There is a lot of fear and uncertainty everywhere due to Covid19. This type of situation happens once in a hundred years where nearly the whole world is in lockdown. There is anxiety regarding health as well as the economy.
Many articles have talked about the impact that Covid19 has had on the distribution industry.
Here we have compiled a few thoughts that will help distributors navigate through the fear and noise and be able to implement some practical ideas to serve existing customers and to attract new ones.
Distribution Business Opportunities
Serving Existing Customers
Follow CDC guidelines:
Augment your cleaning protocols and communicate CDC and WHO guidelines about hygiene to all team members. Communicate this message on your website too. This instills confidence in your customers who come in for a counter sale or curbside pickups.
Educate your customers to order online:
Encourage customers to plan and order ahead via your email, website, or phone. A survey shows that emails and websites are frequently used to place orders.
Source of the above image: “What Customers Want – 2018 Edition” © 2018 Modern Distribution Management.
Forward counter calls to cell phones:
Counter calls can be forwarded to the cell phones of the counter staff through extensions.
If you are still having the counter open, then have a table in front of the counter so that the social distancing is maintained between the customer and the counter staff. Practice and promote social distancing in your workplace through staggered shifts, flexible scheduling, and where feasible, working remotely.
Accept alternate payment methods:
If possible, avoid accepting cash payments.
Offer curbside service at all of your branch locations to help keep you and customers safer. A screenshot of one of our customer MDS HVAC offering curbside delivery.
Train your customers:
Encourage your customers to visit your website. Train them to confirm order details, check the status of their deliveries, manage their account, view statements, pay invoices and find a location nearby to their place through the website.
Train your employees:
Train your employees to connect with customers virtually through zoom, Uber, FaceTime, Microsoft teams or other conferencing applications. Have the sales reps use headsets during the zoom calls, this makes a huge difference in the quality of the calls.
Know your inventory:
A survey by Real Results Marketing says that ninety-five percent of distributors said product availability was important or very important to their value proposition. If you are selling pandemic related products, PPE or safety-related products mention their stock availability or non-availability clearly on your website.
Watch out for the following:
- Inventory available
- Shipping schedules
- Potential shortage from suppliers
Fill rates and Backorders:
As mentioned above, having a close watch on inventory is important for the success of your business. If your fill rates are falling and backorders are increasing then it is time to get in touch with your key supplier and appraise them of the situation. Out-of-stocks drive customers to competitors.
If you do not have a product that is urgently needed by your customer, offer to help him/her find a replacement or an alternative solution. You would have a client for life.
Prioritize your shipments:
One subtle way of letting your customers know what priority products and shipments are is to add them in the signature of your emails. A sample that could be added to the footer of your email, particularly, if you are selling essential services is given below –
With the current situation of COVID19, (your company name) can support you via phone, email, text, Facetime, Zoom, Uber or other conferencing applications. We are currently prioritizing our shipments and have the following (product names) in stock and ready for immediate priority shipment.
Show your support:
If you have an eCommerce site, have a slide banner on your homepage mentioning that you are open and you are available for support in phone, text, email, FaceTime, Zoom, Uber, and other conferencing applications.
A banner on the home page of Advanced Wireless Communications – a CLORAS client
Informed Sales Reps:
When your sales reps call your customers, they may ask for data like product information, availability of stock, pricing, order history and more. Does your sales rep have remote access to your ERP to provide the above information to your customers? If you have an eCommerce system, ensure your ERP is connected to your ERP. Know more here.
Be in touch with your manufacturer/supplier:
Let outside sales reps have calls with manufacturer’s sales reps to understand new products and product alternatives. This will add value to existing customers
Attracting new customers
This is not the time to go into hibernation. At the same time, it is also not the time to make an aggressive sales pitch. One of the better ways to reach your customer/prospect is through an email. The tone of your email should be such that – you are reaching out to them to find if they need any help or support in these critical times to keep them fully operational.
Pareto Principle or the 80/20 rule:
Identify the top 20% of your customers who bring in 80% of your profit. To identify top customers, mine your customer list and apply the R-F-M (Recency-Frequency-Monetary) rule. Take the customer list and check who bought most Recently, how Frequently did they buy, and how much Money did they spend. These are the customers who will contribute to your business prosperity.
The Hidden Middle:
Opportunities are also hidden in some of the middle and small businesses. Map out the products that would be a good fit for small and medium companies. Pick the companies that you want to sell to and start calling/emailing them. SMEs can be a source of a high frequency of closed deals even if they are small deals.
Your field sales reps are at home and cannot make field calls but they can make phone calls. Provide them a list of prospects or past customers who have gone cold but may have the potential to become active. It is important to be empathetic, explain about the resources you have and find out if they need any assistance.
If you have an eCommerce site:
Customers and prospects can subscribe to and receive updates on the new products, the latest news, training materials and special offers like free shipping and more. If you have an email marketing tool like Mail Chimp or a marketing automation tool like Hubspot, now is the time to analyze the data from the tools and refine your marketing communications. Let your newsletters and email campaigns be educational. There are already too many COVID emails and one more will get lost in the noise.
Screenshot from Technico – A CLORAS customer
Refine your product content:
Most of the companies have the same product content that they get from their supplier. This affects your site’s Google ranking. Refine the product content to fit your target segment. You can optimize the product content on some of your top-selling products with relevant and useful data. You can also enrich the product content of low margin products that are small enough to be shipped at a low cost.
Centralize your assets:
If you have been doing eCommerce online and if you do not have a PIM (Product Information Management) system. PIM helps you centrally manage all your product data including product descriptions, images, videos and will help to reduce doing a lot of work that you don’t need to.
Do an SEO audit:
SEO is one of the best ways to improve site rankings bringing visibility and traffic to the site. To know about what distributors can do to improve their Google rankings, please read this blog.
Are you ADA compliant:
If you have an up and running eCommerce site for quite some time now, then it is also the right time to ensure your website is Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant. Know more about ADA.
Everybody is talking about the ‘new normal’ after this crisis. And the new normal for the distributors are moving from face-to-face approach to interaction through digital tools. Distributors who have been building these tools like an eCommerce platform are in a better position to handle this crisis than the distributors who have not invested in digital tools. Over some time even manufacturers would like to work with distributors who have transformed digitally than those who haven’t. Know more here.
Six Elements of value during Pandemic
Research by Bain & Company (By Jamie Cleghorn and Eric Almquist), Inc shows the six most important elements for B2B companies during this pandemic. (Please see the screenshot below).
Is your company focusing on the six elements?
If you do not have an eCommerce site, now is the time to think about it. Launching an eCommerce site is not rocket science nor is it a small undertaking. You do not have to attempt to develop a full-fledged eCommerce site. You can launch phase one with basic B2B eCommerce features, and once the site gains tractions, you can make further enhancements.
If you are a distributor looking for more information on eCommerce and business growth, make sure to attend DCKAP eSummit on April 24, 2020, 9:15 am to 1:30 pm ET.
DCKAP eSummit 2020 is a community initiative by DCKAP, to help bring together an array of B2B Brands, Manufacturers, Distributors, Wholesalers, Subject Matter Experts, Technology Partners, Agencies, and eCommerce Enthusiasts, especially the ones who need help and support during COVID-19.
Update April 29, 2020: Missed our virtual conference. Here is the complete recording, go ahead and check-out. And between you don’t have to fill any forms 🙂