just another project; they’re a mindset.
• Distributors will benefit from ingraining their digital technologies within their companies and with their customers.
• Incorporating a customer-first mentality is at the heart of change management.
The superhighway to digital transformation is full of speed bumps, detours and a few outright crashes, but now is the time for distributors to get a handle on creating digital ecosystems. During MDM’s Digital Distributor Summit, panelists discussed what it takes to implement a successful digital strategy internally across sales staff and other employees, along with customers and manufacturers. From the get-go, it helps for distributors to embrace the attitude that digital transformation is not just a project, but a company mindset, according to FleetPride’s Darren Taylor.
“It’s not about a go-live or launching a website,” said Taylor, senior vice president of marketing and digital. “It’s literally about changing how you sell and serve customers every day.
“It changes how you provide value not only for your customers, but how headquarters or corporate provides value to the field, and it impacts everybody. It impacts the salespeople, the branches, pricing and marketing, and the executives.”
The key to providing a great customer experience, according to Taylor, is having everyone — including internal sales, external sales, marketing, customers and manufacturers — lock arms. Having the just data ready won’t work, according to Taylor.
“You need passionate people that can manage cross functionally with collaborative leadership,” Taylor said. “When you’re doing that, you need to have common goals and a common vision. They need to know that you’re going to get in the boat and row with them and that they are a team. Collaborative leadership is really important.”
WESCO Distribution’s Rose Chen, head of innovation partnerships and investments, has helped her company foster digital initiatives across 800 branches in 50 countries. Bringing customers into the conversation for digital activities is one of the biggest priorities, according to Chen.
“There are a lot of new digital activities that sprawl out, from procurement to warehousing to real-time visibility and road logistics nowadays,” Chen said. “They’re becoming standard behavior in a lot of industries, such as grocery and telemedicine.”
The pandemic led to an increased reliance on digital technologies, such as video conference calls, which has spurred even more collaboration, according to Chen. Distributors find more success when they ingrain their digital technologies within their companies and with their customers.
“My role specifically focuses on developing an active innovation ecosystem with emerging technologies and ventures to really foster collaborations with our internal stakeholders, and to accelerate our own digital initiatives. At the same time, really bring them to our customers as well,” Chen said. “It is really ingrained in our culture that innovation and customer-first are some of our core values.
“As we navigate these changes, we know that there’s going to be fear, and there’s going to be obstacles as well. But it’s important that we actually keep in mind that we want to really focus on customers and bring value to our stakeholders.”
Greg Chun, a consultant who retired last year as vice president of marketing for McNaughton-McKay, said that with every technology change there’s a cultural change as well for companies and their employees.
“Digital is not just popping up a website,” Chun said. “It is a piece of a total solution that everybody needs to hold hands on and get together.”
Stanley Black & Decker’s Colleen Romero has spent time in both the distributor and manufacturers sectors during her career. She is currently running 350 digital e-commerce websites globally.
“I’ve kind of sat on both sides of the desk, from manufacturer to distributor, and what I find is change management is so important because you can’t make people do things,” Romero said. “You can require training. You can build skill sets, but you’ve really got to create enthusiasm, and learn how to harness that enthusiasm to catapult your projects forward. That’s probably my biggest learning.”
Romero suggested distributors look at their internal teams and outside sales teams in order to get everyone onboard to drive toward the goal of becoming a truly digital organization.
In order to hit the right notes to enable digital projects, Chen said WESCO employs highly trained sales teams with technical expertise. Those sales teams go out and speak with customers to better understand their objectives and needs and then bring them back to WECSO’s engineering tech support teams.
“At the same time, there’s also another aspect of that where we actually partner with innovation labs and corporate ventures of our customers and our partners as well,” Chen explained. “We create this feedback loop where we will hear customers about their insights.
“We continuously re-evaluate customer priorities based on some of these conversations. Then, we’ll feed all of that into our internal change management to make sure that we are on the right track.”
Give sales a voice in digital projects
Taylor said incorporating a customer-first mentality was at the heart of change management. Building the customer-first approach includes sharing with the sales staff information on customer behavior, and not just relying on case studies. Taylor said it was also important to give the sales staff a voice in how digital projects are shaped because they’re the ones who are out in the field seeing first-hand how the branches are conducting their sales operations. Incorporating customer behaviors provides measurements for reporting as well as a means for customer feedback.
“Give the field team a voice because they’re a customer, too,” Taylor said. “You’ve got to be careful what you measure and be thoughtful about it, but give them a voice. When you go and enhance stuff that’s based on their feedback, show them what you did.”
The third leg for building out change management in digital transformations, according to Taylor, is teaching employees to ask their customers the right questions.
“I don’t care what products they buy,” he said. “ I care how they buy, who does it and what their behavior is. It’s somewhat of a cultural thing to teach people what questions to ask. Go see for yourself. Go to a customer, and then talk.
“As a leader, it’s your responsibility to do that yourself and your team’s. But as you’re designing things, or enhancing something, go see for yourself and don’t rely on third-hand information. There’s no substitute for that.“
Incentivize sales teams and customers to embrace digital
The cultural roadblocks and silos for embracing digital tools are many, as employees of all stripes are used to doing things the way they’ve always done them. In addition to having mechanisms that enable feedback from the sales teams, it’s also important to get their buy-in. Romero said distributors should let the sales team know when their feedback is, or isn’t, being used.
“When you’re using their feedback, you’ve got to share that with them,” Romero said. “And, you’ve also got to share with them when you’ve decided against a recommendation that they’ve made due to budget or other priorities or things of that nature. That is all super, super important.”
Romero said incentives were a powerful tool for getting salespeople on board. That can include making digital incentives part of their annual goals as a means of codifying them. Distributors can offer higher commissions for online orders and lower commission for offline orders. Distributors can also offer customers discounts for ordering online. “You can have your executive stand up at sales meetings and talk about how important digital is,” she said. “You can send out surveys and emails, and you can have as many webinars as you’d like. But until the rubber hits the road with incentive commissions as a true personal benefit to your sales team, it’s going to be difficult to get the sweeping change that most folks are looking for.”
Education, education, education
In order to position how digital fits into customers’ value propositions, distributors can conduct focus groups to understand how their customers buy, and then drive down that information internally, according to Chun. “Communicating that concept to our people is important for continuing to drive the benefits and the value that an inside salesperson and an outside salesperson have to give to the customers,” Chun said. “The final thing I’ll say is, and this is not rocket science, and I’m sure everyone does it, is the concept of beta testing with your internal folks is important. As you’re rolling out new functionality, or even if you’re not rolling out new functionality, make sure your people understand exactly what your digital solutions can provide to your customers so that they see how those fit and so they can communicate that to the field.”
Distributor customers and manufacturers may not understand all of the concepts of change management and digital transformations, according to Taylor. It’s up to the distributor to make all parties comfortable with the digital concepts while showing how they benefit from them in ways that competitors can’t provide. “You have to directly address that they’re not comfortable,” Taylor said. “They need to know they have great support behind them if there’s data issues, or whatever. If my customer has a problem, somebody’s going to jump on it because the last thing they want to do is fall down in front of their customer.”
Join us live on Tuesday, June 29 for the latest on digital customer experience, technology…
Join us live on Tuesday, June 29 for the latest on digital customer experience, technology…
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