Eight ways to shore up your customer relationships, share your institutional knowledge, and keep competitors from infringing on your territory.
“If you want to get and keep more electrical clients in 2018 and beyond, you need to give them the best online experience they’ve ever had,” so says Ben Landers, president and CEO at digital marketing agency Blue Corona. Having worked with numerous HVAC, plumbing, and electrical contractors over the years, Landers has his finger on the pulse of the industrial world and knows what it takes to get and keep customers in today’s disruptive business environment.
“B2B buying is a different game than what it was 20, 15, or even 10 years ago,” Landers points out, “and the distributor’s digital strategy needs to adapt accordingly.” Here are eight ways to make that happen right now:
- Accept that the world is changing. This isn’t your grandfather’s (or your father’s) electrical distribution environment, and that’s okay, says Joshua Feinberg, a digital strategist and VP at SP Home Run, Inc., in West Palm Beach. The key is to accept and embrace the change, instead of trying to escape it or run away from it.”The biggest challenge for leadership right now is understanding the changes that are taking place,” says Feinberg, “and figuring out what types of investments need to be made in order to stay relevant.” For example, he tells distributors to work on positioning themselves as “experts” versus just product sellers. “When someone knows that your advice, support, and service is better than anyone else’s,” says Feinberg, “they’ll always give you the business, and maybe even pay a slight premium for it.”
- Don’t just sell; get involved with their success. “Operating online is inevitable, but losing your contractor customers to Amazon is not,” says Steve Damerow, CEO, at Incentive Solutions in Atlanta. Damerow sees “mindshare” as the most important weapon in a distributor’s arsenal right now, in an era where Amazon Business has yet to establish itself as more than just a low-price, quick-delivery leader. He tells distributors to set up online portals (for training, featuring certain products, doing surveys, offering tutorials, etc.) where customers can go for everything they need.Make sure those portals offer “2-way communications” via feedback mechanisms, he says, and offer programs and projects that contractors can’t get anywhere else. “Instead of just selling to them,” says Damerow, “get involved with their success.”
- Give your website an honest assessment. If your site takes a long time to load, lacks mobile-friendly design features, contains outdated information (i.e., your last blog post was published in 2015), or is otherwise falling behind the curve, it’s time for an honest assessment. “Take a long, hard look at your website and make sure it’s fast, mobile-friendly, and tailored to the modern buyer,” Landers says. If any or all of these elements are missing, it’s time to invest in a web upgrade.
- Let them shop via mobile phone. B2B used to be an offline sales game, with the buyer being limited to whatever marketing materials the sales team handed them. That changed in 2007, says Landers, when Apple introduced the iPhone. “With the dawn of Wi-Fi-enabled smartphones, B2B sales shifted from offline to online,” says Landers, noting that more than 90% of senior executives own a smartphone for business (and 77 percent of those smartphone owners use it for business research on-the-go). Mobile browsing is now the status quo, and that’s something that needs to be reflected in your distributorship’s website.
- Give them knowledge and expertise that they can’t get anywhere else. Establishing your distributorship as the “go to” resource for technical knowledge and application expertise takes a team effort. “Take stock of all of the experts who work for your firm, learn their resumes, and know what areas they’re most knowledgeable in,” says Feinberg. Then, ask those experts to write blogs or ebooks; host webinars; shoot YouTube videos; and/or speak at customer-focused seminars.”Put together a breakfast seminar series where customers can come to learn,” says Feinberg. “Teach them everything they need to know—from safety to job estimating to legal issues to insurance—and anything else they need to be able to grow their businesses.”
- Don’t let all of that institutional knowledge go to waste. After taking stock of your employees’ and managers’ strengths and levels of expertise, find ways to leverage it into customer-focused activities. Use that information to help customers better utilize the products they’re buying from you, improve their own work strategies, save money, and leverage new electrical innovations.”There’s a crazy amount of institutional knowledge hanging out at the typical electrical distributor,” says Feinberg. “Pretty much everyone has picked up some ‘golden nuggets’ over the years about what is and isn’t working. It’s time to use those nuggets to your advantage.”
- Focus on the millennial generation. Nearly half of all B2B buyers right now are millennials, says Landers, and they have different expectations than their predecessors. “They want and expect to be able to do everything online,” says Landers, noting that 90% of them begin to look for distributors on a search engine and that 50% of their search queries are made via smartphone, according to recent research by Google and BCG. (BCG expects the latter figure to grow to 70 percent by 2020.)
- Make your e-commerce site Ferrari-fast. “Not only does your website need to be mobile-friendly, it needs to be fast; I mean Ferrari-fast,” says Landers. “More than 50% of mobile users abandon a web page that takes longer than three seconds to load.” You can use Google’s PageSpeed Tool to assess the speed of your current website from Google itself (you want to shoot for a number higher than 60 on this test).And remember that your customers aren’t going to be comparing your website to your competitors; they’re comparing your website to every single website they’ve ever visited. “That means you need to get your website in shape,” says Landers, “and quickly.”
In Part I of this article series, we discussed the ways Amazon Business is disrupting the B2B segment and the “old ways” of doing things.
In Part II of this article series, we explored the B2C-B2B connection, show which customer touchpoints all distributors should be incorporating into their e-commerce plans, and gave some “quick hit” customer service tips that apply both online and offline.
Tagged with B2B, best practices, business