This is a part of the 2014 Distribution Trends Report. The annual report was researched and written by MDM editors based on interviews with dozens of wholesaler-distributors, as well as industry experts and manufacturers. MDM also conducted a survey of its readers to uncover the trends outlined in this report.
2014 Distribution Trends Report
This article is a part of MDM’s 2014 Distribution Trends Report. The article addresses how companies are implementing mobility efforts to streamline sales and service.
Customers expect salespeople to have immediate, complete information about anything and everything: how much the products cost, how many are available, how fast they can be shipped, and if there are better products that cost less.
“Mobility is just part of what’s expected now,” says Phil Derrow, president and CEO of Ohio Transmission Corp., Columbus, OH. “Everybody has a smartphone in the workplace, and most people have a tablet or an iPad or some kind of tablet device, and it’s just expected that they can get calls and emails and be online whenever, wherever, however.”
The ability to do the job quickly, accurately and from anywhere can help increase productivity and revenue. Where a previous sales call would need extra time to see if a product is in stock, a salesperson can now tap through a few spreadsheets or Web pages to access information remotely.
“You can’t get out and talk technology and tell your clients all these wonderful things and then not be able to actually do it and show it and use it,” says Stewart Strauss, president and CEO of Strauss Paper Company in Port Chester, NY. “It is not optional for the sales people. And I also think it is way more efficient.”
But convincing a seasoned fleet of salespeople to use smartphones and tablets is, in some cases, equivalent to giving them a completely new job.
“It’s hard to go from where you’re comfortable, to jump to, ‘Oh, I have to change the way I go to work because I got a new tablet,’” says Jessica Yurgaitis, vice president of sales and marketing at Industrial Supply Company in Salt Lake City, UT.
If an older sales force is comfortable and also facing retirement, a company might want to supplement their team with members who already want to use technology. But finding qualified people is difficult, says David Parks, executive vice president of Hydradyne LLC, Fort Worth, TX. Parks said that Hydradyne has had to do a lot of its own training and development for new recruits.
But the pushback isn’t always just from the sales force; sometimes it’s the owner who is uninterested in implementing new technology, says Steve Epner, founder of Brown Smith Wallace Consulting Group. “The younger generation is demanding more access to this technology, but many times (in family-owned businesses) the more mature owners are saying ‘Don’t do this until I retire; I don’t want to go through a transition.’”
Mobile for sales is old news, Epner says. The next step is getting these executives on board with having access to the company’s business information from wherever, whenever and however. And as the younger generation starts moving more into the leadership roles, this will continue to grow in importance, he says.
Customers are becoming more accustomed to that mobile efficiency, but it isn’t just about having a mobile-optimized website.
Mobile provides the opportunity for customers to interact with the company. For example, Walter Surface Technologies, Windsor, CT, has created several different apps to meet different end-user needs, such as the product finder. The app asks about the customer’s needs, narrows down the product needed to one or two items and then it tells the user where/how to order them.
“Your company becomes more than a place to buy stuff. You’re a resource right there in their hands wherever they are,” says Chester Collier, Walter’s senior vice president, global distribution.
Often the challenges involved with getting company buy-in are enough to dissuade many smaller distributors from implementing technologies that could help their operations work whenever, wherever, however. But those that don’t get on board could become obsolete.
Ninety percent of the marketplace is controlled by smaller, independent distributors, according to Roger Woodward, president of Alliance Distribution Partners LLC, Gallatin, TN. Woodward’s customers are realizing that they need to adapt their companies to new technology. One customer told Woodward, “My business today does not look much different than what my dad ran in in 1975” – and it wasn’t a good thing, Woodward says.
“I think the independents are waking up to the fact that they have to introduce more technology in their business, they have to broaden their product offering and they have to be more focused on the ease of transaction,” Woodward says. “Helping folks select products more easily and helping them get it ordered more easily.”
The ability to show figures and express data visually is a valuable option that a successful salesperson could use to make a sale, and using a pad of paper might not be quite as effective as it once was.
“You’re pretty much going to have to have a tablet or something with a spreadsheet on it, maybe even a projector, so that you can show up at a buyer’s office, and you can show them a spreadsheet, and you can have that conversation,” says Steve Deist, partner at Indian River Consulting Group in Melbourne, FL. “That’s going to be something that is not going to be optional.”