Recommended Reading: Are You Adding Services for Customers?

Distributors seeking ways to adapt to the "era of the customer."
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Many distributors are going beyond their traditional offerings to give customers more. Even if a service initially doesn't seem to fit, “We try to figure out a way where we’re not saying ‘no,’” says Burt Schraga, CEO, Bell Electrical Supply, Santa Clara, CA, in New Solutions for Customer-Defined Value.

For example, Bell Electrical Supply allows contractors the ability to return material and get account credit – even material the customer bought from other distributors. That's just one of many ways that distributors are adapting in hopes of differentiating from their competitors.

“We’ve got to find more ways to differentiate with our value proposition, because there’s more and more competition fighting for the same dollar,” says Steve Slater, COO, Stellar Industrial Supply, Tacoma, WA. “… If we go to our customers and we help them improve their processes and make them more profitable, they will reward us in kind with the same.”

Additional services range can also include increasing delivery speed or frequency, offering logistical support, providing 24/7 customer service or anything that customers need to better run their businesses.

No matter what customers demand – and you should regularly survey them to see what additional services or products they'd like – large and small companies alike have opportunities to oblige.

While larger companies can pour resources into new services, smaller companies are better able "to quickly adapt, be able to figure it out,” says Terry Snower, managing director, Cicero Manufacturing and Supply Co. Inc., Chicago, IL.

“That goes back to getting deep enough into your customers that they trust you so you can say to them, ‘OK, we haven’t done this. We’re going to try it this way. Let’s look at it for 60 days. If it’s not working, we might have to revise the pricing, or we might have to tell you we’ve just got to do this differently, but we’re going to give it a try,’” Snower says.

Read more about adapting your model to meet customer demands in New Solutions for Customer-Defined Value, which is part of the 2017 Distribution Trends Special Issue. And look for further coverage on this topic in an upcoming issue of MDM Premium.

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