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How to Get Closer to Your Customer in 2018, Part I

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How to Get Closer to Your Customer in 2018, Part I

Amazon Business is probably already knocking on your customers’ doors, but will they answer?

 

In an early sign that the health care industry is its next distribution-centric target, Amazon has been growing its medical supply business by selling gloves, syringes, and other health care sundries to dentists, doctors, and hospitals. In doing so, the e-tailing giant is shaking up an age-old industry where manufacturers and distributors work together to meet the medical community’s needs. According to the Chicago Tribune, stocks for companies that distribute medical supplies tumbled recently after a report that Amazon had been holding meetings with hospital executives to learn more about the needs of the industry.

This is just one more example of how Amazon Business is disrupting the B2B segment and the “old ways” of doing things. Along the way, it’s creating a long list of loyal customers who consider the e-tailer the “go to” resource for everything they need. In assessing the inroads that the company has already made on the B2C front, Feedvisor’s 2018 Getting to Know Your Customers Amazon User Study found that:

  • 85 percent of Prime shoppers visit Amazon at least once a week, while 56 percent of non-Prime shoppers report the same. In 2017, 75% of Prime members and 32% non-Prime members shopped on Amazon at least once a week.
  • Over 45 percent of Prime members purchase on Amazon at least once a week — about half of the number who browse weekly. In 2017, 30% of Prime members and 4% of non-Prime members purchased on Amazon at least once a week.
  • About one-third of Amazon users go straight to Amazon, ready to buy. Other shoppers spend more time on the site researching products, comparing prices, and browsing daily deals.
  • Three-quarters of Amazon users will start their shopping journey with the Amazon search box.
  • Almost 60% shop online weekly, with Prime members being more than twice as likely to shop online daily than regular consumers (15 percent vs. 6 percent).

These numbers show Amazon’s current—and growing—prowess on the B2C front. They also foreshadow what could happen in the B2B world, where distributors that aren’t paying attention to customer wants and needs could wind up losing market share to the e-tailer.

In 2016, Amazon Business’s marketplace surpassed $1 billion in sales, and its marketplace has been growing at 20% month over month,” Applico reports. “It also has more than 9 million product listings, up from less than 4 million in 2016.”

 

Hit the Ground Running Now

Joshua Feinberg, a digital strategist and VP at SP Home Run, Inc., in West Palm Beach, says electrical distributors should be paying close attention to the moves that Amazon is making in the B2B arena. And they should be playing even closer attention to what their own customers are doing.

“In the context of looming digital disruption from Amazon and other e-tailers, shoring up B2B relationships and keeping customers coming back for more should be imperatives for electrical distributors,” says Feinberg. The problem is that while 89% of CEOs are “terrified” of disruption, only 27% of them have a plan for dealing with it (see Feinberg’s YouTube video on this topic). The remaining 73% are burying their heads in the sand, scratching their collective heads, or simply hoping that the e-tailing behemoth goes away.

The question is, how can distributors buck this trend, get closer to their customers, and shore up the valuable relationships that they’ve built over time? Feinberg says the answer can be summed up in three words: Happy, delighted customers. “These types of customers love what your company is doing, are thrilled with their purchases, and always feel like they’re getting a great return on investment,” says Feinberg. “They also feel a strong emotional bond and connection to your company.”

Done right, delighting customers becomes a great, valuable extension of your marketing and sales teams, says Feinberg. It also creates leverage to help your company grow. “And,” he says, “it definitely will help better insulate your company from competitive attacks and disruption from e-tailers.”

5 Ways to Delight Your Customers

Knowing that customer retention is getting more and more difficult for B2B firms in an era where cheap prices and fast deliveries reign, here’s how Feinberg tells distributors to tackle the problem:

1. Don’t treat customers like prospects. “It’s insulting and wastes their time,” says Feinberg. “It also makes your company look bad; many customer retention problems start with bad marketing/sales experiences.” To avoid this problem, take time to understand your buyer personas (i.e., a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers) and create a more enjoyable experience during the marketing and sales process, before that person becomes a paying customer.

2. Over-deliver surprise value where possible. “Try to exceed your customers’ expectations by over-delivering some kind of surprise bonus resources,” says Feinberg. “That’s sure to bring a smile to most people’s faces and helps to build up some relationship equity.” That way, if every once in a blue moon your company inadvertently drops the ball or disappoints, the relationship “bank account” is already pretty far built up. And your company will have a little bit of room to recover from those snafus.

3. Measure everything. If you are using video tutorials and making them available on-demand, for example, look at the video analytics to see how those videos are performing (i.e., how many minutes of the videos are being watched). “If you’re hosting webinars, your webinar software should tell you attendance time, attendance percentage minutes, and various other stats,” says Feinberg, who suggests distributors use the Net Promoter Score survey to get a gauge on their effectiveness online. “There’s no excuse not to use surveys, which are great fodder for product management and product development.”

4. Segment, Segment, Segment. At the absolute minimum, segment by lifecycle stage (i.e., where the customer is on the buyer’s journey.) “Customers need to be spoken to differently because they have different priorities and are at different places in that journey,” says Feinberg. “If you have the luxury of being able to further segment, create resources that are personalized by buyer persona—certainly for your most important and second most important buyer personas.”

5. Don’t go cheap on these initiatives. It’s eight to 10 times more expensive to acquire a new customer compared to retaining an existing customer. “In the whole scheme of things, these are very inexpensive programs to staff up,” says Feinberg. “In the end, a lot of it comes down to your choice: it’s your culture and your priorities. All of this always starts at the top: who your company really wants to be, what its overall strategy is, and what your company is doing to delight its customers.”

 

In Part II of this article series, we’ll explore the B2C-B2B connection, show which customer touchpoints all distributors should be incorporating into their e-commerce plans, and give you some “quick hit” customer service tips that apply both online and offline.

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Bridget McCrea  is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at bridgetmc@earthlink.net or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.

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