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A Distributor’s Strategic Plan Starts with Customer Insight

Connect with customers, ask them questions and listen for their responses, look for themes in the conversation and then follow up on the discussion, recommends IRCG’s Dan Horan.
Group of light bulbs with shining fibers in shapes of Service, Advice, Quality, Help and Customer concept related words isolated on black background

How do you put together a strong strategy to lead you into the future?

Right now, distributors’ most important strategic moves might be outside the organization — not within. By that, I mean focusing on the customer. Right now, everything depends on customers’ needs. Without those, distribution leaders may find themselves in an echo chamber with little idea of what’s going on outside their walls.

How do you achieve customer insight? It’s about collecting data directly from the source.

Customer Connection

Here are a few ways to generate better knowledge of what your customers are going through and how you, as a distributor, can better meet their needs.

  • Connect with your customers. While visiting in person may be difficult, if not impossible, right now, it’s important to keep the lines of communication and connection open. Spend time reaching out to customers on the channels that are available to you, such as phone or email. See how they respond. If you can get them on the phone, let them know you’d like to spend some time hearing about their experience and how you can help.
  • Ask … then listen. One of the things distributors can do for their customers right now is to ask sincerely how the customer’s business is going. Ask open-ended questions such as, “What’s your biggest challenge right now?” or, “What’s one thing you would change about your business?” and really listen to how they respond. Ask follow-up questions such as, “What do you mean when you say that?” or “Why is that?” and give them a chance to go deeper. The better you listen, the more you’ll understand about their challenges and needs.
  • Look for themes. Listen for things that come up again and again. Find themes in their responses, and jot them down. See what patterns emerge from the conversation, whether the customer repeats things, and where the most important nuggets of information are.
  • Follow up. You don’t need to solve all the customer’s problems right now, but let them know that it’s important to you to hear their story and understand their needs so that you can better serve them in the future. Let them know you’ll be following up, but keep it about them. The strategy will come later.

Also see: “4 Ways Distributors are Staying on Top of COVID-19 Business Changes.”

Forming a solid strategy is as much about your customer as it is about your company. When you take the time to develop a better understanding of your customer through gathering customer insights, you become more aware of the solutions your customers need, and how you can serve them. It’s not only a way to be innovative for your customer, but it’s also a way to keep your own company thriving.

Dan Horan is an associate consultant at Indian River Consulting Group, a consulting firm serving distributors and manufacturers since 1987. Horan is an expert in sales, marketing, branding and communications strategy. Reach him at dhoran@ircg.com or visit ircg.com

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