Distributors sit between their customers and the manufacturers they work with, and creating an excellent journey for both sides can be complex. Additionally, as more manufacturers make the shift to selling directly to the end customer, it’s important for distributors to remain a valuable asset for both parties and use their position as the middleman to create streamlined, efficient transactions. As a distributor, you’re in a precarious position: if you’re not delivering on the needs and requirements of your manufacturers, you risk losing their business and as a result, your customer satisfaction level will suffer.
So how can you as a distributor create those personalized experiences for every role in the buying journey and become invaluable to both your customers and your manufacturers? There are several steps you can take to begin transforming your current buying experience to do just that.
1. Pinpoint Your Touchpoints
Not every role involved in the B2B buying journey will interact with your organization, and the ones that do will each have different needs and experiences when they do. Start by identifying which roles will engage with you as a distributor and at what times. Because you’re positioned in between your customers and your manufacturers, you have to consider these roles as they interact on both sides.
It’s also important to remember how you can improve the journey for your internal teams. For example, when a customer requests a quote for a product, you may have to request 10-15 quotes from your network of manufacturers to be able to present the best deal to your customer. Being able to streamline processes like these for your internal teams will not only improve their daily work, but also expedite the process for your customers and improve their experience.
Finding those pain points in your buying journey can be difficult as a distributor. You know your internal processes backward and forwards, but how can you know the processes of every one of the manufacturers you represent, as well as the customer journey? Working with a third party partner can help by getting in touch with your manufacturers on your behalf to ask the important questions and help you understand their honest, unbiased feedback and satisfaction level with you as a business as well as your customers.
2. Identify Tools to do the Job
Think about how you can provide tools that both manufacturers and customer need and how you can disseminate those tools to both sides, while customizing the experience to fit the role. For instance, a field service technician could be a role both your customers and your organization on the team, and in both cases would benefit from a mobile experience. However, they may have different needs for a mobile experience depending on what side they’re on. Building that mobile experience in a way that works for both sides would be an effective way to build a better journey on both ends of your distribution spectrum.
Aside from tools, you should also think about what content you can offer throughout the buying journey. Customers want to be able to access all the product information they’re looking for in one spot. Look at the content offering of the manufacturers you represent and ask these questions:
- Am I providing the same content?
- If so, what additional content can I provide on my site to better the experience?
- If not, why not?
A lack of extensive product content could trigger your customers to abandon their search on your site and go straight to the manufacturer, which in turn could result in another buyer going direct. By offering the same or more product data on your site, you’ll eliminate the buyer’s need to go elsewhere in their search. Consider building content such as short descriptions, photos and video, instruction manuals, product support and spec sheets, or 360 views for the items you distribute.
3. Implement Technology to Drive Change
In addition to the content and tools you provide externally, there are several technology upgrades you should consider.
First, look at a product information management (PIM) system. It’s not uncommon for distributors to have product information and content stored in many different places on several different platforms. This can make updating and maintaining consistency throughout your catalog difficult, and a PIM system provides the ability to store and manage that information on one platform and disseminate it across various channels.
The management of orders is important as well. As a distributor, it can be difficult to manage the updating of product availability in your standard enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. ERPs are really intended to act as a financial tool for internal teams, and extending that information to the public is imperative to provide a better online experience.
Accompanied by a PIM system to manage content, an order management system (OMS) allows you to manage product availability in real time to better meet customer needs. OMS solutions are sophisticated enough to reflect quantity changes when an order is placed, taking the delivery timeline, post-dated delivery, and incoming shipments in mind when calculating availability.
And finally, price optimization tools are something to consider as a distributor. ERP systems are fixated on the current price of a product as well as the average price, whereas price optimization tools can examine pricing relative to your competitors and market trends to enable you to optimize your pricing so you’re not leaving money on the table.
Working with a third party to help evaluate what your tech stack should be is a good first step. You may not need each system, or it could be a matter of upgrading your current technological functionality. Working with a partner to help you determine your technology needs and help you to build, integrate, and provide training on these platforms will result in a smoother transition for your internal teams and an improved buying journey for your customers and manufacturers. In an age where it’s becoming more common for customers and manufacturers to build relationships without traditional distribution lines, it’s imperative for distributors to provide exceptional experiences and become invaluable to the buying process.
To learn more about the B2B buying process and how you can improve the experience you provide, check out our guide The People of the Manufacturing and Distribution Buyer Journey.
Senior Commerce Consultant for Perficient Digital, a leading digital transformation consulting firm. Experience includes more than two decades in digital commerce, product management, business development and marketing for manufacturing and distribution organizations. Has provided strategic leadership for global suppliers and brands resulting in innovative techniques for improving the customer experience overall, reducing cost of sales and accelerating efficiencies within complex buying and selling scenarios. Authored articles for leading publications in the manufacturing, distribution and ecommerce industries.