So, a couple of data experts, some distributors and a manufacturer walk into a panel discussion…
We’re at day two of the 2016 NAED National Conference, and the sessions are still going strong, with valuable information being shared amongst member companies.
The second session taking place on this Friday the 13th was the National Meeting Forum, sponsored by the NAED Manufacturer’s Council. The forum, titled Growing Your Company’s Sales & ROI with IDW (Industry Data Warehouse), discussed real-life examples of how IDW/IDEA, and data in general, can help distributorships run more smoothly and be more profitable.
The discussion moderator was passionate data advocate, and president of DATAgility, Denise Keating. The four panel members were George Vorwick, president and CEO of United Electric Supply; Paul Molitor, president and CEO of IDEA; John Eggelton, president of Kirby Risk; and Mike Pessina, president and co-CEO of Lutron.
Keating got the discussion started off by asking the panel how they view data. Vorwick directly called data “a strategic asset.” He said that distributors need to use it as they would any other tool in their organization, and leverage it to help their business.
Keating took a moment to point out the growing importance of communicating online with our customers, starting with millennials right now. She reminded us that if all Baby Boomers retire by 2030, when they all will have turned 65, millennials will be making up the majority of the workforce and customer base. “[Millennials] have no patience for not having information at their fingertips,” said Keating. “If you don’t have the data right on your e-commerce site, and they can’t find what they need, they are literally just one click away from your competition.”
Vorwick talked briefly about the recent website upgrades made at United, beginning two years ago. “We had the single objective to make this thing better every day,” he said, speaking about the need to constantly be improving and leveraging your online presence. The site went up and they are still adding new functionality to it today. Following the initial hard work, and the ongoing improvements, Vorwick says that in the past 12 months their online sales have doubled.
When Keating asks what he would say to distributors who haven’t gotten started on improving their online presence, Vorwick said “I think we can all agree that our web presence will be more important in the future than it is today. When distributors say that their customers aren’t asking for [an e-commerce site] yet, I tell them what we’ve already accomplished [in just two years]. In five years when your customer is asking, how much further [along] will we be?”
Keating transitioned to say that while many distributors are trying to think of new ways to serve their customer to differentiate themselves from online giants like Amazon, that they still need to keep e-commerce in mind. Though some may think of communicating through the web as “disconnecting” from their customers, it’s really the new way that relationships will be formed. Vorwick agreed, “Exactly. We’re going to build relationships through our marketing efforts and our web presence with customers that we may never meet.”
Eggelton chimed in to say that building an e-commerce platform “takes time, but the importance of it is coming. And it’s coming fast. There is no question as to whether [distributors] should do it.” He sees online exchanges as becoming more of a B2C experience than B2B, with a more personable, customizable approach.
Eggelton also emphasized the importance of committing resources to data maintenance. “Data touches every aspect of our business,” said Eggelton. “And you have to have people dedicated to managing that. It’s an ongoing process to have good data.” He goes on to say that data is not only used in their e-commerce efforts, but is also used by his counter guys, is part of the ordering process, getting new materials, the bidding process – interwoven throughout the organization.
The panel concluded with a consensus that all partners in the supply chain could work together to make the channel great. “The B2B space is five times bigger than the B2C space, and it’s growing twice as fast. There’s no doubt in my mind that [Amazon CEO] Jeff Bezos sees the potential there,” said Keating. “I think it’s critical that we move forward together as an industry to make sure we maintain our vitality, and that we remain the channel of first choice.”
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